Benemerenti Medal goes to Ottawa educator

By 
  • October 23, 2009
{mosimage}Over the seven years he’s been Ottawa District Catholic School Board ’s education director, James McCracken says what’s been most rewarding has been being able to help students in need.

This year, Pope Benedict XVI has awarded McCracken the Benemerenti Medal for distinguished service to Catholic education in the Ottawa archdiocese. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., presented the award on Oct. 9 in front of the board’s more than 3,000 teachers, administrators and support staff.

McCracken, 56, said he was surprised, “honoured and humbled” by the recognition.

The papal medal was instituted in 1832. It is awarded to individuals who have demonstrated long and outstanding service to the Catholic Church, their families and community. On the face of the medal is the Latin word “benemerenti” which means “to a well-deserving person.”

On his philosophy of education, McCracken said it has always been about focusing on  community. That’s why being involved with the Catholic Education Foundation of Ottawa has been a rewarding aspect of his career, he said.

The foundation receives donations from teachers and runs social justice projects to help those in need buy food and other necessities. School principals make the request in writing and within 24 hours, the money is guaranteed, McCracken said.

The foundation has raised more than $350,000 to alleviate poverty in the Ottawa Catholic school system, he said, and the money has been used to buy food and clothing or pay for hydro, gas or rent to help students who would have been evicted without the donation.

As for the most challenging part of his job, McCracken said it has been battling some misconceptions in the general public about Catholic schools.

“Catholic schools are distinct but not separate,” he said, adding that Catholic schools have taken leadership roles in Ottawa such as being involved in the United Way campaign.

McCracken was born in Scotland and came to Canada with his mother and younger sister in 1970 after his father was killed in a mining accident.

It was a “deep love of literature,” the influence of good mentors in university and his love of working with children which inspired him to become a teacher.

McCracken has worked as an English teacher and vice principal with the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board. In 1989, he moved to Ottawa to take a vice principal position and has been in various administrative roles over the past 20 years, including as a principal.

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