When people now reflect upon society’s way of living and working since March 2020, a phrase that one frequently hears is “who would have thought that … ?” Our world for GSACRD during these past four months represents, at many levels, a similar kind of reflection.
On the humorous side, would have thought that one’s greatest source of stress in attending a meeting would be being told to — “turn your mic on” — “yeah, its that red thing on the bottom of your screen with a line through it?” And we probably couldn’t have envisioned the need to be reminded through multiple texts to one’s phone that, “your mic is on - turn it off (exclamation point, after exclamation point).” Nor would we have expected to read in a meeting chat box that the meeting sounds like someone is running a blender, only to discover that the sound could be coming from your at-home audio set-up or even from a family member making a smoothie in the kitchen — which was my story during one of my numerous Google hang-outs.
From a sad and sobering perspective, who would have thought that experiencing the loss of a family member or friend through isolation, or coping with prolonged separation from the elderly in our families, would have been our way of being throughout COVID–19? Who would have thought that the devastation of businesses and loss of work would have been such a cloud over our households and communities over the past four months?
But from a hopeful look at life, who would have known that through a pandemic both K–12 education and our Division, would have been as important as it has been - a continuous, uninterrupted service to be furthered right to the end of the school year? Education will continue to be a cornerstone in addressing the hope and wellbeing of our youth, and I believe that an educational system like ours - one guided by the compassion and care of Jesus Christ dwelling among us, will be more important than ever in the years to come.
Therefore, as we conclude this most unusual and incredibly unpredictable school year, let’s celebrate that we have kept the agenda of learning moving forward as best as we could and embrace the fact that all that we have learned through this change in our professional lives will be extremely helpful to us through our formation of students moving forward.
Late last August, when we gathered as a community at St. Jean Baptiste Parish and the Morinville Cultural Centre, we began to thematically examine the school year ahead, considering the great possibilities that our faith theme, Living Like Jesus — We are Shepherds, would have for ourselves and our learning communities. We considered Shepherd Leadership from the perspective of one who is other-centered and retains stability, hope, and compassion through a call to serve. In the end, although not contemplated at the time, the attribute of the Good Shepherd that influenced the mainstay of our work, through the difficult circumstances that would lay ahead, was that of the Shepherd as protector of the flock.
In John’s gospel, before Jesus encounters the deepest hardship of his ministry, the sacrifice of his life for us, he confidently professes to God and his apostles about what he has accomplished through his ministry to date.
“During my time here, I protected by the power of the name you gave me. I guarded them so that not one was lost….” (John 17:12).
Jesus was, of course, referring to all those times during his ministry where he protected his disciples from discouragement and maintained for them through story and service a new way of transforming our world for the good of self and others.
And so, for all those many new and different approaches that all of our staff members took to sustain learning in our system, protect the interests of students and their families, maintain our facilities, sustain strong financial management and record-keeping, and keep our faith and its abiding hope at the forefront of all that we do — thank you. You have clearly embraced the dedication and conviction that Jesus brought to his own ministry. It has been inspiring for me to witness your work, a collective effort, that illuminates very clearly the difference that Catholic education makes to the communities that we serve.
As I conclude my most privileged time that I have had to serve this school division as its Superintendent over the past eleven years, please know that throughout my very diverse and lengthy service in many capacities to Catholic education, these years in working with our schools have certainly been my most rewarding. When talented professionals embrace a desire to grow and serve for the sake of improving the lives of children, that is a powerful sight to behold, and I have seen this in spades during my time here in GSACRD.
Finally, thank you to our families and their children who are the reasons for why our school system exists. Your patience, support, and adaptability to work with our schools through a new way of being and learning has been nothing short of impressive! Catholic education opens up a “world of worth” for its students, and that only happens because the family and the school share in the care they bring to the learning community. It is always hoped that this collective effort influences students to share in this love with others.
May God bless all of you — who are most certainly, our Lord’s good and faithful servants, and may you thrive within this relationship in the future. It has truly been a pleasure to work with you throughout my time along this important journey.