At the heart of Ignatian education is the principle of forming individuals who are at the service of others, of society and of the world, especially those who are marginalized. It is in part in light of this intersection between the education of young people and their call to love their neighbor that a partnership was born between the Jesuit Refugee Service Canada and Loyola High School in Montreal for the Secondary 4 Experience Week.
In his letter following the last expanded consultation, Jesuit Provincial Erik Oland notes that “the growing collaboration, both regionally and among apostolic sectors, is fostering a common narrative” for Jesuits in Canada, “while honoring the diversity of cultures, languages, history, etc. We must continue to encourage conversations among ourselves.”
The beginning of a partnership
Loyola’s curriculum includes periods of service where students learn to be “men for others”: the Christian Service Program (service that can be done in the community, with people who are marginalized, etc.) in secondary 1 through 5, as well as for the past ten years, Experience Week in Secondary 4.
The week, which takes place in February, is normally held in a country in the South (Dominican Republic, Belize, or Colombia) or in Montreal. “It’s an experience week, rather than a service week,” explains Annie Beland, Vice Principal – Academics, Junior School and Secondary 1 teacher, “because the idea is to meet communities that we wouldn’t necessarily engage with otherwise.” Of course, with COVID-19, trips abroad had to be cancelled. This has helped to foster a closer relationship with JRS.
“It’s an experience week, rather than a service week,” explains Annie Beland, Vice Principal – Academics, Junior School and Secondary 1 teacher, “because the idea is to meet communities that we wouldn’t necessarily engage with otherwise.”
How? Last fall, Ms. Beland had her secondary 1 students read the book Refugee and wanted to connect the reading with reality. She contacted JRS, which provided an online presentation tailored to the class level and connected the students with a refugee from Toronto who shared her story. “This gave the students a better understanding of refugees as they began their reading,” notes Yves Deschênes, JRS Canada’s communications and fundraising coordinator, who facilitated the formation.
“Afterwards,” explains Ms. Beland, “the students wanted to do something concrete.” So JRS put them in touch with a family that had recently arrived from Togo, and the students gave them gift cards, bicycles, a PS4, and sports equipment. “It was a really great activity for my class,” she says.
A week of experience in Montreal
Since Experience Week had to be held in Montreal this year, Ms. Beland once again called on JRS to host A Journey into Exile, an activity to help prepare 65 Secondary 4 students to spend an afternoon at the Welcome Collective helping to sort and pack items for refugee families. Ms. Beland explained that listening to the refugees was much more powerful than just reading about them. It opened the students’ eyes to what is happening in the world, including, unfortunately, the war in Ukraine and the millions of people fleeing it.
“For boys in Secondary 4, the aspect of entertainment takes priority at the beginning of A Journey into Exile, but then the seriousness of the situation takes over. I’m always amazed at how quickly the kids grasp the issues involved in the activity, which aims to raise awareness about the reality of refugees. The young people bring out the main points by themselves at the end of the activity,” says Mr. Deschênes.
It opened the students’ eyes to what is happening in the world, including, unfortunately, the war in Ukraine and the millions of people fleeing it.
Students shared their comments with the Welcome Collective. “To arrive with nothing and have to deal with starting over—I can only imagine how difficult it must be. I hope our class was able to make a difference to the workers at Welcome Collective,” wrote Jonathan, for example, while his colleague Liam said that “refugees to Canada deserve the warmest possible welcome.”
Ms. Beland also attests to the impact of the partnership: “The JRS team was amazing and we hope to stay in touch with them. The students really enjoyed the activity, and it was a powerful personal experience for me as well.”
A fruitful partnership
Referring to the provincial’s letter, Ms. Beland points out that “reminding people of the importance of collaboration is really important, because we sometimes tend to work on our own. We’re the only Jesuit high school in Montreal and at time we feel a little bit isolated… but we realize that there are other Jesuit works just a few miles away. The connection with JRS was really smooth. Yves was very generous with his time, and this activity not only had a great impact on our school but also allowed us to expand our network with the Welcome Collective, among others.”
“The connection with JRS was really smooth. Yves was very generous with his time, and this activity not only had a great impact on our school but also allowed us to expand our network with the Collectif Bienvenue, among others.”
There was also a desire on the part of JRS to collaborate with other Jesuit works, including educational institutions. “We had established partnerships with works in Western Canada, with Jesuit schools in the United States… but not with our neighbour in Montreal,” explains Mr. Deschênes. COVID-19 has disrupted many things and prevented students from leaving the country. According to health regulations, since the school is in Montreal, A Journey into Exile could be experienced in person. “Ms. Beland’s involvement was fantastic,” Deschênes says, explaining that the “Refugee 101” course conducted in the teacher’s classroom also gave JRS a new tool to be used as needed before the activity A Journey into Exile. In short, Deschênes says, the collaboration highlighted the spirit of shared service and commitment among Jesuit works in Canada. These collaborations are born of relationships between people who unite to do something together.