De La Salle (Oaklands) Cadet Corps forms character

  • May 31, 2010
Grade 6 student Aiden McCarthy goes over the edge, rappelling down De La Salle College’s two-story library. McCarthy’s mother said he was nervous, but that she wanted him to take risks. (Photo by Sheila Dabu)TORONTO - Not many 11 year olds are encouraged to dangle from a rope down the side of their school. But being a member of the De La Salle College Cadets means Aidan McCarthy is not your average school kid.

He is one of 12 students — 11 boys and one girl — who are part of the De La Salle (Oaklands) Cadet Corps program. Now in its 100th year, the program is one of the few remaining — if not the only — Catholic cadet corps in Canada. It is part of a century-old tradition of training leaders at the private Catholic school for Grade 5-to-12 students run by the De La Salle Brothers.

De La Salle College president Brother Dominic Viggiani said the cadet program echoes the school’s mandate of character formation.

“It’s a means to build character, to give them a sense of going beyond themselves and into the larger community,” he said.

On May 14, St. John Baptist de La Salle’s feast day, the cadets held their annual rappelling exercise. The students descend down the side of a building in a drill to teach courage and team work, said teacher-supervisor Joseph Nonato.

McCarthy’s mother Colleen Moorehead said the program imbues “great values” of respect, discipline, confidence and athletic skills.  

“He was nervous this morning,” she said. “I want him to take risks. Taking risks is part of life, in a controlled way.”  

“I learned to trust more,” McCarthy said, referring to the cadets and supervisors who helped guide the climbers down the building.

Rappelling is just one of the supervised activities for the corps. They’re also taught how to set up shelter and cook a meal at camp, CPR basics, martial arts and marksmanship through air rifle training.

The De La Salle Cadet Corps was formed Jan. 7, 1911 as #269 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps, involving nearly all of the students at De La Salle College.  

In 1939, the Cadet Corps participated in the Guard of Honour for the royal visit of King George VI.

Former cadets fought in the First and Second World Wars, including Maj. Frederick Albert Tilson who was awarded the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest military award.

The corps was disbanded in 1947 but continued on in the De La Salle Band (1950s) and the award-winning Drum and Bugle Corps (1960s and 1970s).

In 2004, the cadet program was re-instated after a student requested its return.

Nonato has supervised it since then, along with some former cadets.

Asked about whether the program encourages militarism, Nonato said the program is independent from the military and the cadets are taught the Christian virtues of courage faith, hope, charity, justice and temperance.

Cadets are also taught humility through Jesus’ example. The leader is always the last to eat and the last to leave, Nonato said.

Ciaran Dolan, 12, said being part of the cadets has taught him about morals, self-confidence and the meaning of friendship.

Meanwhile, graduating student Brandon Wolf, 17, said he takes to heart the cadets’ motto of “Deeds not words.”

A reservist major with the Canadian military, Nonato took a leave of absence as a religion and social sciences teacher to volunteer for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan in 2008.

In keeping with the program’s focus on training leaders, the program continued under the direction of students and ex-cadets. Students left one seat empty during their meetings as a reminder that their commandant was deployed.        

As for their uniform, cadets wear black commemorating the De La Salle brothers’ black habit as well as to separate themselves from the military and remind cadets that “they’re here to serve God, family and others.”

“We’re looking to form good women and men of character to be good spouses, parents and leaders of tomorrow,” Nonato said.

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