By Thandiwe Konguavi 
Staff Writer

Nicola Wade and her husband are not Catholic. But they love their children’s Catholic school.

“Teaching the children to be kind to one another, be accepting, be loving, be forgiving, be respectful, et cetera, are all things that are instilled in these little people while at school,” said Wade, an Edmonton parent whose children attend St. Mary Catholic Elementary School.

“These are the same values that we share as parents. To us, these are more important than anything.”

Parents in Edmonton are defending their rights to choose faith-based education after a recent court ruling in Saskatchewan. The provincial government was ordered to stop funding non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools. The ruling is supposed to come into effect next June, but the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association is appealing the decision.

Catholic education supporters in Alberta should not turn a blind eye to that ruling.
“I question whether it’s what’s best for students and families and whether it infringes on Catholic rights,” said Laura Thibert, chair of the Edmonton Catholic school board. “It’s infringing on the right of the parent to choose.
“We do need to keep close watch on the ruling and be prepared to protect our rights as parents to choose the best school for our children.”

As of September, one quarter of the students, or about 10,313 students enrolled in Edmonton Catholic Schools are not Catholic.

 “I find that remarkable. It clearly indicates that a faith-based education is important to a vast number of non-Catholic families,” said Lisa Turchansky, a trustee candidate for the Edmonton Catholic school board. “Catholic education is all about inclusion.”

Some non-Catholic families want their children to be engaged in faith-based learning that only the Catholic school system can offer them, Turchansky said.

The Wades were first attracted to the 100 Voices pre-kindergarten program at St. Monica Catholic Elementary School, and were “pleasantly surprised,” said Wade.

“They learned many things about God, Jesus, and faith. After having such a positive experience at St. Monica, we decided to stay with the Catholic system.”

Turchansky’s own daughters attend St. Mary Catholic Elementary School.

“My children love their school. They love Jesus. In fact, all of the children love and speak of Jesus and his kindness,” said Turchansky. “It is truly a joy to behold. If anyone wants to see what a faith-based education is like, they just need to walk into any Catholic elementary school. 

“And I especially appreciate that I, as a parent, have a choice.”

Thibert said she’s pleased that Edmonton Catholic schools are open to students who are not Catholic.

“We’re happy to share our message,” Thibert said. “Alberta has a very strong Catholic education system and we’re growing. The 41,000-plus students that we educate come to us by choice. They come to us because of our programming and our excellent teaching and our results are phenomenal.”

(This article was corrected on April 29, 2017)