From left to right, Margaret Couch, Noreen O’Leary, Shirley Nach and Rose Simone pose with a picture of their graduation class of 1946. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Notre Dame sisterhood still going strong after 75 years

By 
  • October 18, 2016

TORONTO – At Notre Dame High School, some things never change.

For 75 years, the all-girls school in the east end of Toronto has stood for honour, compassion and excellence. They are traits worth celebrating and more than 750 alumnae, former teachers and administrators did just that on Oct. 15 to mark the school’s 75th anniversary.

“The best thing about Notre Dame is its sense of tradition,” said Lorraine Traecy, alumna and former teacher at the school. “Every time we have these opportunities, we celebrate our sisterhood and that sisterhood is 75 years old.”

Traecy, who graduated in 1979, said that for the older generations of alumnae, this celebration allows them to see how they have grown years after they graduated.

Notre Dame ladies came from all over the country to Toronto for the open house at Notre Dame High School on Oct. 14 followed by the alumnae banquet the next day. Throughout the weekend, women had the opportunity to see old friends and share favourite memories of their time at the school.

“I think it’s beautiful to look out and see that many girls and women that have gone through and have remained friends,” said Rose Simone, one of the first students to attend the school when it first opened in 1941.

About 75 young women registered in Grades 9 and 10 on that first day on Sept. 2, 1941. The main building of the school was not built until 1950, so the first classes were held in the parish hall of St. John’s Catholic Church in east Toronto.

Simone remembers her first day in Grade 9 quite vividly.

“My first day, we came home and we weren’t coming back,” said Simone, who was known as Rose Nasello back then. “It was a little two-room school in the old church. It wasn’t very nice, but we decided that we had nowhere else to go but to go back. And because we went back, that’s why you now have a school.”

Simone said she and her classmates have kept in touch over the years. Because they were a such a small, tight-knit group of students, their bond remained throughout their lives.

Simone was honoured with her fellow Grade 9 classmates Shirley Morin Nach and Noreen (Frechette) O’Leary, along with Margaret (Frechette) Couch, who registered as a Grade 10 student.

During the weekend, they were able to share stories of the school’s early days and the role models they had in the religious sisters that taught them.

There were several alumnae that discovered their own call for religious vocation during their time at Notre Dame. Sr. Josephine Badali, now congregational leader of the Notre Dame Sisters, attributes her call to vocation to the role models she had in the sisters that taught her.

“In those days, there were a number of sisters that were teaching at the school,” said Badali. “I liked them and I found that they were loving women. They were strict, too, but they cared for us.”

Badali graduated in June 1961 and entered the postulancy in August. She returned to the school as a teacher in the 1970s. Badali said that continuing the Catholic tradition of the school has influential in many alumnae entering the religious life.

“I got to see the sisters and they were different shapes and sizes and different personalities,” said Sr. Donna Rose, former student, then teacher, vice principal and principal in the 1980s. “The thing that was constant was their love of students and their love of their religion. I was drawn to that.”

Sandy Soave, current teacher and chaplain, said it has been especially great to see current Notre Dame students interact with the past generations.

“I was watching some of our current students look back at the pioneers when they were introduced and there was just this sense that they were a part of something quite sacred and quite special,” said Soave. “Not many schools really have that same kind of connection from the beginning to the current and everything in between.”

“In 25 years, when we’re 41, I want to come back to this because it’s really cool,” said Grade 11 student Britiney Lumanda. “It’s like a hundred years that day, it’s going to be so amazing.”

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