Michael Aguiar, John Pacheco and Nicholas Ferreira of Consortium of Independent Ontario Catholic Schools with Bishop Yvan Mathieu of the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall Photo courtesy CIOCS

Independent Catholic schools' aim is growth

  • May 24, 2024

A year ago, Ottawa businessman John Pacheco woke up with a perplexing divine message running through his head: “Get the schools going.”

He wondered if perhaps the Holy Spirit had overlooked the seven independent Catholic schools already “going” in the Ottawa area, and that there didn’t seem to be a call for more.

The fruits of the mystical conundrum were made visible on May 19, the eve of Pentecost, in the basement of Paroisse Saint-François d’Assise Church when the Consortium of Independent Ontario Catholic Schools (CIOCS) hosted a spirited community fair with close to 40 participant organizations.

For 20 years, Pacheco had brought his business background to the aid of small, Catholic “start-up” schools in the Ottawa area, helping them to achieve charitable status and navigate government requirements. Then he encountered the CIOCS “vision” shared by three other individuals.

“All of a sudden,” Pacheco told The Catholic Register, “I heard about Michael and Nicholas and this whole idea of consortium. There was no structure to it just yet, but it was a vision. The vision had been shared with them by Stephanie.”

Michael is Michael Aguiar, Head of School of Mater Boni Consilii Academy in Oakville, Ont.; Nicholas is Nicholas Ferreira, Principal of Sacred Heart Academy in Oshawa, Ont.; and Stephanie is Stephanie Montojo, Principal of Academia Stella Maris in Limoges, Ont.

Together, the foursome assembled what Bishop Yvan Mathieu, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall, called “a clear sign of hope for the future of the Church” to which he pledged his continued moral support as well as that of Ottawa-Cornwall Archbishop Marcel Damphousse.

The hope was evident at the community fair as an assortment of Catholic businesses, including a purveyor of charcuterie and a statue-restoration husband-and-wife team, and apostolates both old and new, from the Knights of Columbus to Ottawa Chant, joined the CIOCS schools for a day of prayer, song, food and encouragement.

Acting as both secretary and treasurer for the nascent group, Pacheco says he brings a “practicality to the table,” and he has several achievable goals for the consortium. 

The first is to make the schools affordable for parents.

“Getting the cost down to obtain economies of scale across schools is a number one objective,” he says.

“The other thing is to be able to deal with third parties. If we’re dealing with the bishops or even with the government, as a small association like this, we can talk with one voice.” 

Montojo was delighted with the presence of so many Catholic ministries and apostolates at what was labeled the first of an annual event.

Exposure of the school to a wider pool of possible supporters is an obvious plus,  she said.

“Donations are a big must, to be able to function. We try to keep our tuition as low as possible because we want to be able to accommodate as many families as possible. So, I think that for the Catholic community, the more of these ministries that they know of, then the better they can discern where they should give their donation.”

More important than that, Montojo explained that she and her teachers understand their work to be a ministry and it makes sense to have the cooperation and support of other Catholic ministries.

“Parents want an extension of the domestic church, and that’s what we are, our school is seen by my staff, by myself as a ministry. When I hire my teachers, I’m looking for missionaries,” Montojo told the Register.

“It’s just natural that we’re linked to all these other ministries. The school is closely linked to the Queenship of Mary right from the beginning.” 

Three religious sisters from the Queenship of Mary community were present throughout the day. 

“To be able to see all these people here today, I think it’s extraordinary,” Montojo said.

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