Exemptions from religion in Catholic schools

Dear Pope Francis,

In today’s newspaper, I read about parents who choose to send their children to the Catholic schools here in Ontario, yet want them exempted from religion classes so they can do courses they feel are more suited to employment and post-secondary education. One mother, Carolyn Borgstadt is quoted saying “it’s 70 minutes every day for an entire semester. Nobody needs that much religion.” Another father thinks religion is going to distract his daughter from her math and science courses.

Cassie and I in the cafeteria.

Cassie and I in the cafeteria.

I am a product of the Catholic school system. Because my family moved several times while I was growing up, I attended four different schools between kindergarten and grade 12. All were Catholic, and all incorporated living the faith into the daily routine outside of religion classes. I do not think I would have absorbed as much meaning from the practice of Morning Prayer and grace before snack and lunch times had I not also received the formal instruction in class.

One of my friends from university often talks about how very few people are concerned with being good people. Yes, people try to do the right thing, but in his opinion hardly anyone spends time thinking about and developing the habits and qualities that make someone good.

When I think about Catholic schools, I think this is where the greatest value in the religion classes is. Learning about the Catholic faith is not being spoon fed points of doctrine from the catechism. In the primary years, what I remember was mainly reading the parables Jesus told in the gospels and then talking about the little things we could do to be like Jesus in our lives. I remember copying the Our Father and the Hail Mary (in English and in French) when we were learning how to write, and the colourful bracelets embroidered with WWJD which we were all given to remind us to do random acts of kindness, and to recognize when others were being kind to us. In grade 7 or 8, we had to learn public speaking, and before we wrote about our own topics and presented on those the test run was reciting our choice of the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed.

Myself and classmates lined up for a trust walk on a retreat our graduating year.

Myself and classmates lined up for a trust walk on a retreat our graduating year.

Most of the parents kicking up a fuss about their children being required to take religion classes have kids in high school. But high school religion was when we started really talking about the qualities that make someone a good person. We started to learn about the lives of the saints, and talked about the process of making decisions and developing our conscience. We learned about the importance of contributing to the community around us through volunteer work and about how events in the global community affect us. In my grade 12 year, we each picked a moral issue to research and present to the class on, in support of or against the church teaching on that issue.

Praying for intentions as a class creates a bond between students which I’ve mentioned before. Having the priest come and say mass at the school creates an opportunity for people to participate. The choir provides music, the dance club and the drama students often provided a re-enactment or artistic interpretation as the scriptures were read or while people were coming up for communion. Many of the students in Catholic schools come from families who do not regularly attend mass. If you think the faith is important enough to send your child to a school which incorporates it, why would you try to deprive them of the only opportunities they have to experience it?

Learning about the church and participating in the liturgies and sacraments is part of the package when you send your children to Catholic school. If you don’t want the package, then change your tax status and send your kids to the public school. I just don’t think the courts are right about this.

Frustrated with people trying to have their cake and eat it too,

Meredith

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