The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board appears to be in the forefront of pro-life activity among the youth of Ontario’s Catholic High Schools, setting a model other school boards would do well to follow.
Five years ago, the board of directors for the HWCDSB passed a proposal to put pro-life issues on the front burner. A committee, called the "Culture of Life" committee, was struck up with High School teachers, religion consultants, and superintendent, in collaboration with the Hamilton Diocesan Office for Ministry, Family, and Religious Education. The aim of the committee is to empower the youth throughout the seven Catholic High Schools of the board to become active and informed pro-lifers.
"To make a future without abortion a reality, it has to come from the youth," says Barry Mombourquette, co-chair of the "Culture of Life" committee and teacher at St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School. "There has to be a ground-swelling impetus that can only come from the youth. The youth must speak out."
With a strong sense of the urgency of educating youth on life issues, this committee works to bring the pro-life message to all the youth of their High Schools. There are active pro-life groups in all seven High Schools. Their many activities include fundraising for pro-life organizations, witnessing to their fellow students, visiting the elderly, attending Life Chain, and the annual March for Life and youth rally in Ottawa.
The committee arranges initiatives for the schools in education on life issues at each grade level, with guest lectures and sessions. In grade nine, students receive education on chastity; in grade ten sessions cover "pro-life 101" on current life issues; in grade eleven they speak on bio-ethical issues, including stem-cell research and cloning; and in grade twelve they address human sexuality and relationships. Further, the committee co-hosts an annual pro-life leadership conference with the Halton Catholic District School Board.
"Our goal," says Mombourquette, "is for the students to become informed and active on current life issues."
Setting up the "Culture of Life" committee has not been an easy road, however. Teresa Hartnett, co-chair for the committee and program director for the Hamilton Diocesan Office for Ministry, Family, and Religious Education, says that two things in particular come to mind as important factors in bringing the Board to where it is today. "We were not accusatory in suggesting they were not prolife or doing enough, but explained why we felt the group was necessary and in fact important to the Board," said Hartnett. "The second is that we brought a proposal that was already written and in place and had gone through revisions with many partners."
"The proposal that we now have could be used by others as a prototype making their process much easier," says Hartnett.
This year, the "Culture of Life" committee has seen unprecedented success and enthusiasm among the youth of Hamilton’s Catholic High Schools. They brought over 150 students to the March for Life and youth rally in Ottawa. Students are also noticed for their achievements and talents. Edward Woolley, winner of the Father Ted Colleton Scholarship, and Lucyed Hernadez, winner of the March for Life t-shirt contest, attend St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School in Hamilton. Pro-life speaker and vocalist, Kathleen Dunn, who sang for this year’s March for Life and youth rally, attends Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School in Ancaster.
"This March for Life has been the most empowering of them all," says Kathleen Dunn. She recounts how she and her fellow students were blessed by the witness they saw at the March and youth rally and left with "renewed spirits and new ideas to spread the message of life" at their schools.
The results of the educational efforts of the "Culture of Life" committee speak for themselves to the success of their endeavours. Their attendance at the annual March for Life continues to impact students, making them on fire for life. "With the March for Life, suddenly the world of pro-life is not so small and it is exciting to belong to something so important!" says Hartnett. "This is what happens during these events, an absorbing of the absolute need and value in being pro-life."