Celebrating Multiculturalism in a Catholic School

A. Introduction

This is a guide for Catholic School Teachers in the Separate School System in Ontario and across Canada, based on insights and experiences of Scarboro Missions.

The following outline follows earlier presentations directed to creating a celebrative and educational multicultural environment in Roman Catholic parishes and a report on the Lenten celebrations of ethnic Catholic communities at Scarboro Mission Headquarters in March/April 2003.

While the following is directed to Catholic educators in the Secondary School system, it is also applicable to classroom programs for Elementary Schools and to the public at large.

Most urban communities now across Canada and, in particular, the major urban centres are rich in their diversity of cultures, languages, colours and religious faith traditions.

Different Rites within the Catholic School

In the Catholic Secondary Schools, one finds a great diversity of global Catholic cultures, languages and populations that in many ways are “strangers” to each other. In the classroom, we see enfleshed and embodied the very meaning of “Catholic” or “universal” in students and teachers who are Catholic Christians, but who may be practicing other Rites within the Catholic Church besides the dominant Roman Rite – yet all in communion with Rome and the Pope.

There are the Ukrainian and Greek Catholics as well as Coptics from Egypt, Ethiopian Catholics from Africa, Syrian and Antiochan Catholics from Lebanon and Syria, Armenian Catholics and Malabar Catholics from India. The students and the teachers from these areas of the world have an ancient and rich heritage that can enrich and deepen our understanding of our faith in Jesus and practice of discipleship – but only if we name, recognize and celebrate this cultural and religious diversity in our classroom, in our school and in our school board.

Multicultural Diversity within the Catholic School

The dominant Roman Catholic population that makes up the majority of our school population has great diversity. Some are third and fourth generation Canadian while others are recently arrived immigrant Catholic families escaping war or oppression. Others have come seeking a more opportune economic and educational environment.

These students and teachers claim for their Catholic ancestral roots, not just European or British Commonwealth origins, but a variety of different countries:

  • the multicultural Caribbean foundations that are native, African, Indian and Chinese.
  • the Latin American diversity with a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese and other European roots mingled with the indigenous tribal peoples and ancient native civilizations of Central and South America and Mexico.
  • the Canadian First Nations peoples who were quietly buried in this multicultural mixture of students from “abroad”. Only recently are these Catholic students naming proudly their ancestral heritage.
  • the Catholic schools also teem and colorfully flow with great numbers of youth from Goa and Kerala in India and Pakistan, Tamils from Sri Lanka, white and mixed racial colours from South Africa, Botswana and other African nations.
  • other students are Chinese Catholics from Hong Kong or Singapore, or Korean Christians and even Japanese.

This is a veritable United Nations right within one religious grouping, Roman Catholicism, in one school and even one classroom but too often it is hardly spoken of or referred to – let alone celebrated, studied and understood.

We, at Scarboro Missions, believe it is in the naming and recognizing of this rich cultural diversity and listening to the stories and the heritage of each student and each culture that we will become truly CATHOLIC. By celebrating our diversity, we and also become truly creative global Canadian citizens of a multicultural, multi-lingual and multi-faith world.

Multi-faith Diversity within the Catholic School

As mentioned earlier, right within each class and each school, among students and even teachers, by birth or through marriage, we welcome and embrace smaller but significant numbers of Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Bahai and Buddhist. These students have deliberately chosen to be students in our Catholic system where God and Faith are recognized as sacred and crucial for a balanced human educated life.

Since world religions are a compulsory part in the Ontario Grade XI curriculum, these students and teachers feel more welcomed and can have a greater role in communicating their faith values and practices as part of that curriculum. This participation, in turn, deepens and assists all students and teachers in appreciating their own faith. As a result, we can collectively recognize the movement of the Holy Spirit in all peoples, cultures and faith traditions.

This is a great challenge for every Catholic School Board in Ontario and throughout the country and is one of the most significant contributions we can make to the multicultural fabric and content of our unique Canadian life.

For this reason Scarboro Missions will, over the next two months, outline a variety of steps and methods that a school board, or a particular school, or a particular teacher can use to teach and communicate these religious, ethnic, multicultural values and practices.This can be included as content in a class on history, geography, current affairs, sociology or religion. It can be incorporated in the celebration of a saint’s day, a national feast day or a particular cultural holy-day or holiday.

As school begins, we invite you to look for this outline over the next two months. May we all begin by welcoming each of our students in their diversity as precious gems given to Canada to be educated and cultivated and strengthened for the contribution God intended them and all of us to make to an era of true peace and harmony.

B. Celebrating Multiculturalism in a Catholic School – Guidelines For Students

There are three levels at which multicultural focus can be exercised:

  • in the classroom and the school by, with, and for the STUDENTS.
  • in the classroom and the school by, with and for the TEACHERS.
  • at different levels of the School Board – principals, vice-principals, superintendents and Board of Trustees.

This month’s presentation focuses on STUDENTS in two ways:

  • In the classroom.
  • In the school’s monthly or term focus on specific themes throughout the school year.

In the Classroom

Where there is a Home Room and/or Home Room Teacher:

  • Each class should be encouraged to create a monthly bulletin board display over a 6 or 7 month period, focusing on a different region of the world or different countries and cultures that students come from.
  • Volunteers from the class could be formed into a committee that would see to the creation of the focus for each month and elicit support from the other students representing different cultures.
  • Several times a week over the one month period, students could present an essay or song or cultural artifact, clothing or story that captures a moving dimension of that place or people.
  • If a male and female student can jointly present their message to the class, then it offers a broader perspective.
  • When different Catholic, Christian and other World Faith Traditions can present together, an even richer focus is offered.
  • It would be good if the Home Room teacher or the department that is coordinating the process of making presentations, arrange for some outside presenters (from the families in the school community) or renowned individuals to visit and make a brief presentation to the class.
  • There are many mediums that a person could use to celebrate or present an aspect of that country, culture or faith tradition:
    • playing a unique musical instrument and telling its story or how it is used,
    • singing or playing a tape of one or two songs with an explanation of translation,
    • dramatization by students wearing their native headdress or clothing with its purpose explained as to when and why it is worn,
    • a video or a movie played highlighting the history, struggles for freedom or persecutions of the culture or religion followed by discussion

Where there is No Home Room and/or Home Room Teacher:

In this case, it falls upon a Chaplain or a Department like Religious Education, History, Social Studies or Languages to creatively engage students in this type of activity while being faithful to the required curriculum.The department or teacher animates the process outlined earlier. It is the students that, individually or as a team, research and present the particular activity in the time period that their culture, nation or religious tradition is the focus.Note: the conviction we hold is that, it is in the students being encouraged to research and present this kind of material from their own cultural heritage results in their own love for and awareness of their tradition being enhanced. Also we hold that it is students listening to and learning from classmates that will awaken their own sensitivity to and appreciation for their own cultural religious roots – how Canada and the Educational system supports and protects it.

In the Schools’ Monthly or Term Focus on Specific Themes through out the School Year

In this area of school life, the elected student body, or committees of teacher and students should be seen as the energizing body promoting the cultural or religious theme for the whole term. Of course, the teacher, principal or vice-principal as an advisor would be key in this effort.

The Student Council would need to be awakened to the importance of presenting in various modes or mediums throughout the school year this “diversity of cultures and faiths” that make up the school population, the community and Canada. Once presented to the Student Council, it is then left to them and their advisor to create a variety of means and methods to awaken themselves and their peers to these values.

Following are some suggested aids that student bodies or committees could use:

  • A Main Lobby bulletin board with ongoing colourful pictures, brief articles or clippings as well as student written or artistic presentations to be posted each weelk.
  • An encouraging statement or collage created by and posted by the Student Council for each classroom on a weekly or bi-monthly basis.
  • The daily morning announcements could contain an encouraging word or statement on the focus or theme that is being presented and a brief musical piece could be played of that culture or faith tradition.
  • In the cafeteria, short presentations of song, poetry or dramatizations could be offered by students at the beginning or end of the lunch period on a specific day each week.
  • Along with the regular menu and with the help of students and parents, a particular national, cultural or religious food could be offered to highlight that culture of faith to conclude the focus of that week or that month.
  • At that same time, a few classes or the entire student body could be encouraged to wear some aspect of the dress or a symbol of that people or culture. To enable the student body who wished to show solidarity with, empathy for or identification with that people or faith tradition or culture.
  • The Student Dance once a year could focus with decorations and music on the different cultures or national heritages represented in the school. A pause in the dance could offer a 10-15 minute exciting cultural dance presentation by one of the groups. (This and other suggestions is a way of having fun and experiencing the joy of other cultures).
  • The School Band could be encouraged by the Student Council to learn and to offer in its yearly concert some special pieces of music from different nations or cultures that they have learned.
  • The School Play or the Drama Program could be encouraged by the Student Council to create themselves, use a short story to highlight the value and the beauty of one’s own culture and respect for other cultures. This in turn could be offered to all the student body in an assembly.
  • In a School Assembly, the Student Council could use a mixture of band, drama and poetry to highlight this Multi-cultural theme or Multi-Faith theme for the year, and engage a past graduate working in this field (or a noted member of the community) to speak on this theme in the assembly.
  • In the March Break and at other times in the school year, different departments sometimes lead students on a trip to another country of culture. The Student Council should encourage those going to be more focused on their trip, to enter more deeply into the culture visited and to have a way of presenting their experiences to the student body.
  • In the Season of Advent and Lent for the Christians, Diwali for the Hindus and Ramadan for the Muslims and Hanukah for the Jews, the Student Council may wish to use these times to highlight certain aspects of a culture as fasting, prayer, chants, music and celebration.Many Separate Schools generally try to highlight sensitivity to the poor of the world. In wishing to raise money and awareness of global social problems, they use a period of time in Lent to have an overnite “Fast” or “Starvathon” in which the participants raise money for a cause and also have speakers come in to raise awareness on social issues or suffering of a particular people or nation.Some high schools take several days or a week in the midst of the school curriculum to have an assembly or workshop to raise awareness. Also to elicit action from students on social, economic, political or religious or cultural issues.The Student Council could encourage the use of these times to focus more intentionally on the chosen areas of concern for that year.
  • Finally, the student body and/or past students now graduated have worked or are working and traveling globally to countries and cultures that are the focus of the term or the year for that school.These students or returned lay missioners, priest or sister missioners, members of D& P, CIDA, Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders), or other groups could be invited in the course of the year to participate in some of these programs that the Student Council or Committees focus on.

C. Celebrating Multiculturalism in a Catholic School – For Teachers and Principals

Table of Contents

    Foundation #1
    Foundation #2

    • Steps to follow for Teachers wishing to promote Multiculturalism
      1. Don’t do it alone
      2. Invite other teachers to “come and see”
      3. Engage other teachers to include Multiculturalism in their courses
      4. Engage the entire school
    • Stages of Consultation
      • Consultation and Presentation to School Staff
        1. Purpose and vision
        2. Presenters
        3. Mode of presentation
        4. Feedback
      • Decision by School Staff
        1. Follow-up Staff meeting
        2. Committee to Implement
        3. Alternatives
        4. Smaller Committee of Staff and Students
      • Consultation with Student Council
        1. Meeting
        2. Process
        3. Feedback
        4. Follow-up
        5. One small step


Foundation # 1

The success of any program of Multicultural Education and Celebration depends on the energy, enthusiasm and commitment a Teacher or Teachers brings to this project at every level of the school.

Foundation # 2

The success of any program of Multicultural Education and Celebration depends critically upon the Teachers’ ability to empower and encourage the students to take on this project for either a month, a term or for the entire school year.

Perhaps it would be valuable to once again state:
There is no structure or system in Canadian society as prepared and as potentially able to educate, introduce and encourage the celebration of Multiculturalism as the Catholic Separate School System.

It commits itself to be a School System with a difference by the open study, reflection and discussion about God, morals and religious principles. It also embodies within itself a diversity of Catholic rites and a diversity of other Faiths and Cultures.

This then is a wonderful environment for any student to meet the multi-faith and multicultural world of Canada by recognizing and celebrating its richness and vitality. It can help to develop students who later on, work for the respect and reverence of all cultures and peoples in both Canada and the world.

  1. Don’t Do It Alone!
    You can’t do it alone – so while beginning a dialogue with your students on this theme in the context of a particular a class project, consult and share your vision and concern with one or more teachers in your department.
  2. Invite Other Teachers To “Come And See”:
    If you wish to have all teachers in your Department developing and celebrating this Multicultural Theme in their home rooms, the following is suggested. DIALOGUE WITH THEM and invite them to attend a presentation by the students on this theme. You can also invite them to visit your classroom to see your bulletin board or Multicultural displays.
  3. Engage Other Teachers To Include The Multicultural Theme In Their Courses:
    Teachers of history, geography, sociology and religion (Grade XI – World Religions), who have experienced teaching a Multicultural theme in their courses, are crucial for introducing that theme to other teachers in the school. (This step itself could take one or two terms in the school year, so this project should be seen as a two or three year project).
  4. Engaging the Entire School:
    To make Multiculturalism a school project celebrated in a diversity of ways for a week, a month, a term or for the entire school year, a number of stages have to be followed carefully.
  • Consultation And Presentation To School Staff:
    1. Purpose and Vision:
      First and foremost, the purpose and vision of having this Multicultural project or theme for the entire school needs to be presented to the teachers of all departments. It is also important to explain the aim to school secretaries, school custodians and even to the kitchen staff and bus drivers.
    2. Presenters:
      It is a good idea to have a few teachers and students (who were engaged in the original classroom study and celebration of Multiculturalism) be part of the presentation to the entire staff. To do this effectively, the Principal and Vice Principal should be consulted first and be called on to assist in the presentation to staff.
    3. Mode Of Presentation:
      The presentation can be made to both groups (a) Principal and Vice Principal and (b) entire school staff. It should be short and enthusiastic, highlighting the positive experience already shared by some staff and students and presenting the long-range value of such a project.
    4. Feedback:
      Time should be given for the Staff, either individually or by departments, to discuss their feeling and attitudes about such a program in their school.
  • Decision By School Staff:
    1. Following Staff Meeting:
      Following the Staff consultation and original feedback, a follow-up staff meeting should be planned. The minutes of the original meeting, suggestions and critiques, reservations, pros and cons should be outlined and recorded.
    2. Committee To Implement:
      If the overall response is positive, a committee should be developed including the Principal or Vice Principal, some staff and students to come up with a plan of how to implement the focus and celebration of Multiculturalism for the entire School.
    3. Alternatives:
      If the overall staff response is negative, then seek to get on a more limited level an agreement for some additional Multicultural focus of the entire school, as in:

      • Celebrate a religious or cultural feast or celebration, i.e., the Greek feasts a week after a Roman Feast (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter); Hindu “Diwali”, Muslim or Islamic “Ramadan”; Caribbean or Latina “Mardi Gras”; Jewish “Hanukkah” and others.
      • Set a week aside for “cultural awareness” raising in the same way as some schools set aside a week for raising Social Justice awareness.
      • Hold a monthly remembering of several significant past or present National, International or Global leaders and their contribution.
    4. Smaller Committee of Staff And Students:
      A Committee of Staff and Students should be created to see to the planning and executing of this more limited but important first step, and communicate the plans to all staff.
  • Consultation With Student Council:
    1. Meeting:
      The effort must be made to mobilize the students’ participation and support by consulting with the Student Council.
    2. Process:
      Follow the same method of giving a short clear positive presentation to the Student Council Body by some experienced teachers and students already engaged in the class or the Departmental Multicultural projects.
    3. Feedback:
      Time should be given for the Student Council to discuss their feelings and attitudes and to make their suggestions or critiques to the plan.
    4. Follow-Up:
      A decision could be made at that meeting to go ahead with a Multicultural Awareness program and celebration. If no decision can be reached, a follow-up meeting should be agreed on to occur in a week or two with suggestions and critiques typed up and distributed for reflection before that meeting.
    5. One Small Step:
      If the Student Council is not willing to endorse the project, a small group of teachers and students should come together and conceive of some smaller celebrations that could be entered in the course of the school year. This would be one small step towards greater Multicultural awareness in the school.


  1. Principals need to support teachers, staff and students in any effort that is being made in the area of Multicultural activity. Your presence in the classroom for observation or in the auditorium for a presentation is crucial.
  2. Thank individual teachers, a class, the Student Council or staff in meetings or in public announcements.
  3. At meetings of Principals, Vice Principals and Superintendents, mention the program, the rationale, the purpose and the process of Staff and Student involvement.
  4. Once it has grown and evolved in your own school, send a report to the Board Members/Trustees and seek to have a brief staff/student presentation on the Multicultural Program in the school. This may inspire other schools and be an education as well to the Board and Trustees.
  5. When there are events in your school focusing on Multicultural themes, invite Superintendents and Trustees to attend.

We at Scarboro Missions hope that this series on Celebrating Multiculturalism will be of assistance to you.

The joy and the enthusiasm of peoples, faiths and cultures are beautifully captured in a song used at the World Youth Day in Toronto in July 2002. The song is “Malo, Malo” (Thanks be to God), expressing “Thank you” in many different languages. The soloist was Jesse Manibusan.

We leave it with you together with our prayers and best wishes.

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