One of two houses owned by Sacred Heart College which make up the small post-secondary school's current campus. Photo courtesy of Sacred Heart College

Sacred Heart College’s new degree status helps heal sting of losing property bid

By 
  • March 30, 2017

Those invested in Peterborough's Sacred Heart College are riding high after an emotionally turbulent end to the month of March.

“There is a green light to go forward (in one area) and then there has been a red light that has stopped us in some other plans, but overall the news this week (has us) pretty enthusiastic,” said Fr. Joseph Deveraux, the school's interim principal.

The cause for enthusiasm came via a letter from the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development confirming that Sacred Heart had met all the conditions to begin granting degrees.

Previously at Sacred Heart College, which opened its doors in 2011, students seeking a degree were required to transfer their earned credits to an institution which recognized the college's credits, such as local Trent University.

“Now we have the ability to offer our own Bachelor of Arts in Catholic Studies,” said Deveraux. “It means that students who come here ... (can) spent their entire four years of undergraduate with us. It is very good news.”

The college announced the news on March 28, just one day after revealing it had failed in its efforts to secure the school’s adjacent property, previously École Élémentaire Catholique Monseigneur-Jamot, for potential future expansion.

“This is a tremendous disappointment for Peterborough,” wrote Bishop William McGrattan, apostolic administrator. “We are astounded by this detrimental outcome for Sacred Heart College. The implications for the entire Catholic community, both here in the diocese, the province and beyond, have yet to be fully understood.”

The English Catholic school board took over possession of the grounds in 1965. The French Catholic school board acquired it in 1999 as the government sought to provide greater access to French education.

With the Ministry of Education pressuring school boards to consolidate costs and reevaluate under-capacity schools, the property was put on the market. The bidding was won by Paul Dietrich of Parkview Homes, despite an offer from Sacred Heart.

Devereaux said he was “shocked” to learn Sacred Heart had been outbid.

“It has always been understood that the Diocese of Peterborough would purchase the ... property when it was available for sale,” he said in a statement. “The property was in the hands of the Church historically and we anticipated its return to the Church through this sale. It is sad that a school, which should remain a school, is going to be made over into apartments.”

The school’s bad news, however, isn’t overshadowing the glee of being able to grant degrees.

“We are very positive that great things are going to happen and that God is going to bless us,” Devereaux said. “We can function for some time with the facility that we have ... (and) certainly in the future for expansion we believe that God is going to bless us.”

Signed by the assistant deputy minister David Carter-Whitney the letter reads “under the authority delegated to me by the Minister, I am granting consent to Sacred Heart of Peterborough to advertise and offer the above noted program in Ontario for a period of seven years.”

Sacred Heart was a passion-project of Peterborough's former Bishop Nicholas De Angelis, who once credited Pope Benedict XVI with the inspiration for the school. It was during a visit to Rome in 2005 when De Angelis said the pope encouraged him to create a Catholic liberal arts university in Peterborough.

Professor at Sacred Heart, Thomas Symons, who accompanied De Angelis’ during that trip to Rome 11 years ago, said receiving the minister's approval serves as an affirmation of De Angelis' vision.

“I have always thought this as a noble endeavour and this has been affirmed time and time again,” said Sacred Heart's chair of the board of directors in the school's press release. “The letter of consent is one more measure which affirms the strength and vitality of Scared Heart College for the community of Peterborough.”

Deveraux also referred to the letter as an affirmation.

“This is a hopeful affirming sign which enlivens our commitment and determination to further the College and to ensure its success for generations of students now and in the future,” he wrote in the same release.

During his interview with The Catholic Register, Deveraux said the elevated pristege of the school should help attract a greater number of students. Currently the school has only 20 students enrolled across three courses.

“Attracting students from the Peterborough area and other parts of Canada and elsewhere, that is the big goal right now,” he said. “We want to attract a diversity of students from elsewhere, especially in Canada and even, eventually, from other places. Now that we have a degree-granting authority that is much easier than in the past."

Expansion, however, won't come at the cost of the “collegial environment” which Sacred Heart enjoys thanks to small class sizes as well as common core beliefs among staff and students, noted Deveraux.

“In our secular society there is a loss of a sense of identity,” said Deveraux. “If you are in a big faculty you are just another face. Schools like ours, based on a more collegial model, is a return to that more intimate atmosphere of learning and culture and friendship.”

And that's something he sees as good for the community at large.

“We see this as good for Peterborough, educationally and spiritually,” said Deveraux, who also serves the Diocese of Peterborough as chancellor of temporal affairs and judicial vicar.

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