Memories of school days come flooding back for these women who entered Loretto College School in 1959. Standing, from left, are Luba Zaraska, Mary Lyons, Clara Creglia, Anna Prodanou and Kathleen Heffron. Seated are Raffaela Di Cecco, left, and Mary Elia. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Sixty years later, girls of Loretto College School maintain a strong bond

By 
  • August 25, 2019

Sixty years ago, 13-year-old Clara Creglia’s homeroom teacher, Sr. Elaine, instructed the new Grade 9 class to pair up and choose their locker partners. Creglia didn’t really know anyone at Toronto’s Loretto College School on Brunswick Ave. so she decided to try her luck with the girl that sat behind her. 

She didn’t know it at the time, but Creglia had just met her lifelong best friend, Mary Lyons. 

“I am who I am also because of her…. They’ve all contributed to make me who I am,” said Creglia, turning to Lyons and her fellow Loretto alumnae. “It’s a sisterhood that develops you and makes you who you are because when I needed to cry, or to laugh, or just be with, I can’t do what I do with my sister, here, with my own family…. It’s a friendship that’s very rare and it’s expanded.”

Most of the women from the Class of 1964 were in the same classes for their five years in high school. After graduation, the friendships endured and Creglia said they are all bonded for life. Together, she and many of her former classmates have celebrated weddings, children, grandchildren, career promotions and an entire lifetime of memories. 

On Sept. 15, Creglia and her fellow classmates will reconnect once again on the 60th anniversary of their first day of Grade 9 at Loretto College School. The Class of 1959-1964 will be celebrating their reunion at the Granite Club in Toronto.

Many, like Creglia and Lyons, have stayed in touch over the years, but there are also some whom they haven’t seen in decades. Tracking down some of the fellow alumnae took some detective work through Google and Facebook.

Mary Elia, one of the members of the organizing committee, has been the one tracking down the 60 alumnae in their class. By July, almost two-thirds had committed to attend the reunion.

“Social media helps in trying to find people,” said Elia, a retired high school teacher. “I found out that Sandy Shaw lived around the corner from me at High Park for a really long time and I never knew she was there.”

Many of these former classmates have new names, making it difficult to track them down. But starting with their first reunion on the fifth anniversary of their graduation, a mailing list has been maintained. 

Raffaela Di Cecco, another member of the organizing committee, said whenever they get together in a formal reunion or a potluck lunch once a month, it’s as if they revert back to their teenage selves. 

Di Cecco currently runs a management consulting firm called ARD Consulting Services. She also worked in the Ministry of Education and is a former executive director of the Ontario Royal Commission on Learning, which released its review of the province’s education system in 1995. 

“Those (high school) years are formative years and you’re just starting to become your own person,” she said. “I’ve personally been in and out, but it’s always a joy to connect and you see people who kind of know you in a way that’s different from the people you meet later in life.”

Anna Prodanou remembers being very shy as a Grade 9 student. She didn’t know anyone at the school because she had just arrived in Canada from Poland. Her English wasn’t that good either. Nevertheless, Prodanou built a career as a journalist.

Over the years, she has worked for TVO, CBC, Maclean’s magazine and Canadian Living magazine.

Prodanou said she was very grateful for the classical education they got at school. At the time, everyone groaned about going to Latin class and choral twice a week. But looking back, it has given them a deeper understanding of the Church’s Latin traditions.

“We thought Latin was this dead language and I love classical liturgical music and when I listen to Bach cantatas I can sing along because I know the words,” said Prodanou. “It is such a joy.”

This 60th anniversary is the fourth time that the 1964 class has gotten together for a formal reunion. They celebrated their fifth anniversary from graduation in 1969, their 10th in 1974 and their 25th in 1988.  They have also attended other Loretto milestones like the closure of their beloved Brunswick school in 2001 and the 100th (2015) anniversary of the Loretto College School.

A new facility for Loretto College School was already under construction when a fire in the convent building in December 1999 forced the sisters to move from the premises. The school and convent was officially closed in June 2001. The school has been located on Rosemount Avenue since 2005, while the original Brunswick building has been converted to luxury condos.

“We have friends that are schoolmates, some are in the States, some are in B.C., some of them are throughout Ontario, some are in the Maritimes and our friend in Italy,” said Creglia. “We’ve really gone and yet this reunion has brought everybody together.”

Their most recent reunion was to celebrate the life of their beloved former principal Sr. Wilfreda (Margaret) O’Flaherty, who died at 96 years old in November last year. All her students remembered her and she remembered them. 

In her 19 years as principal, she developed a reputation for knowing the names of every single student in her school. She insisted that she interview all Grade 8 students who were applying to attend Loretto College School. She cared about the girls’ character more than she cared about their grades, but she still expected the best from her students and the teachers.

“There’s that head thing that she used to do to say, ‘Are you sure?’ ” said Luba Zaraska, squinting her eyes and tilting her head slightly to the right. “In Grade 13, I did actually say I wanted to become a nun and said, ‘Do you have anyone to recommend you?’ And I said no and she tilted her head and she said, ‘Well, why do you think, Luba?’ ”

Zaraska laughed at the memory because her high school years were some of her most rebellious years. She remembered sneaking out of the dormitories at night during their annual retreat to Marylake Shrine in King City and going to the corner store during lunch for Cokes and a pack of smokes. 

In those days, she teased her hair into a beehive, the higher the better. She remembered one day when O’Flaherty deemed her hair too high for her liking and was forced to comb it down flat. 

“We had inspection in the halls and the principal would have a ruler in her hand to check the height of our skirts,” Prodanou laughed, looking at Zaraska. “Then we had to put our hands out so they can check if we had nail polish. No nail polish.”

Zaraska spent her life after Loretto as a dedicated philanthropist. She has been active in the Ukranian Catholic community in Toronto and was part of the Parents Committee of the Ukranian Canadian School Board for 40 years. She was one of the founding members of the Ukrainian Millennium Foundation. 

Looking back, Zaraska said although she didn’t do well in school, she had fond memories of the Loretto sisters that taught her. 

“They really helped me a lot in the tutelage, as they did with everybody,” she said. “When you did well, they took the time to phone you and say, ‘Congratulations. I’m so proud of you.’ Like, who of your teachers in today’s schools would come up to a bad student to do that?”

“We were their girls,” Creglia added.

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