Niagara Catholic Board issues statement following prayer read to students last week
The Niagara Catholic School Board has issued a statement after a prayer asking God to protect the people of Israel was read last week.
The prayer was read out during virtual school on Thursday at Saint Michael Catholic High School asking God to protect Israel from threats from those who seek to harm.
The board says it understands a petition has been launched, and it wants residents to know the prayer was a mistake and had no malicious intent.
They have issued a statement from school officials along with an apology.
"On Thursday, May 20, a prayer was shared with students at Saint Michael Catholic
High School through in the Virtual Learning Environment that caused distress and
offense to many in the school community. The prayer was found online by the
school’s chaplaincy leader, Jolene Smith.
The role of a Catholic high school and school board is to educate students on global
issues, without taking sides in complex geopolitical events. This is what happened
on Thursday when the prayer, asking God to protect Israel from threats from those
who seek to harm, was shared as the morning prayer and quite rightfully upset many
in the school and Niagara community.
We understand that there is a petition circulating asking “the Niagara Catholic
District School Board to stop in-class pro-Israel and pro-Zionist prayers.” We assure
the Niagara community that no petition is needed. We share the concerns of the
individual who created the petition, and those who have signed and shared it. We
will continue to begin and end our days in prayer, and assure you that those prayers
will focus on inclusivity, community and the hope for a better tomorrow. This
morning’s prayer at Saint Michael Catholic High School is a multifaith prayer, led by
Ms. Smith. We hope will be a first step toward healing.
Saint Michael Catholic High School is a microcosm of Niagara, Ontario and Canada.
It is a diverse school community, where all are welcomed, and the diversity within
its population is celebrated as a strength. Students and staff at Saint Michael learn
different perspectives from each other. While the conversations are not always easy,
they are extremely important in helping create a community of unity and
Ms. Smith sought to make the daily prayer relevant to an important world event.
However, she acknowledges that she was careless in her choice of prayer and deeply
regrets the decision she made without consulting her immediate supervisors for
approval. She is devasted by the resulting fallout from her decision, which has had
impact beyond the school community.
Saint Michael Principal Glenn Gifford and Ms. Smith spoke with individuals who were
hurt and offended by the prayer throughout the weekend. These were difficult and
often uncomfortable conversations, but both Mr. Gifford and Ms. Smith are grateful
to all those who candidly expressed their disappointment and concerns. Their focus
is on healing the harm caused by the use of the prayer, and ensuring that all students
at Saint Michael Catholic High School know that they are loved, valued and
important members of the Saint Michael community, that they are safe and
respected at school, and that they truly feel that they belong.
It is our sincere hope that all Niagara Catholic students not only hear this, but
experience it through their school experiences every day.
This has been a difficult weekend for Ms. Smith, who prepared a video statement for
students to apologize for her lapse in judgement. As the incident began with a
morning prayer, the video was shared with students at the start of the school day on
Tuesday to ensure that all students receive the message at the same time. She is
devastated at the thought that, in attempting to do good, she brought harm to the
Saint Michael community.
A number of other difficult conversations have taken place at the system level this
weekend to ensure that something like this does not happen again at Saint Michael,
or any other of our Catholic elementary or secondary schools. This is a teachable
moment for us; we will learn and grow from this experience and improve in all that
we do. Elementary and secondary chaplaincy leaders will be reminded how and
where to access school and grade-appropriate prayers, and of the importance of
vetting new prayers with the Board Chaplaincy Leader and their principal before they
are sent to school communities.
At Niagara Catholic, we believe not only in forgiveness, but in compassion and in
second chances. We have all been in a similar place at Ms. Smith finds herself in at
one time or another; intending to do something good and finding our intentions have
gone wrong. In these moments, we turn to the Lord’s Prayer, specifically the part
about forgiving us our errors as we forgive those who wronged us, with the hope of
finding forgiveness from those we have wronged.
We cannot undo what happened at Saint Michael Catholic High School last Thursday.
All we can do is reassure our students and their families that they are loved and
valued and that we celebrate each and every student and staff as a child of God, ask
your forgiveness, and hope that families will continue to trust that the physical,
emotional and spiritual well-being of our students will always our first priority." Director of Education Camillo Cipriano, and Chair of the Board Larry Huibers