The peace of St. Francis comes to high school

  • May 31, 2010
Art teacher Patrizia Montefiore is joined by students who helped build a mosaic of their school’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, at James Cardinal McGuigan High School. Other students and staff also contributed to the project by bringing in tiles or cutting them in the shape of doves, flowers, a wolf and St. Francis. TORONTO - After two months of cutting tiles for a mosaic honouring the school’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi, James Cardinal McGuigan High School teacher Patrizia Montefiore and three students who contributed to the project stand proudly beside the new mosaic.

The St. Francis mosaic has become an instrument to spread the saint’s message of peace, charity and environmental stewardship at the school.

Nineteen-year-old Oliver Zea and 16-year-old Zaya Orahim were playing badminton when they were asked by Montefioere if they wanted to get involved in its construction. Although they didn’t know anything about art, they were intrigued.

Zea said it’s been an eye-opening experience.

“I didn’t know the story of St. Francis (before) and what he did for the world,” he said.

Orahim said he was also unaware of St. Francis but is grateful for the opportunity to learn about him and participate in the project.

“I’m so proud of doing it.”

The mosaic adorns the wall across from the chapel at the 750-student Catholic high school. Made up of ceramic tiles, it features St. Francis in his trademark brown habit among nature, with doves and a grey wolf to his right. In keeping with St. Francis’ environmental concern, the mosaic was built mostly from recycled tiles donated by students and staff.

Montefiore got the idea for the mosaic after returning from a four-month teaching stint in Italy two years ago. After visiting Assisi, St. Francis’ hometown, she was inspired to bring his story back to her students in a tangible way, along with his message of peace and concern for the environment.

This year, Montefiore started a mosaic art class and introduced the idea of a St. Francis mosaic to her students. The mosaic class ended, but Montefiore was determined to put into practice the lessons students had learned.

With the project complete, the art teacher said an important message to the community is that “anything is possible if you put your mind to it.” The St. Francis mosaic stands as a representation of the school community’s talents and strong bond.

The mosaic has become a peaceful gathering place where students can reflect upon their day, Montefiore said. She points out that the project is countering negative stereotypes about the Jane-Finch neighbourhood and the stigma of being a high-crime area.

Chaplain Ross Cappellacci said the artwork is a good representation of the school community.

“The mosaic is a mirror of ourselves spiritually,” said the 22-year teaching veteran.

Just like St. Francis who ministered to those who were struggling, Cappellacci said the school community tries to help students help one another.

“If we don’t understand the suffering of our children, we can’t really teach math or science.”

He says the school’s namesake, Cardinal James McGuigan, often taught about the virtue of charity.

“In the Jane-Finch neighbourhood, (people) have marvellous gifts,” Cappellacci said.

The school was founded in 1982 on the teachings of St. Francis and the Franciscan motto “Ambulate in Dilectione” or “walk in fraternal charity.”

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