September 12, 2014

Remembering a saint

Before George MacDonald met Pope John Paul II 30 years ago his life looked bleak.

Published in Canada

TORONTO - For the past 25 years Scarborough Retirement Centre has been providing Catholic seniors a like minded community where they can comfortably live out their golden years.

Published in Canada

VATICAN CITY - A Vatican spokesman said it’s premature to suggest a gathering between Catholic and Orthodox faiths to mark the 1,700th anniversary of the first Church council held in Nicea in 325.

Published in International

TORONTO - Vincent Foy paced back and forth, tears rolling down his 10-year-old cheeks, and promised God that if the Lord would spare the life of his mother, he would do everything in his power to become a priest.

Published in Canada

OSHAWA, ONT. - When the doors opened at Msgr. Paul Dwyer High School in early September, it marked 50 years of secondary Catholic education in Oshawa.

The celebrations commenced Sept. 9 at the school in the city east of Toronto, with events scheduled for the duration of the school year. The year-long celebrations are to allow as many of the school’s approximately 8,000 graduates — who include author Randy Boyagoda, former Toronto Argonauts wide receiver Andre Talbot and comedian/actor Justin Landry — to attend.

“We wanted to share this celebration over the course of a year so that if someone is away for something they didn’t miss out,” said Randy Boissoin, chair of the 50th anniversary Committee. “We thought if it was over the course of a year we could generate excitement and build up to May 2013 and hopefully with that excitement work on creating an alumni database.”

Boissoin wants to establish an alumni scholarship fund to assist school graduates who face rising post-secondary tuition costs.

The original high school, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, operated out of their local elementary school and was named St. Joseph’s Senior School when it opened in 1962. Private at the time, the school offered only Grade 9 and 10 classes in its inaugural year, adding Grade 11 the following September, and Grades 12 and 13 in subsequent years.

“The interesting thing at that point is that the convent for the Sisters was not ready,” said Sr. Conrad Lauber, appointed the school’s principal in 1967, the same year the Oshawa Separate School Board began providing $300 per student in Grades 9 and 10. “At that point the Sisters were driven from Morrow Park (Toronto) out to Oshawa, both the elementary and secondary teachers, and they were picked up again at six o’clock and taken back.”

By the time Lauber became principal — a post she held until 1979 — St. Joseph’s Senior School had relocated and became known as Oshawa Catholic High School (the name change came in 1965). One year later the construction of the convent on the school’s new grounds at 700 Stevenson Rd. N. had been completed, meaning Lauber no longer faced the more than 50-km commute.

The early years were a struggle for the school, as full funding of Catholic education was still years down the road. Unable to compete with the salaries from the public system, Oshawa Catholic High School relied on clergy and dedicated laypeople, who were willing to forego the salaries and benefits offered by the secular school board. This reliance on the latter grew even greater in 1969 when tragedy struck. After an end-of-year staff social, a station wagon with a number of staff in it was involved in an accident. Two Sisters and a lay teacher were killed, and four other Sisters were injured and unable to return to the school. Lauber was the only one able to resume teaching duties.

With few available and qualified clergy, Lauber turned to the laity to fill the positions, putting extra financial stress on the already struggling school.

“At one point when I asked the (Sisters of St. Joseph) for more funding our general superior ... told me that we might not even be able to continue next year because we didn’t have the finances,” said Lauber.

With no additional funding forthcoming, nothing significant at least, Lauber turned to the local community to save the city’s only Catholic high school.

“As we lost Sisters from the staff we had to replace them with laypeople and our costs increased significantly. So to stay alive we ran a walk-a-thon,” said Lauber. “In those days we walked miles not kilometres. The kids walked 25 miles and the parents walked five miles and we raised $56,000.” 

Such success turned the walk-a-thon into an annual event which helped cement full-spectrum Catholic education in Oshawa, said Boissoin, who remembers participating in the walk-a-thon as a student from 1974 to 1979. 

“When we were forced to do the walk-a-thons and the fundraising activities there was an incredible Oshawa Catholic High School pride within the community ... it also solidified us as a community,” he said. “It was an opportunity for people to show that this is important. When you had a walk-a-thon of that magnitude ... it was almost like a statement.”

It was during this era the Sisters of St. Joseph first sought another name change to honour Paul Dwyer — the spark that lit the school’s flame.

“Msgr. Paul Dwyer was the inspiration behind the founding of the school,” said Lauber. “He’s the one that wanted Catholic education in Oshawa.”

Although approved, Dwyer declined the honour in 1973, telling Lauber over lunch that he felt Dwyer would be too hard for immigrants to spell — something he felt conflicted with his image of welcoming new Canadians with open arms.

“He also said so many other people were involved in the establishment of the school he didn’t want to take all of the credit,” said Lauber, who saw the name change in 1976 to Paul Dwyer Catholic School following Dwyer’s death that year. “Obviously his wishes to not have the school named after him were ignored.”

Published in Education

HAMILTON, ONT. - What is the secret to a long and happy marriage? Communication and being able to understand each other’s point of view, say Eugene and Regina Jasin. They should know — the couple, natives of Lithuania, are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary this year.

They were among 475 couples recognized by the diocese of Hamilton for celebrating 25, 40, 50 and 60 or more years of married life in 2012 during the annual Wedding Anniversary Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King on Sept. 9. The Mass was celebrated by Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby.

The Jasins said although seven decades have passed, they cannot remember one time when they had a serious argument. This is despite the fact they have experienced some terrible stresses, such as fleeing for Germany on horseback with their infant daughter in the face of the communist takeover of their land during the Second World War.

“The main thing you have to understand is the other person, because it’s not exactly the same as what you’re thinking,” said Eugene. “The other person has different thoughts, so you have to accept what someone else thinks and talk it over.”

Ron and Mary Smithson were at the Mass having celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary just the day before. They have been imparting their wisdom about married life to couples for well over two decades as founding members of the marriage preparation course in their parish of St. Francis Xavier in Stoney Creek, Ont.

“We were busy all our lives and didn’t have a lot of material wealth, but we had a lot of love and a lot of family,” said Mary.

“We always worked together raising the family; it wasn’t just her job or my job,” added Ron. “It was our job and that’s the way we looked at life all the way. We’ve had some good times and bad times, but we get through them all. One of the blessings is we were married on Sept. 8 … that’s Our Lady’s birthday and that’s someone who has been in our life all along.”

The Smithsons point to compromise, openness, honesty and not emphasizing material goods as key aspects to a successful marriage.

“Marriage is about compromise. What you were before you were married and what you are after is going to change. But both of you change,” said Ron.

During his homily, Crosby said the couples in the church served as a testament and witness to God’s goodness and love.

“Today is a day of celebration, a celebration of enduring love and fulfilled commitment,” he said. “It is both a reminder and a renewal of the promises made on the day you married many years ago.”

He added that each couple present was a living reminder of God’s love and its permanence. “Your marriages tell all of us, but especially young people, that lasting love is possible,” he said.

Crosby spent some two hours in the parish hall after the Mass, meeting each of the couples and posing for photos with them.

Teresa Hartnett, director of the diocese’s Family Ministry Office, said the Wedding Anniversary Mass has been held annually for some three decades and is a reflection of the Church’s desire to honour a foundational vocational aspect of the Catholic faith.

“It’s just continued to grow and grow every year,” she said, adding the event is also a part of the diocese’s overall commitment to strengthening family life, in addition to the Retrouvaille program for troubled marriages, Marriage Encounter weekends, marriage enrichment evenings and referrals for counselling.

(Gosgnach is a freelance writer in Hamilton, Ont.)

Published in Features
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