How to apply for a Priest Reference Letter to the Catholic School Board
As part of the documentation to submit with their application, people interested in becoming teachers for a Catholic School Board need a “pastoral reference”. Similar references are required for teachers when applying to particular positions within the Catholic school system, e.g. (vice) principal.
Our local Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) has developed a special form. Other School Boards use similar forms, or expect letters covering the same topics. Substantially, the various regional Boards have the same expectations.
As is evident from the OCSB form, this kind of reference is issued by a priest. Normally, it should be the pastor of the parish to which the applicant belongs. The main purpose of the priest reference is to certify that the applicant is a practicing Roman Catholic. What this means is briefly explained in this video. The OCSB form also explains various areas in which Catholics practice their faith, and through which the priest might know them personally.
This last fact – whether the priest knows an applicant or not – has to be considered the basis for writing a reference. It must be avoided, therefore, that the applicant speak with the priest for the first time at the moment of requesting a reference letter. Just as in other professional areas, asking someone for a reference presupposes that the person asked is in fact able to provide such a reference, and to stand behind what is being said within the letter.
The Catholic School Boards (and with them, Catholic parents and Catholics in general) expect from its teachers that they be Catholic Christians in more than a formal sense. There are external aspects to consider: Is the applicant attending Sunday Mass every week? Registered in the parish? Offering volunteer services and helping with parish ministries, either regularly or sporadically? Contributing to the parish financially? Married in the Church? These visible aspects should not be underestimated or discounted as mere formalities; instead, they are manifestations of inner, spiritual realities. The School Boards, however, are also directly interested in knowing something about the personal, interior dispositions of applicants: about their personal commitment to God, the Church, and the faith; about their familiarity with the life of the Church (including knowing something about the basics of doctrine and discipline, and personally adhering to it, as expressed also in their own values and attitudes).
These expectations should be read as a personal checklist, a kind of examination of conscience which any aspirant should perform before choosing to apply to the School Board and to contact a priest (normally their own pastor) for a reference. It is not about checking these boxes but about being (or else becoming) a practising Catholic, both able and willing to exercise the ministry of teaching in one of our Catholic schools. If you are a practising Catholic, it will be natural that you know a (and probably more than one) priest you can ask for a reference, and for that priest it will be very easy to give you one. If not, you should not ask for a reference until you have taken the steps to become a practising Catholic and worked towards being part of your parish family, participating in and contributing to its life and mission.
Catholic Schools need teachers who are committed to the faith, who without any arrogance know and appreciate the difference between Public and Catholic Schools, and teachers at Catholic Schools are important witnesses to the faith, in the various aspects and parts of their lives, personally, at school, with their families, in their parishes, and publically. Any pastor will be happy to write a reference for someone who is a member of his parish community. In the long run, both students and teachers themselves will benefit from being part of the life of the local church community. And, as Jesus puts it, “their reward in heaven will be great.”