By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

It can be a tough job leading a school district with more than 41,000 students, 4,000 teachers and a half-a-billion dollar budget – especially when critics of a dual education system say you shouldn’t exist.

Joan Carr, the superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, has been in that position for 10 years. And it’s her faith that has sustained her.

“You know it’s that foundation. You know that, if anything, it’s going to make you strong,” Carr said April 21 in an interview at Catholic Women’s League convention in Edmonton. “It’s just like it pushes me. You’re then able to address things.”

Carr was guest speaker at CWL’s Edmonton Diocesan Council convention, the annual meeting of more than 200 delegates from across the Archdiocese of Edmonton. The convention continues at Corpus Christi Parish until April 23.

Carr told delegates these are “trying” times for Catholic education.

Some Albertans, including a former provincial education minister, have called for a merger of the public and Catholic school systems, suggesting it would be a better use of public funds. The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association has countered that argument with Catholic Education: Confronting Fiction with Facts.

Michael Janz, a former chairman of the Edmonton Public School Board, has suggested his district should be allowed to offer Catholic programming as an option. Carr calls that “short-sighted.”

“Faith-based education isn’t a course. Faith-based education is the permeation of our God in everything that we do,” said Carr.

“We’re able to bring that alive. We’re able to talk about it. We can see it. We can feel it. We can walk hallways in our schools and the evidence is there. We’re able to celebrate our faith each and every day.”

Catholic education is also under fire in Saskatchewan. On the same day Carr spoke to the CWL, a judge in that province ruled that the government must stop funding non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools. That ruling comes into effect next June.

Carr said organizations like the CWL have a big influence on Catholic education and young women, through the CWL’s youth chapter, and the Jean Forest All Girls Leadership Academy in Edmonton.

In her speech to delegates, Mary Hunt, the outgoing president of the Edmonton Diocesan Council, urged her members to invite more women to join the CWL.

Carr told the CWL convention she believes Alberta will continue to have separate Catholic and public systems.

However, individual Catholics — and groups like the CWL through its letter-writing campaign — can’t take a hands-off approach.

“I believe that we can never hesitate. We can never take a step back. We never be confident that’s what it’s going to be,” Carr said. “We always have to ensure that we’re doing everything to preserve Catholic education, to ensure our communities know what Catholic education is about and to be sharing our stories.”

Carr, who was named Superintendent of the Year in 2016 by the Canadian Association of School System Administrators, also notes that her Catholic faith has also had a big influence in her personal life.

“One of the most important things is that each and every day one has to be sure that you’re filled with gratitude. Gratitude for all that we have been blessed with,” she said.

“God gives us each a mission, and this is my mission right now. And I have to do the best I can to serve God.”

(this article was corrected on April 22, 2017)