catholic public and real public education in morinville.

The logo of Morinville Community High School, where I graduated in 2001.

Having grown up in and attended Kindergarten to Grade 12 at schools in the Town of Morinville, it has been interesting to watch the recent media coverage focusing on the town’s lack of real public education. An anomaly in the school system, the public schools in Morinville are also Catholic schools, administered by the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District.

There are a few historical reasons contributing to this situation. Morinville was established by Francophone Roman Catholics (including my ancestors, the Tellier’s) who travelled west from Quebec with Father Morin in the 1890s.

While the town’s history has deep roots in Western Canadian Francophone culture, the 2006 census reported that only 7% of the current population spoke French.

According to information provided by the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District published in recent media reports, only 30 percent of Morinville residents self-identify as Catholic.

When the provincial government overhauled the school board structure in the mid-1990s, Morinville’s Catholic Thibeault School Division was rolled into the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, which then acted as a “Catholic Public” school board. It is my understanding that this “Catholic Public” definition allows the District to appease Section 44(3) of Alberta’s School Act, which states that “every individual is a resident of a public school district or division.” Because of this “Catholic Public” status, all residents of Morinville also contribute taxes to this board and only have the option of elected Catholic School Trustees during municipal elections.

Having been a student in that system for 13 years, I have no complaints about the quality of education I received from the Teachers, who were mostly excellent educators. My personal experience attending these schools makes me keenly aware of how thin the “public” line of the system actually was. I chose not to attend Religion classes in high school, like most of my graduating cohort, yet we still had to start classes with morning and afternoon prayers. A student could avoid some of the more pervasive official religious education inside the classroom, but there was no mistake that the schools themselves existed in a religious environment.

Is there a place for Catholic education in this community? Sure. However, a religious minority of residents should not determine the only type of education available for the majority.

It is important to respect our history, but it should not stop a community from moving forward. It is not unreasonable to expect that the education system reflect the reality of the community of today, rather than the character of the community from 50, 60, or 100 years ago, when Morinville was a predominantly Roman Catholic community. That is simply not the reality in 2011.

28 thoughts on “catholic public and real public education in morinville.”

  1. AS a former resident of the Morinville area, I found this very interesting. I did not got to school in Morinville, but attended a County of Sturgeon school in Riviere qui Barre. We had a similar, but imformal system. For the last half hour of the day, the “protestant” members of the class were invited to leave while the rest of us took our religion classes.

    I agree with you. The system should be able to change to reflect the character of the community as it exists today. How can a community grow if it is stuck in the past?

    Thank you for an excellent atricle.

  2. its about time, that this province overhaul this medieaval practice of allowing a religious denomination to be considered “public” schooling. Call it what it really is, proselytizing to the young, and using public monies and facilities to do so. In a world where all types of religions are being used as an excuse for intolerance, and global power struggles, its time to take a stand in Canada, and Alberta, and complete the separation of church and state and remove them completely from the public system.

  3. I don’t think any religious education should be publicly funded. The only reason I put my kids in the Catholic school system here is because in my part of Edmonton it was the only place that had a french immersion junior & senior high close together.

    It’s a colossal waste of money having two separate publicly funded systems. Alberta wants to keep education costs under control? Make the entire system public.

    Religious education should happen at home.

  4. My first day of school (so many years ago) remains a shocking memory. Not a single one of my neighbourhood friends went with me. The all went to the Catholic school. To break up neighbours because of religion hardly seems right to me. We don’t do it at play… we don’t do it in business… we don’t do it in Cubs, Scouts, Guides or on the Little League team, but we do it in schools.

    We don’t separate our children with Sikhism… Islam… Jainism… Hinduism… Buddhism… the colour of their skins… the ethnically traditional foods they might eat at home… the languages of their grandparents… but we feel the need protect a tradition that separates people of the Catholic faith.

    Never could figure out how this is good… or fair.

    Those boys were never my best friends again… all because I was not a Catholic… and our time together was thereafter restricted.

  5. While I’ll take your word that you receive a good education at the local school, one must remember that Catholic education doesn’t just mean that students get 20 to 40 minutes of religious instruction per day. It means that Catholic education is interwoven with all the other subjects. First, who are the teachers? Are they all Catholic? Next, if Catholicism is interwoven within all the other subjects, then how can one get a “fair” discussion on matters that may go against Catholic theology? I don’t expect kindergarten students to discuss gay rights. However, will they be exposed to various types of families through class read alouds? Will they be exposed to gay couples leading their families? On second thought, I wonder how well public schools are doing on this matter. The point is that non-Catholic students are receiving a Catholic education even if they are exempt from prayers. The parents should sue for a proper public education with voting rights to elect their trustees.

  6. There goes the demographic argument! Where I live, non-Christians enroll their children in private Catholic secondary schools because they don’t want them in a Godless secular system. It ties the Quebec government in knots because they don’t want those kids being educated by Catholics, even though their parents want them to be. Making their subsidies conditional on private Catholic schools forbidding registration of non-Catholics is presently under discussion. The Catholic private schools, to their credit, are resisting.

  7. I agree with you entirely, except for this line that seems to be needless placating:
    “Is there a place for Catholic education in this community? Sure.”

    Should we learn about religion and what religious people believe? Yes, because I believe it increases tolerance and cooperation; however, that doesn’t equate to proselytization and indoctrination – which should never be publicly funded.

    The UN has found the separate school system of Ontario to be discriminatory to the many religions that don’t get there own boards. Newfoundland, Quebec and Manitoba all had separate school boards, and all removed them with little more than a procedural amendment to the Constitution.

    It’s time for Alberta to end the segregation and bring its students together.

  8. Good post, Dave.

    On the issue of Morinville in particular, it strikes me that a referendum would be a fair way of determining what school system will eventually be the main public system there.

    On a side note, one of the issues that bothers me is the form which determines the system your tax dollars will fund. The problem is that the form does not ask you which system, public or separate, you’d like to fund. Rather, it offers two options: a) Being non-catholic and funding the public system, or b) Being Catholic and thus funding the separate system. It intrinsically links your choice of religion with the destination of your tax dollars. As a nominal catholic and happy graduate of the Pembina Hills public school district, I would prefer to fund the public school system. And it is my right to say “Look, I identify as a Catholic, but that’s not where my money will be going.”
    I can live with the separate school system, but this rule needs a fix.

  9. It is confusing to me. Doesn’t the St. Albert/Mornville area have a Seperate Secular system. Every student in St. Albert is not attending a Catholic school. If the separate school system feels the need to build a secular school in Mornville then that is their prerogative.

    Catholic families have had to develop schools for their communities across the province in Seperate School systems. If people want a secular school why don’t they build it.

  10. What I’d like to see is a single public school system where churches can rent a classroom during the school day and provide or pay for an instructor to provide religious instruction to whatever students want to take the class.

  11. The issue here is that this is a potential constitutional can of worms. Publicly-funded denominational schools are guaranteed to minority Roman Catholics or Protestants, depending on what the majority religion is in an area, in Quebec (sort of), Ontario & Alberta under the terms of both the Constitution Act of 1867 (s. 93), and the Alberta Act that created the province. The Constitution Act of 1982 contained (s. 29) a simple statement that the Charter does not override s. 93 of the 1867 Act. Therefore, there is no Charter challenge available. This situation arose because in the 19th century, when our Constitution was being written, the concerns of the Roman Catholic minority was a potential deal-breaker in Confederation, due to the relatively recent history of religious persecution of Catholics. While I agree the time for denominational schools is past, I don’t think enough Albertans are seized of this issue for a campaign for a constitutional change to have any hope of success.

    In the Greater St. Albert area, which includes Morinville, unlike the rest of the province, the Roman Catholic school board is the “public” school, while the St. Albert Protestant school board is the “separate” school board. One short-term solution might be for parents to appeal to the Protestant board to see if the would be willing to extend their reach out to Morinville and establish a Protestant school there.

  12. Corina, they cannot build a secular school in Morinville because there is already a “Public” option, the Catholic school.

    This is silliness, that in this day and age, that children are exposed to indoctrination of a religious ilk on a daily basis.

  13. Ok so there’s school prayer in the morning. Why the big deal? There arer religious symbols from many faiths throughout society. If you don’t like the prayer, you’re respectful and don’t say it. That’s your right.

    Besides there’s all sorts of offensive imagery – sexual, violence, you name it. Hardly see how a small religious exercise is offensive. Tolerance goes both ways.

  14. A Protestant school is not a secular school, because there is a respect and tolerance for the varied religious beliefs of the families who send their children there. A secular school represents a step backwards to a time when people would kill other people because they didn’t like their religion.

  15. “Secular” schools being intolerant of a variety of religious beliefs is being used as an argument in favour of maintaining a school board that promotes one singular religion? That’s interesting.
    The “secular” schools I’ve been in have been more than tolerant of a variety of religious beliefs. Last time I checked the “secular” schools weren’t telling small children they’d burn in hell for eternity because they didn’t believe in exactly what the teacher and school believed in – which is what it seems the Catholic schools in Morinville are doing.

  16. Telling children they will burn in hell for eternity is not Catholic theology. And I don’t think that David said that this was his experience of the Catholic school in Morinville. He DID mention prayers (written by the students themselves according to a former Morinville teacher on FB) and optional religion courses that he, even though a Catholic did not have to take.

    Catholics have respect for the primacy of conscience of others written right into their Catechism. It is a pity that people have become so religiously illiterate that they can make such ridiculous statements. Someone needs to read up on Hell, seriously.

  17. Rachelle, you clearly have not read the articles associated with the issue in Morinville. If you had you would have seen that that is exactly what the children of some of these families have been told.

    I’d avoid calling others religiously illiterate when the issue has nothing to do with religious literacy. If you had bothered to read why some of the parents in Morinville are upset about how their children are being treated you might know that. You might want to start with the article Dave linked to, but there are other ones out there too.

    If you want to talk about ridiculous statements though how about this one:
    “A secular school represents a step backwards to a time when people would kill other people because they didn’t like their religion.”
    That’s a totally absurd statement you made. I (and any rational human being would) fail to see how schools who respect the religious diversity and beliefs of all their students in any way relates to going to a time when people were killed because of their religion. Statements like that certainly aren’t going to convince anyone to accept your arguments – including people that otherwise would have.

  18. Denny, if you could provide links to articles coming out of Morinville itself, I would be most grateful. David linked to an opinion piece published in Calgary.

    If you are going to quote me, please do not quote me out of context. The calls for a secular school certainly seem to show a high level of intolerance for a point of view that isn`t secular. And if you check out what the Churches in Morinville are, you will find a high number of Christian Churches for such a small town. And there is the Bahai faith as well, which believes in the universality of all religions. I counted 8 Churches, of which the highest demographic (30%) was Catholic. These stats did not include the Church of Secularism, which would have brought numbers up to 9. So, if you are wanting a purely secular school, as opposed to a protestant school, with no religiosity flowing from the pores of the students, it`s going to have some really small numbers.

  19. I quoted your absurd statement about securalism in schools being a step back in time to a time when people killed others based on religion in context.
    How is calling for a secular school intolerant? I haven’t called for an end to Vatholic schooling, but I have called for a school where small children are not told they’ll go to hell for not sharing the school’s beliefs – which for some reason you seem to think is fine.

  20. Denny, I agree that secular public schools are easily the preferable option, but I think your last statement’s silly.
    While it’s entirely possible that Morinville teachers were telling kids that they’d go to hell for not believing what they were told, I’d say that Rachelle made it pretty clear that she thinks this would be neither fine nor representative of Catholicism.
    Your arguments are good; just keep the elbows down.

  21. I think that the code word secular needs a deeper look. Would a secular school prohibit the wearing of the Muslim hijab (head scarf) by either teacher or student? The wearing of the cross on a chain around one`s neck, whether by teacher or student? Would a Sikh student be allowed to wear his religiously obligatory dagger into the classroom? His turban? Would a secular school prohibit Muslims from saying their prayers during the school day? Would it refuse to provide place for those prayers to be said? Because those prohibitions is what the word secular conjures in a very real sense. Pluralism causes us to face some real challenges in the way we are used to doing things. These issues will arise more and more as the demographics of the country change as more non-European immigration takes place. Secularism is something that takes a stance for the status quo and seeks to abstract all religion, including our own Christian religion, from public institutions, many times in order to prevent the others from visibly witnessing to theirs. One has to be aware of this political context when using the term. Secular and Public are not equivalent terms.

  22. This is probably only of historical interest, but when Canada was formed, one of the difficult problems that needed to be addressed was the fact that the predominantly catholic Lower Canada and predominantly protestant Upper Canada wanted to be sure that they would each have the right to be educated in the religion of their choice, anywhere in the country. The Constitution Act therefore provided for the creation of “dissentient” schools. That is, when the system was set up, everyone assumed that the “public” system would be religious. It would merely be the religion of the majority, either Roman Catholic, or Protestant.

    The strange situation that has evolved is now that the public system is usually secular, it is only the minority religion that gets a religious school system at all.

    All I mean to add to the conversation is that the right of religious minorities to have access to their own religious schools is constitutionally protected. So far as I’m aware, the right to a secular school system is not.

    So if it seems like the current system is weird, the weirdness comes from a long way back.

  23. To many the issue was never ‘should’ there be a public system for those who want it, it was the aggressive intolerant way this whole issue was brought to the publics attention. Had it been handled differently from the start maybe there would never of been such a negative spin and so many people wouldnt have felt attacked and the results would of been… a school just the same…how unfortunate…perhaps if that group of ladies had the Lord in there lives there would have been more peace in there hearts…lol just a thought!

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