Fr. Stan Fortuna: what works for Catholic schools.
Thanks especially to the efforts of dedicated staff, the internationally-known "Rapping Reverend" from the South Bronx was welcomed back to Dante Alighieri Academy, a Catholic secondary school in northwest Toronto, for an expanded follow-up to a concert the previous year.
Dante students frequently come from families struggling to pay their bills, settle into a new country following recent immigration, and adjust to tragedies, separations and/or divorces. Disproportionate numbers of students speak languages other than English at home, and/or require special education. Just 72 percent of Dante's grade nine students passed the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) this year, compared to 84 percent in the province as a whole (www.tcdsb.org, Mar. 2007).
On top of these burdens, the students are immersed in media which disparage the values that had traditionally been conveyed through the cooperative efforts of home, school, and parish. But by regularly 'switching channels' in his delivery, Fr. Stan kept the attention of students used to constant change with their electronic devices. He was well-received as he interspersed serious messages from Scripture, the lives of the Saints, and papal teachings with a wide range of music and comedy. Throughout his visit, he exhorted his audience to faith and morality through conversion to Christ.
The mission got underway with an evening talk for parents and teachers on "Reaching Youth in a Media Culture." On the second day, Fr. Start gave a school assembly for the students, on the search for authentic love. He used an acronym for F.A.M.I.L.Y. also found in his lyrics: "Forget About Me, I Love You." On the third day he offered an Instructional Mass--in which he meticulously explained each part of the liturgy, beginning with the vestments he wore. Later on, he concluded his visit with a concert demonstrating his eclectic style and reverence for Truth. "He has challenged students to really think about life's most important questions and the answers, religion teacher Robert Quaglia told Catholic Insight.
Taken as a whole, the mission attested to the importance of strong Catholic schools. Ticket prices were offset by grassroots fundraisers and by support from the both the CSAC (Catholic School Advisory Council, primarily comprised of parents) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Committed teachers met with a group of students called the "Fr. Stan Crew" every week over several months to do logistical planning. "Fr. Stan gives of himself so much, and we too encourage the kids (Crew) to give without counting the cost of what they get back in return, really give!" said Quaglia.
While Fr. Stan will be invited to return to the school, it is also anticipated that his third year of involvement with Dante will involve deeper exposure to worship and service with the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Fr. Stan is one of the original eight members of the C.F.R., which has been serving the materially poor and evangelizing the Church for 20 years. His own apostolates include a recording studio and a youth cultural centre, both in the South Bronx.
"We hope to plan a trip to New York (in 2008) and visit the Francisan Community. The trip will be open to all past Fr. Stan crew members who have helped over the years. The trip will be a faith and culture event in New York City, maybe over the March Break," said Quaglia.