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Bishop Henry on Receiving the Higgins Award

CCSTA Conference Bishop HenryWhen Bishop Henry received word that he was honoured with the 2017 Justice James Higgins Award, he says he was shocked and stunned, but grateful.

“I’m not really into awards and the words of Jesus to this disciples came to mind: “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves: we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (Lk.17: 10) Nevertheless, it was nice to be noticed,” he says.

When Bishop Henry travelled to Niagara Falls in June for the CCSTA AGM where he received the award, he sent out a clear message in his acceptance speech (see below for the full speech) in that it’s important for educators and trustees to make disciples.

He explains the meaning to his message.


“I was ordained a bishop on the Feast of the Birth (not the beheading) of John the Baptist and as such I believe that my ministry, like John’s, represents time past and heralds a new era to come. It is imperative that we see the big picture and prepare the way of and to the Lord. Nothing else counts, he says. “The great commission is “Go and make disciples…”. Although we are doing wonderful things in Catholic education, there is lots of room for improvement and ongoing conversion.”

When in Niagara Falls, Bishop Henry says he especially enjoyed the opportunity to meet and see old and new friends.

“When I received the actual award, I was relieved as I was somewhat afraid that they were going to give me the big trophy and my fear was:  ‘Good God, what was I going to do with that and how was I going to get it home to Calgary?’”

Congratulations to Bishop Henry on receiving the 2017 Higgins Award!


Speaking Notes - The Future of Catholic Education CCSTA 2017

On July 31, 1997, Premier Tobin announced a referendum on education reform. The people of Newfoundland were asked a straight-forward question on referendum day, September 2, as follows:

"Do you support a single school system where all children, regardless of their religious affiliation, attend the same schools where opportunities for religious education and observances are provided?"

Premier Tobin said: "Let there be no doubt what government is proposing. It means nothing less than the removal of the churches from the governing of the schools. It would mean the existing Term 17, which sets out denominational rights in the constitution, would be completely replaced.

We all know the outcome of that referendum. What is not as well-known is that shortly thereafter, there was a meetings of first ministers in Calgary, and during the course of conversation at cocktail party, Brian Tobin was congratulated by both Mike Harris of Ontario and Ralph Klein of Alberta in these words: “Congratulations on putting an end to Catholic education, we wish that we could do the same.” These words were relayed to me by an impeccable reliable source. I have never forgotten them, and I would urge you to remember them.                  

Despite all the fine words of support from politicians of all stripes proclaiming their support for Catholic education, forgive me but I am increasingly sceptical about the truthfulness of such claims. I think that we are tolerated, but not really embraced, and I suspect that we are not far from persecution. 

The roots of the word, ‘tolerance’ are revealing. Tolerance comes from the Latin tolerare, “to bear or sustain.” and tollere, which means to “lift up”. It implies bearing other persons and their beliefs the way we carry a burden or endure a headache. It is actually as negative idea. For many, Catholic education is an unfortunate fact to be born with - like noisy neighbours and crowded public transit

As we move into the future, we should to remember a central tenet of the “long 18th century” of the European Enlightenment, whose project was the notion of progress, understood as overcoming of the ignorance of superstition and religion to usher  the age of reason and science.

In the words of Voltaire, "Philosophy, the sister of religion, has disarmed the hands that superstition had so long stained with blood; and the human mind, awakening from its intoxication, is amazed at the excesses into which fanaticism had led it."

Again as Voltaire wrote in his Treatise on Toleration, "The less we have of dogma, the less dispute; the less we have of dispute, the less misery."

The Philosophes would downplay or even ridicule religion in the firm belief that it would soon disappear altogether. Thus, separation of Church and state becomes separation of public life and religious belief. Religion should be excluded from public conversation and relegated to the intimacy of home and chapel.

However, the meaning of tolerance evolved even further in our own times, and has now come to be taken as a virtue. The United Nations "Declaration of Principles on Tolerance" states outright that tolerance is a virtue and defines it as "respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human."

Thus the virtue of "tolerance" no longer implies the act of "toleration" but rather a general attitude of permissiveness and openness to diversity. Implicitly, this diversity is treated as something positive to be embraced rather than an evil to be suffered in regard for a greater good.

In isolation from an objective referent, tolerance and intolerance can and indeed must be applied arbitrarily. In point of fact, a tolerant person will not tolerate all things but only those things considered tolerable by the reigning cultural milieu. Thus the accusation of intolerance has become a weapon against those whose standards for tolerance differ from one's own, and our criteria for tolerance depend on our subjective convictions or prejudices.

The affair grows even muddier when the "acceptance of diversity," present in modern definitions of tolerance, is thrown into the mix. The UN Declaration of Principles on Tolerance incorporates a prior statement from the UN Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, which states: "All individuals and groups have the right to be different" (Article 1.2).

Taken at face value, that is a ridiculous claim. Suicide bombing is different, as are genocide, pedophilia  and sadomasochism. To say that one person has a right to be bad, simply because another happens to be good, is the ludicrous logic of diversity entitlement.

Such sloppy thinking allows tolerance to be applied selectively—to race, sexual orientation, gender or religious conviction—while other areas—such as smoking, recycling or animal experimentation— stand safely outside the purview of mandatory diversity.

This arbitrariness is not new. John Locke (1632-1704) himself, in the midst of his impassioned appeal for religious toleration, notes that of course toleration does not extend to Catholics, Muslims or atheists. "To worship one's God in a Catholic rite in a Protestant country," he writes, "amounts to constructive subversion."

In the end, the question for everyone necessarily becomes not "Shall I be tolerant or intolerant?" but rather "What shall I tolerate and what shall I not tolerate?" What does this mean for Catholic education?

First of all, if we are to continue to be tolerated today and in the future, we must be not only as good as, but better than our public counterparts in terms of academic excellence. We cannot be second best or equal to, we must be better. Groups, like the Fraser Institute, will measure what is measurable, and we must be able to point to our measurable successes. Of course, we know that much of what we do isn’t measurable but we cannot afford to ignore or play down these societal benchmarks.

Secondly, we must remember and replicate the lesson of our religious founders, the various congregations of religious women, who knew how to turn a nickel into a dime. As astute stewards, we must manifest great fiscal management skills and results, and commit to transparency and accountability.

Thirdly, we must be counter-cultural. We must make disciples. Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life has commanded us to do so: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...” Our trustees, teachers and staff have to be strong models and witnesses of the faith which permeates our personal and public lives. We must commit and re-commit to our identity and mission. Our future depends upon it. 

This is a real challenge for us. At a recent high school graduation, I celebrated the Eucharist or the Grad Mass. Of course, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life as Catholics. I didn’t see many signs among the grads of understanding or appreciation of what this was all about.  It was part of the tradition, that’s all.  Only a small minority attend Sunday mass, and I couldn’t help but ask myself, how many disciples did we make over twelve years of Catholic education?

In one of the larger parishes in Calgary we have more than 5,000 registered parishioners, and annually around 400 first communions in grade 4. Our retention rates are good, but by grade 6, we have only 280 for confirmation and most of them are not at Sunday mass. What happened to the missing 120 sheep?  The little bo beep approach to pastoral ministry, i.e. leave them alone and they will come home, doesn’t work anymore.

I am very excited and proud of our work on the new catechetic instrument - Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ - it is state of the art!  However, I am disappointed that it is not fully implemented by some Boards.

I sincerely hope and expect that we will all work towards Catholic education not only be being tolerated but actually embraced in the near future. Thank you for your attention.

Bishop F. B. Henry

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