Boards plan to rebrand schools named after Jean Vanier. Mickey Conlon

School boards look to erase Vanier name

  • June 14, 2020

They’re schools educating young minds in different regions of Ontario, from the gritty working class streets of Scarborough to the picturesque shores of Georgian Bay in Collingwood.

They are all connected by one thing though: They share the name and legacy of Jean Vanier, the Swiss-born Canadian philosopher and founder of the international L’Arche movement.

But that is going to change. School boards and others that associated with Vanier have stepped back after the revelations in February in a L’Arche report that its founder had engaged in manipulative sexual relations with six women over a 35-year period.

The revelations were shocking, particularly for a man so revered — “People thought of him as a living saint,” said Joseph Sinasac, publishing director at Novalis Publishing — but quickly led to calls to remove his name from schools named in his honour.

The York Region, Toronto, Simcoe-Muskoka and Dufferin-Peel Catholic boards serving students in the Archdiocese of Toronto have all debated the merits and decided they must make the name change. Most are in the process of coming up with a new name, with the York board the first to re-name its Richmond Hill school. It will be known as Our Lady Queen of the World Catholic Academy.

“The York Catholic District School board remains steadfast in its belief that sexual assault and sexual exploitation are unacceptable behaviours that will not be tolerated,” said Maria Marchese, chair of the board of trustees, in explaining the board’s reasoning. “We also recognize that the outstanding reputation of this school is not because of its name, but is due to the professional, caring and faith-filled staff, as well as the outstanding students and alumni and their supportive families. This new name honours the school community and is a joyful expression of their faith.”

The new name refers to the parish closest to the school.

The process is well underway in school boards across Ontario and beyond. In Toronto, community consultations have taken place to discuss the name change since the shocking news was revealed with students, staff, the principal and the local parish priest consulted. The name should be changed by the time school returns, said Shazia Vlahos, manager of community services and government relations, though the policy for changing a school name must be followed. A June 4 meeting had brought forward more than 20 potential new names,

“Our principal, the superintendent and the trustee have all been very careful in making sure all the voices are heard,” said Vlahos. “Once the archdiocese has the chance to vet all the names it’s kind of able to go from there.”

In Collingwood, within the Simcoe-Muskoka Catholic District School Board, the process is a little further along but the decision to change the school’s name has run into some blowback from the community. A June 3 meeting has taken the naming decision out of trustees’ hands after the naming committee’s choice of a new name — Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School, which was supported in a vote taken by students and parents — was rejected. Eventually it was decided the naming committee, in conjunction with director of education Brian Beal, would choose a new name and trustees would not get a vote.

In Dufferin-Peel, there is no school with the Vanier name, but the Jean Vanier Advantage program, an alternative path to gaining diplomas for students aged 18-21, will have a new name, said Bruce Campbell, general manager of communications and community relations with the board.

Other organizations are also reconsidering their association with Vanier. Novalis hasn’t come to a final decision on what it will do with the Vanier books it sells in its catalogue, though it currently isn’t selling any after pulling all titles in the wake of revelations in February, said Sinasac.

The Jean Vanier Research Centre at the University of King’s College at Western University in London, Ont., is also considering its options.

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