That’s a number that I keep on a post-it on my office wall. Why? It’s the number of service learning projects that the Catholic schools in our division completed last year.
Notwithstanding the dangers of vanity and pride, it’s a number that I’m happy to share when I speak about the blessings of Catholic schools. Students at all grade levels and in every location have the opportunity to identify areas of need, explore how they can make a difference, and then put their faith into action through service. In Calgary Catholic, we are blessed with a board of Catholic school Trustees that have expressed their commitment to providing service learning opportunities for all students as a priority item in our division’s three-year education plan. That expression provides staff with the direction that we need to prioritize such opportunities in our schools.
Engaging in service learning isn’t just about meeting an arbitrary goal for dollars raised, or cans of soup collected; it’s an opportunity to provide real-life experiences grounded in Catholic social teaching. It gives our students (and staff) opportunities to demonstrate respect for the inherent dignity and worth of human beings, a preferential option for the poor, and active community participation.
It looks a little different in each place. Sometimes, it’s the delivery of custom made Christmas cards to a community seniors’ residence. Other times, it’s a school-wide commitment to Chalice and the provision of funds to support communities in the developing world. Always, there is an emphasis on knowing and praying for those we serve.
When we reflect on the wide variety of projects taken on by our schools, it is easy to focus on the immediate impacts. More important, however, are the students’ opportunities for self-transformation. By engaging in service projects, students can develop a deeper sense of empathy and compassion – and can learn to see the world through the eyes of others. Service learning can also help students develop a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives, as they recognize the importance of using their talents and abilities to make a positive difference in the world.
When we guide our students in service-learning, we teach them to imitate Christ in habits of heart, mind and action. And, when we speak about the distinctiveness of Catholic education, our commitment to service is something that is core to our being as Catholics. This very Thursday at Mass, for example, we will hear the Gospel reading that perfectly embodies that:
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (John 13:14-15)
We should be excited to celebrate and share the Good News of how our students are being transformed and carrying out these acts of charity in our schools. This school year is rushing towards its conclusion – soon, our schools will be reporting back about the service projects they completed. One post-it note will come down and the next will go up…and I can’t wait!
John Wasch currently serves as the Director of Catholicity for the Calgary Catholic School District. He has served as a teacher and administrator for 27 years in the field of publicly funded Catholic education.