What to Expect in a Catholic School

My child has never attended a faith-based school. What should I expect?

The Catholic faith is central to who we are and what we do in Catholic schools, and we are proud to profess it.  We look for the face of Christ in every student and believe that each has inherent dignity because each is created in the image and likeness of God. Catholic schools are concerned with the intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional formation and education of students.  Every subject is taught from a Catholic perspective and permeated or infused with our Catholic faith.  Students have religion class regularly and are expected to attend religious celebrations during the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter as well as other times throughout the school year.

How Catholic is your school?

100% Catholic AND all are welcome.  We are disciples of Jesus Christ, grounded in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. With the blessing of our pope and bishops, we endeavor to provide Catholic education in our communities. Our schools welcome Catholic students, students from other Christian denominations, students whose families practice other world religions, and students who have no religious affiliation. All that happens in our schools is guided and directed by Catholic principles.

Do I or my child need to be Catholic to attend a Catholic school?

No. In Alberta, non-Catholic families are welcomed in Catholic schools if sufficient space and programming are available.

How is a Catholic school that is publicly funded different from a public school?

Religious instruction, prayer, liturgies/celebrations of Christian feasts (e.g. feast day of school’s patron saint) and liturgical seasons (e.g. Advent, Lent, Christmas, Easter), a common belief/value system based on the Gospel values, understanding that all are made in God’s image and are to be treated with dignity and respect, and our connection with our local Catholic parishes. The principle of sacramentality is a guiding principle in Catholic schools. It is our belief that we live in a sacred world created by God, so every element of creation present in nature, including human beings, offer us the opportunity to encounter something of God’s presence. All that we learn can lead us to discover more and more about God’s presence in our world.  Our daily activities, service to others, interactions with people and ideas, prayer and celebrations are opportunities to connect with God.

What do Catholic and public schools in Alberta have in common?

In Alberta, public schools and Catholic schools are both publicly funded.  Teachers in both systems follow the same Program of Studies with outcomes for core subjects - math, language arts, social studies, and science as well as complementary courses/options - physical education, music, art, drama, career and technology studies, second languages, and so on. Both Catholic and public schools provide bussing to students and have teachers who have earned at least a Bachelor of Education from an accredited college or university.

How can I expect my child to be treated at a Catholic school?

The Catholic identity of our schools is seen in how we treat one another, how we speak to each other, how we care for others, and how we love one another. Students are taught that each of their classmates is their equal and that all are to be treated with kindness and respect. You can expect your child to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity that each person deserves as a beloved child of God.  When discipline is required, teachers and administrators always keep in mind the truth that all students are created in God’s image. 

Do parents/children need to be baptized to attend a Catholic school?

No.  Students will learn about the sacrament of baptism in our religion program.  Students who express an interest in being baptized will be encouraged to talk with their parents and school staff can bridge the communication with the church if so desired by the parent.

Does my child need to learn certain prayers before attending Catholic school?

No.  While we encourage parents, first educators of their children in faith, to teach their children to pray, we also teach fundamental prayers of our faith in the early grades.

How does prayer fit into the school day?

Christianity is based on a relationship with Jesus, and Catholic schools value opportunities to present our needs to God and to listen to God’s voice. Each day begins with morning prayer.  This may be led within the classroom, read over the intercom from the office, or shared digitally in the classroom.  Grace before lunch break, prayer at the beginning of classes, prayer at the end of the day, and prayer in times of special need are common. Common Catholic prayers such as the Our Father/Lord’s Prayer and Hail, Mary are taught in the early grades. Students are invited and encouraged to lead and participate in prayer throughout the day. 

How many minutes a week is religion taught as a subject?

Check with the administrators or your child’s homeroom teacher. The number of minutes of religion per week varies for each grade level.  Parents can expect religion class taught for approximately 30 minutes per day, however, our Gospel values are embedded in our daily routines. 

Is my child expected to participate at school Masses, celebrations, and liturgies?

Yes.  Students participate in all faith assemblies according to their experience, knowledge, and faith tradition - as they are able. Students who have received First Communion at a Catholic parish are invited to receive the Eucharist at school Masses.  All students are expected to attend all school celebrations including Masses. 

Are parents/other family members welcome at religious celebrations at school?

At religious assemblies for the whole school in the school gym or at the local parish church, family members are always welcome.  Please check with your child’s teacher regarding class celebrations or liturgies, as space may be limited.

Do priests and other members of the parish team visit your school?

Clergy from local parish, priests and deacons, visit schools regularly to dialogue with students and staff, celebrate liturgies, and hear confessions (celebrate the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation).  Pastoral associates and other parish team members may also visit classrooms from time to time or be present to assist with school celebrations.

Will you be taking my child to the Catholic church?

Medicine Hat Catholic schools are closely connected with our Catholic parishes, as we believe that Catholic education is best achieved in a three-way partnership with home, school, and parish. Most of our schools take students to the church for masses for the whole school at least three times a year (e.g. start of the school year, Advent, Lent/Easter, year end Mass). 

Will my child receive the sacraments at the school?

At school Masses in the gym, or local parish church, students and family members attending who have received First Communion and who are prepared are invited to receive the Eucharist.  Both Catholic students and family members can receive.  All other students are invited to come forward to receive a blessing from the priest or other adult distributing communion. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist while other Christian denominations believe that the bread and wine at communion are symbolic re-enactments of the Last Supper. This difference in understanding guides who may receive communion at Catholic Masses. See 1983 Code of Canon Law - Canon 844 - for more information.  Students from other Christian denominations will learn about the Catholic sacraments, but will not be prepared at school to receive them. 

Does the school prepare my child to receive sacraments?

 In all Medicine Hat Catholic schools, which are located within the Diocese of Calgary,  parents are asked to accompany their child(ren) to their local parish churches to be prepared to receive sacraments. These Catholic schools and their local parishes work closely to notify parents of sacramental preparation programs in the parish and registration deadlines.   The school religion program in all schools supports learning about sacraments in general.

What is permeation of faith? (How does the Catholic faith show up in other classes?)

We teach all subjects from a Catholic perspective and make connections between subject matter and our Catholic faith whenever possible.  This is known as permeation.

Because of the principle of sacramentality, we look to understand the world in which we live through the lens of our Catholic faith. Students in Catholic schools learn that faith and reason work hand in hand and not in opposition to each other. In science, teachers help students understand that the complex patterns that exist in nature reflect God, who created them.  In Language Arts or English class, teachers may draw connections between literature and biblical narratives and reflect on the actions of characters in novels in the light of biblical virtue.  In social studies, students may be challenged to reflect on the morality of historical events in the light of Catholic social teaching, the Ten Commandments, and Christ’s two great commandments - to love God and to love one’s neighbour as one’s self. In music class, teachers have the opportunity to choose repertoire that reflects our Christian heritage, such as Christmas carols with sacred texts. These are just a few examples of what permeation can look like. 

What religion program is taught at my school?

Religion teachers have a Catholic curriculum approved by the Catholic Bishops of Alberta.  In Grades 1-7, students learn about faith through the Growing in Faith, Growing in Christ program, which includes an online portal through which in Grades 8-9, a national program from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is used.  In high school, a locally developed Program of Studies, Go and Make Disciples: Living the Great Commission is followed.  

Does my child have to take a religion course or attend religion class?

Yes. Our Catholic faith is integral to our identity. Our expectation is that students in our Catholic schools will be enrolled in religion each year that they attend our schools. 

Will my child learn about any other religions in a Catholic school?

Alberta Education mandates that outcomes related to world religions  be included in all high school religion courses. With the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard, students will also learn about aspects of Indigenous spirituality within all publicly funded schools in the province.

What social justice or charity projects can we expect at a Catholic school?

Our Catholic faith teaches us that all people are our brothers and sisters.  Social justice and charity projects in Catholic schools are a reflection of the imperative to build the common good and to live out the works of mercy which are tenets of our faith (See Paragraph 2447 in Catechism of the Catholic Church). Frequently, Catholic schools collaborate with Catholic social agencies including St. Vincent dePaul, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace - Caritas Canada, Chalice, as well as other charities to help those in need.  Both local and global projects are common in Catholic schools.