Sheila Dabu Nonato, The Catholic Register

Sheila Dabu Nonato, The Catholic Register

Sheila was a reporter for The Catholic Register from 2008-2011.

A graduate of the University of Toronto's international relations program (M.A.) and Carleton University's School of Journalism (M.J.),  she has worked at The Canadian Press, CBC Ottawa, The Toronto Star, The Jordan Times and IRIN Middle East.

TORONTO - Toronto Catholic District School Board veteran Léa Lacerenza has won this year’s Premier’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Lifetime Achievement for her innovative work in special education.

Lacerenza has worked in special education with the TCDSB for 31 years, the past 23 years seconded to the Learning Disabilities Research Program at Sick Kids Hospital as the senior research teacher and lead writer in curriculum development and programs.

Lacerenza leads the collaboration between Sick Kids and the board in developing innovative techniques designed to help students with severe learning disabilities through the Empower Program. The Empower Reading Programs are now taught in hundreds of schools across North America.

Lacerenza says her experience with her youngest sister, Diana, who had a mild learning disability, first motivated her to work with students with learning disabilities. Diana “was immensely talented, smart and creative,” Lacerenza recalled. But in the 1970s, Diana was streamed into a vocational program because of her learning disability. This helped Lacerenza discover her professional vocation.

TORONTO - Despite concerns voiced by several Catholic parents and ratepayers, the Toronto Catholic District School Board passed its equity and inclusive education policy at a May 19 board meeting.

But trustees will vote later on a number of proposed amendments to the policy made by some trustees after these are reviewed by the board's legal counsel.

The vote came after months of debate on how a Catholic school board should deal with the equity policy that the provincial government mandated each board come up with. The aim of the 2008 provincial legislation is to combat discrimination in schools based upon sexual orientation, race and religion. The key issue of concern for many was that Catholic denominational rights should be protected in the policy. Many stakeholders in the Toronto Catholic system fear the policy will be hijacked by groups seeking to override teachings of the Catholic Church.

The new policy, which passed by a 7-4 margin, states that "any form of social or cultural discrimination is incompatible with Catholic moral principles." It goes on to say "The board further recognizes that we must uphold the protections entrenched in the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Constitution Act 1867 and confirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982 — the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

TORONTO - He once was lost but now is found.

A new statue of St. Francis of Assisi was unveiled and blessed May 13 at St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy. The previous statue was stolen and vandalized in mid-November.

The original statue was a white garden statue of St. Francis not more than three feet tall. The new statue stands at four feet and features the distinctive Franciscan brown habit in colour.

The driving force behind replacing the statues was an an anonymous donor, whose initial donation sparked an outpouring of generosity from the school community, says principal Connie Giordano.

The Hamilton, Ont., businessman came to the school and spoke with Giordano about making a $200 donation to replace the statue. Although he wasn’t Catholic, he made the donation because he had an admiration for St. Francis, Giordano said.

Italian Heritage MonthTORONTO - Ontario’s first Italian Heritage Month kicks off on June 2 and will pay homage to the Italian Canadian community’s cultural and religious heritage.

Michael Tibollo, president of the National Congress of Italian Canadians, formally introduced the line-up of Italian Heritage Month featuring exhibits, lectures, concerts and other festivities throughout the GTA at a May 11 press conference at Queen’s Park.

“One of the pillars of the Italian culture has always been the religious aspect of it,” Tibollo told The Register after the announcement.

TORONTO - Cassandra Davis cradles her four-month-old son, Ayomide, and smiles at her “little champion.”

For Davis, this Mother’s Day will be one of celebrating the gift of motherhood, thanks in part to the Sisters of Life.

Davis is one of the many success stories of the Sisters of Life’s ministry for pregnant women in crisis in Toronto. Doctors had counselled Davis to end her pregnancy early because they feared the baby would be a burden to the 25-year-old, and that he wouldn’t survive long. His troubles began 16 weeks into Davis’ pregnancy when doctors found fluid in more than one part of his body. His stomach was larger than his whole body, his head and arms had water under the skin above the bone and his skull bone had water under the skin wall. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t have long to live after delivery and if he did survive, they said he would have severe health problems.

But with the “motherly love” and support of the Sisters of Life, Davis said she was able to stick to her convictions and go through with the pregnancy, despite the pressures from those around her who said she was “selfish” for wanting to “burden” the world with a sick child.

TORONTO - Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gérard Pettipas, C.Ss.R., headlines Catholic Missions In Canada's 10th anniversary Tastes of Heaven Gala May 5.

Pettipas will be  the event's keynote speaker at the dinner to be held at the Paramount Event Centre in Woodbridge, Ont. The annual dinner helps to raise funds for the Catholic Church in Canada's missionary territories.

Pettipas will recount the faith journeys of the First Nations peoples living in Northern Alberta missions. He said in Canada's northern dioceses, “the needs of doing ministry are greater than the revenue that we take in to be able to serve those places.”

Many are isolated by distance and other missionary bishops have spoken of the challenge priests face in celebrating Mass in these communities.

150 parents, teachers and students met April 27 for the second consultation on the TCDSB's proposed equity policyTORONTO - Opinions varied, mostly along age lines, as the Toronto Catholic District School Board held the second consultation meeting on its proposed equity policy.

About 150 parents, students and teachers gathered April 27 at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School to discuss the policy. Two distinct sides became clear after 14 small groups broke off to discuss the policy which aims to combat discrimination based upon sexual orientation, race and religion in Toronto's Catholic schools. While parents and teachers were more concerned with ensuring the Catholic identity of schools, students among the group emphasized the need to prevent homophobic bullying by establishing gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

The TCDSB will make a report on the input from the two consultations as well as an online survey, said TCDSB spokesperson Emmy Szekeres-Milne. The report could come as early as May 19, she said.  

During the three-hour meeting, participants broke off into smaller groups to discuss the policy, which the provincial government has mandated be in place by September. After 20 minutes, a representative from each group reported back to the larger group.

TORONTO - Ontario’s bishops and school trustees are encouraging Catholic high schools to enhance existing anti-bullying policies by establishing support groups for students being bullied due to sexual orientation.

Under the direction of the bishops and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, a committee will be formed to draft a framework for how such groups would operate within the teachings of the Church. The committee, to  include a bishop, students, parents, trustees, clergy and other educators, will work with the Institute for Catholic Education to have a policy prepared by September.

In a memorandum addressed to Catholic educators, the bishops and trustees acknowledged that recently there has been “much discussion” about this issue. That public discussion, which included news reports about Catholic school boards opposing so-called gay-straight alliance clubs, led to a decision to enhance the broad anti-bullying protocols that have been in place for almost a decade. The expanded framework to deal with bullying due to sexual orientation will be available to any Ontario Catholic board that wishes to implement it.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, emphasized that the proposed groups are not gay-straight alliances (GSA), which are prominent across North America. GSAs deal with lifestyle issues. The enhanced Catholic framework, which builds on existing anti-bullying protocols, will deal exclusively with the issue of bullying and complement the existing teaching that “bullying is wrong under any circumstances, at any age.”

“After speaking to our students, the supports that we do have in place, some students who are of same-sex orientation feel they are not adequate for the support they require,” Kirby said.

“Compassion, care and service to the most vulnerable in our communities are vital and important tenets of our Catholic faith,” said the April 15 memo prepared by the bishops and trustees. “We are not aware of an increase in harassment of this type, but any type of bullying or harassment in Catholic schools will not be tolerated.”

A committee, to be chaired by an Ontario bishop, will convene this month to develop a province-wide policy for Catholic schools. Kirby said topics on dating, marriage and relationships could be discussed in the support groups but “everything would be based on our faith, with that perspective in mind.”

The new framework is “requesting (all) boards to implement this when it comes forward,” Kirby said, but it will not be mandatory for schools.

Although the committee will be convened to examine one specific type of bullying, its work will be based on existing policies that strive to ensure all students are educated in a safe and caring environment that does not tolerate any type of bullying or harassment.  To that end, in addition to addressing bullying due to sexual orientation, the committee will “collect and share the best resources and practices” from across the province to combat all forms of bullying so as to ensure that Catholic schools “are places of welcome according to the Gospel.”

For Laura Limarzi, the “sense of caring about others in our daily lives” is one of the things unique to Catholic education. (Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato)In the hallways of Ontario’s Catholic schools, the next generation of leaders is being formed.

What does it take to be a Catholic leader? Our Catholic faith invites us to look to Jesus’ example and His lessons of faith, humility, compassion and love for God and neighbour.

The hope of Catholic education is in our students who can provide this example of Christian leadership in their volunteer work and spiritual life.

Through Jesus’ words and actions, we learn about the Christian model of servant leadership: A leader who puts His love for God and others ahead of Himself and recognizes that it is through works of charity, compassion and love, which are rooted in faith, where God’s love is manifested.

For Catholic high school students, the challenge of being authentic Catholic witnesses becomes even greater as society becomes more secularized and popular culture presents viewpoints antithetical to Catholic values. An antidote to challenges that can weaken the faith and moral character of Catholic students, is having a solid grounding in spiritual and educational formation. Students need to have a solid foundation in their Catholic faith through an understanding of its rich history, traditions and teachings, with the support and mentorship of their parents and teachers.
Student trustee Olivia Suppa. (Photo by Sheila Dabu Nonato)NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. - Being a Catholic student trustee has highlighted the gift of Catholic education for Olivia Suppa.

“Catholic education brings so much diversity to our province,” said Suppa, president of the Catholic Board Council of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association and a student trustee for almost two years. “You graduate embodying what Jesus wanted to embody.”

Suppa attends St. Jean de Brebeuf High School in Woodbridge, Ont., and took part in the recent Lighting the Way Catholic student leadership conference in Niagara Falls. Catholic schools, and being a trustee representing Catholic students, has taught her plenty.

“I learned a lot about myself, politics, (how much of an impact) a contagious idea, a contagious voice can be,” said the Grade 12 student.

Suppa said she was inspired by the Niagara Falls conference.