By Lorraine Turchansky

As campaigning for the October 16th school board elections begins in earnest, Catholic voters are being urged both to participate in the electoral process and to think carefully about their choices for Catholic school trustees. 

The call comes in a pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops of Alberta, issued just before the September 18th deadline for potential trustees to make their candidacy official.

“As Catholics, we have a sacred duty and obligation to make an informed, moral choice in the selection of representatives of the community who will guide and govern, protect and maintain our Catholic schools,” states the letter, signed by the seven bishops from Alberta and the Northwest Territories.

“It is incumbent upon us to select leaders who will ensure the continued formation of our school communities in the values and teachings of our Lord as taught through our Church. We encourage you to exercise this responsibility in a spirit of prayer and in accord with an informed conscience.”

Catholic school trustees face a dual challenge: they must ensure both that students are provided an excellent education, and that Catholic principles and values are reflected in that education. Unlike their public school counterparts, they are accountable both under provincial government legislation and under Catholic Church law.

The letter lists a half-dozen qualities to look for in a Catholic trustee, saying they must be “not only stewards with exceptional governance skills but also people of faith and commitment to the Church and her mission. As trustees are carefully attentive to the wishes of the constituents and the mandates of Alberta Education, they must be committed to ensuring that their every decision will always accord with the truth of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.”

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, who serves as president of the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories, noted that the group issued a similar letter before the 2013 elections. He said the aim is not to support any particular candidates or agenda, but rather to engage and encourage Catholic voters in making good, informed choices.

According to the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association, Catholic schools offer an integrated curriculum of faith formation, academic development, and physical education in an effort to form the student’s whole person. They follow the Alberta Education curriculum, but enrich the school experience with Gospel values and sacramental life.

Certainly an ongoing task for the next crop of trustees will be to defend the very existence of publicly funded Catholic education. Alberta is one of only three provinces (the others being Saskatchewan and Ontario) that constitutionally require separate funding for Catholic schools. The constitutional protections date back to Confederation, but there have been recent political and legal challenges in all three provinces.

Alberta also subsidizes a number of other faith-based and alternative education models, giving the province’s parents a wide variety of options from which to choose.

“Our culture and our society are enriched by a variety of faiths, beliefs and cultures,” said Archbishop Smith. “If we value this diversity, we must also value and defend the role of Catholic schools, where thousands of parents choose to send their children, with the full understanding that Catholic faith and morals will be part of their comprehensive education.”

There are 18 Catholic school boards in Alberta, plus four francophone boards that offer Catholic education and include a mix of Catholic and public trustees. The Archdiocese of Edmonton includes nine Catholic school districts and the Centre-Nord francophone district.

Read the full text of the Bishops’ letter, The Ministry of Catholic School Trustee