higher ed

As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, the York Catholic District School Board will celebrate both the new year and the beginning of Patricia Preston’s reign as director of education.

Andrachuk re-elected chair of Toronto Catholic board


TORONTO - Ann Andrachuk will serve as chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board for her third term following her election at the annual caucus meeting Nov. 29.

St. Peter’s continues to plan for future


MUENSTER, SASK. - The staff of St. Peter’s College has only one major hurdle to overcome to bring the renovations of Michael Hall, the college building, to an end — namely, completing the fundraising to pay for the final renovation costs, which are close to $4 million.

The success of a recent open house at the college showed that goal can be reached, as there was much enthusiasm and support for the college. The public still considers St. Peter’s College to be an important part of the local district and larger community, according to Robert Harasymchuk, college president.

“Fundraising is a necessary element of St. Peter’s success. The Michael Hall renovations have necessitated financing that we hope will be supported through the generosity of our alumni and the community that supports and depends on St. Peter’s as a hub for sport, culture, recreation and of course learning,” he said. “We are continually seeking ways to improve and expand our programs and services and this is possible with the help of our college supporters.”

St. Peter’s was founded in 1921 by the Benedictine monks of St. Peter’s Abbey and since 1926 has been affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan.

Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB, chancellor of the college, cut the ribbon to officially re-open Michael Hall after four years of renovations which cost $15 million. The renovations began as a dream 10 years ago, he remarked.

“A number of the alumni commented on the amazing transformation that Michael Hall has undergone,” Harasymchuk said in an interview.

“Although the building looked new in appearance, they said it still had the same ‘feel,’ a testament to the talent of architect Maurice Soloudre in blending the need for modern conveniences while maintaining the tradition and heritage of the building. We also heard some remarks that although many people knew it was a huge undertaking for the college, the renovations were worth it to know that students would benefit from the college for decades to come.”

Renovations affected every floor of Michael Hall, which was gutted, rebuilt and refurbished with new floors, walls, doors, lighting and windows. Doorway entrances were widened, bathrooms upgraded and wiring brought up to standard to enable information technology systems to be used. There are three new science labs on the basement floor. Students can study and visit in a lounge and recreation room, and exercise in a modern fitness centre. One of the most noticeable changes is the new elevator and shaft, an addition to the west side of the building.

Renovations were made possible through the federal Knowledge Infrastructure grant program, the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education, donations from alumni and others who gave to the capital campaign. Miners Construction was the project manager. Support was provided by the college board of governors and the monks of St. Peter’s Abbey.

(Prairie Messenger)

This is no ordinary musical period


TORONTO - It’s hard to believe, watching John Edwards cradle his giant lute-like theorbo, that the music he is playing could be considered anything but sacred.

As he moves his fingers over the instrument’s neck, the delicate strains of Monteverdi that blossom are both rapturous and heavenly.

However, as Edwards notes, these divine melodies were often the product of secular compositions that hoped to draw in churchgoers during the Catholic Church’s Counter-Reformation.

“While the Protestants are doing three-hour sermons, the mention of the Baroque is sort of for the Counter-Reformation to put ‘sparkly things’ to draw you in that way,” laughs Edwards, one part of The Musicians in Ordinary, who have been commissioned by the University of St. Michael’s College to conduct the Principal’s Music Series for the 2012-13 season. The series launched Oct. 23.

St. Michael’s is acting as a patron of the event, which will serve not only as a one-of-a-kind concert opportunity for students, but also function as an educational exploration of a remarkable period in musical history.

The Musicians in Ordinary are a two-person ensemble of John Edwards, on the towering, lute-like theorbo, and soprano Hallie Fishel. Joined by some of Toronto’s pre-eminent Baroque musicians, Edwards and Fishel will be presenting four concerts that explore the music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods that often times blurred the lines between sacred and secular.

As an example, Edwards displays an image of The Ecstasy of St. Theresa, a famous marble sculpture by Bernini, that is at once a display of reverence and sensuality. The idea, explains Edwards, was for the Church to capitalize on the popularity of the Baroque esthetic that would appeal to the general population as they attended church as well.

“That was what they were aiming for: to draw the people in. So, it seemed... that they were seeing it as giving the public at large an access to the arts, in a way,” said Edwards.

“I think that one of the things, with the Counter-Reformation, they try and use Mary as a ‘selling point’ to draw you in.”

Monteverdi, one of the most popular composers of the time, is featured in the series’ opening concert, along with works by Barbara Strozzi, a courtesan, and Isabella Leonardi, an Ursuline nun, among others. It seems a great study in contrast to hear the works of a courtesan, who writes in her “O Maria”: “She has conformed the hearts of all to her virtue, and she delights in the heritage of the Lord.”

“Luckily they’re inventing opera at the same time, and Monteverdi was an opera composer,” said Edwards. “So he’s using the same tricks as he would use to make you fall in love with Orfeo that he uses those to make you fall in love with the Virgin Mary.”

Monteverdi (who in addition to being a popular opera composer was also the maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s in Venice) was a composer whose work was a foremost example of the transition between the polyphony of the Renaissance to the sheer emotionalism and complexity of Baroque music. This fit perfectly into the Counter-Reformation’s integration of secular elements to reinforce the faith.

“In some ways it’s similar to today; there’s a lot of changes in society... all of a sudden they have access to information. There are all these changes in the music, so how do you integrate things like this? We have some of the same problems in church music today,” said Edwards.

Take Monteverdi’s “Nigra sum,” for example, with text like: “I am black but comely, daughters of Jerusalem. Therefore the king has delighted in me and brought me to his chamber and said to me, ‘Arise, my love, and come.’ ”

This particular piece is from his Mass for six voices to the Most Holy Virgin, which Monteverdi notes is “suitable for the chapels or chambers of princes.” It seems unlikely we would hear such textual interpretation today.

“I think the music in this concert is composed so successfully that I think it can show us something too,” said Edwards of its lasting effect.

Along with Fishel and Edwards, audiences of the series will be able to see performances by Tafelmusik’s Christopher Verrette and Patricia Ahern (Baroque violin), and the noted organist Philip Fournier (organist and music director at St. Vincent de Paul Church). Additionally, several of the concerts in the series will feature pre-performance talks by some of the leading scholars in the field.

“That scholarship that we’ve been doing with these different people... it’s silly to do scholarship on the cultural context of performance, and then not do the music,” said Edwards.

“Luckily, with our residency at St. Mike’s, that’s given us a place to present some of this stuff to a real audience.”

For more see www.musiciansinordinary.ca or www.stmikes. utoronto.ca.

St. Jerome’s teams up with local school boards


Catholic higher education doesn’t start in a university lecture hall and doesn’t end with a black gown and a piece of paper under a new agreement St. Jerome’s University has signed with the Hamilton diocese and six Catholic school boards.

The agreement will allow the university, diocese and school boards to pool resources for adult education, volunteering, curriculum development and more.

“We look at it very positively as an excellent opportunity to support each other in the mission of Catholic education and to promote Catholic education as a life-long process,” Gus Hubbard, Hamilton Catholic District School Board superintendent of education, told The Catholic Register.

Hamilton, Brant-Haldimand Norfolk, Waterloo, Bruce-Grey, Halton and Wellington Catholic school boards are signatories to the agreement with St. Jerome’s.

Beginning with a casual conversation about Catholic education in Waterloo Region, the agreement was developed with Hamilton Bishop Doug Crosby’s encouragement over a year of meetings. The agreement was signed by all parties Sept. 20.

“It helps all partners to think about Catholic education as something that extends from a child’s early years through high school, post-secondary education and beyond,” said St. Jerome’s religious studies professor Cristina Vanin in an e-mail.

The joy of connecting with knowledge


For Barbara Decker Pierce, seeing the joy in the faces of those taking part in King’s College University’s Liberal Arts 101 course is priceless.

The co-founder of the free course offered to London’s underprivileged at the Catholic college at London, Ont.’s Western University, Pierce says she loves “the enthusiasm with which the participants come to the program.”

She enjoys “the look on their faces when they connect with knowledge, when they are treated with respect, when they feel like they’re part of something that is helping them grow as individuals.”

Pierce is the director of King’s School of Social Work. Though the program is run by King’s, it’s a joint activity between Western’s Registrar’s Office, the Dean of Students and the School of Social Work.

King’s is wrapping up the fifth session of its increasingly popular Liberal Arts 101 course. Every fall semester since 2008, the Catholic college has offered free university-level classes to underprivileged members of the London community.

Fifteen participants are selected for each session, and every Tuesday night for the duration of the program, a different liberal arts topic is covered.

This past semester, lectures covered serious issues facing First Nations communities, what psychoactive drugs really do to the mind and body, the economic rise of China, the history of electricity in Canada, the Occupy movement and understanding the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis.

The cross-section of subjects covered is largely dependent on which faculty members volunteer and what they would like to teach. This semester, there are six faculty volunteers.

“The faculty love it,” said Pierce. They enjoy “the love of learning that they see on the faces of people in the program.”

Pierce describes the participants as attentive and always eager to jot down notes and ask questions.

Before the lecture, each class begins with a communal meal.

“The meal is important I think in terms of showing hospitality,” said Pierce. It brings together classmates, faculty, the co-ordinators and the six or seven student volunteers from the School of Social Work.

After the meal, the lecture lasts for about an hour, followed by discussion groups.

“We divide into small groups for some questions that the lecture has presented or provided, and those small groups are facilitated by our social work students,” said Pierce.

“This is a chance for them to work on some of their facilitation skills and also to connect them to the participants.”

The program also provides bus tickets and child care subsidies to participants in need “to remove any barriers people might have from participating,” Pierce said.

Some participants attend the program to test their readiness for post-secondary education. Participants have included those with physical or psychiatric challenges, single parents, immigrants and refugees.

King’s College was founded in 1954 and is sponsored by the diocese of London. Its mission is in part “to foster an environment based on open inquiry, Christian values and service to the larger community.”

The Liberal Arts 101 program is run out of the School of Social Work, said Pierce, as “It’s consistent with our mission to reach out to community, to be present in our community, and it’s also consistent with the values of the School of Social Work, which are clearly to support and assist people in making change.”

The seventh and last class of the program is a dinner and awards night where participants are acknowledged for completing this non-credit course and asked what could be improved upon.

Brescia aims to develop the next women leaders


Felicity Sattan walked away from Brescia University’s Take the Lead contest a more confident young woman.

Sattan, now a third-year Nutrition and Family student at Canada’s only women’s university, was introduced to Brescia in 2010 when she competed in the London, Ont., school’s all-female public speaking contest. She was a finalist in that year’s contest.

“I always tell my profs and my classmates that Take the Lead was really instrumental in improving my public speaking skills and becoming more confident and just being an all round better presenter, which I think is an important skill in post-secondary,” Sattan said.

She uses those skills often and at least once a semester in each of her university classes.

Take the Lead has been held five times since 2008. It is a recruitment initiative Brescia usually holds once a year where the university invites Grade 11 and 12 female students to develop public speaking skills and compete for the top prize of a one-year academic scholarship to Brescia.

There are two contests this year, the first held last spring and the next on Nov. 10.

With four contest rooms simultaneously active, six or seven student speakers have five minutes each to give their all to their speeches on women who inspire leadership. Then the top six or seven participants make it to the final round. The judges in both rounds are always female. Second prize is $250 and third prize is $100.

“I want them to leave with pride in themselves, for just stepping up to that microphone. That podium is amazing,” said Sheila Blagrave, one of the organizers and director of Communications, Marketing and External Relations at Brescia.

Blagrave wants participants, whether they win or not, to leave with “a sense of community and a sense of belonging to a group of women who share in that.”

Brescia’s close-knit and family like community is what attracted Sattan, who is from Stoney Creek, Ont. But it was Brescia’s “focus on leadership (that) was the big turning point,” she said.

“We stand for cultivating leadership among women,” said Blagrave. “And we propose that women, by the time they leave, are quite bold and willing to take on leadership positions. This contest aligns itself really well with our mission and our strategic objective in post-secondary education.”

Brescia, a Catholic university, was founded 93 years ago by the Ursuline Sisters. It accepts women of all faiths. Affiliated with Western University, students have access to classes on Western’s main campus and its two smaller campuses.

Brescia was also to host the National Conference of the Canadian Catholic Students’ Association Oct. 26.

University of St. Michael's launches ambitious fundraising campaign


TORONTO - On Sept. 29, the Feast of St. Michael, the University of St. Michael's College officially launched its Boundless Community fundraising campaign.

"Today the University of St. Michael's College, from our unique position with the University of Toronto, and together with the strong, steadfast loyalty of our alumni and friends, is announcing a historic never-before fundraising campaign," said Sr. Anne Anderson, president and vice-chancellor. "This campaign, unprecedented in scope and scale for St. Michael's, will seek to raise $50 million over the next five years."

And those in attendance heard that the campaign is already making great progress.

"I am delighted and proud to announce to you all today that we are already $24 million towards that vision," said Anderson. "This is an extraordinary accomplishment of which we are proud and grateful."

The funds will be used for a variety of improvements. Facilities will be digitally upgraded to modernize the school's academic environment while outdated furniture replacements, including in residence, will make studying more comfortable. The John M. Kelly Library, which has already received a rare collection of British author G.K. Chesterton's books, will broaden its range of material to meet the demands of 21st-century education.

Core funding is to be established for what Anderson called "hallmark College programs" — Book and Media Studies, Celtic Studies, Medieval Studies and Christianity and Culture — while the theology graduate program will also see further financial support.  

Additionally, the SMC One — Cornerstone Program will be established with the money raised.

"Unlike no other first-year program at U of T today, Cornerstone will build character, enhance the pursuit of social justice and create a platform for greater dedication to community," Anderson told about 200 people attending the event. "We will reaffirm our Basilian founders commitment to goodness, discipline and knowledge for every first-year students."

Founded in 1852 as a Basilian college, the school has produced more than 50,000 alumni. This year alone the university has more than 4,800 undergraduate students and an additional 350 pursuing graduate degrees. That's more than 5,000 people who appreciate these fundraising efforts.

"On behalf of the Student Union, I would like to express my humble thanks and appreciation to all the volunteers and leaders in our community, men and women who model exemplary behaviour in their commitment to the academic mission of St. Michael's," said Mike Cowan, Student Union president.

"Their tireless work and generous philanthropy make this a better place for us all."

Additional and increased scholarships and bursary support will also be a result from this campaign.


Oshawa marks 50 years of Catholic high school education


OSHAWA, ONT. - When the doors opened at Msgr. Paul Dwyer High School in early September, it marked 50 years of secondary Catholic education in Oshawa.

The celebrations commenced Sept. 9 at the school in the city east of Toronto, with events scheduled for the duration of the school year. The year-long celebrations are to allow as many of the school’s approximately 8,000 graduates — who include author Randy Boyagoda, former Toronto Argonauts wide receiver Andre Talbot and comedian/actor Justin Landry — to attend.

“We wanted to share this celebration over the course of a year so that if someone is away for something they didn’t miss out,” said Randy Boissoin, chair of the 50th anniversary Committee. “We thought if it was over the course of a year we could generate excitement and build up to May 2013 and hopefully with that excitement work on creating an alumni database.”

Boissoin wants to establish an alumni scholarship fund to assist school graduates who face rising post-secondary tuition costs.

The original high school, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, operated out of their local elementary school and was named St. Joseph’s Senior School when it opened in 1962. Private at the time, the school offered only Grade 9 and 10 classes in its inaugural year, adding Grade 11 the following September, and Grades 12 and 13 in subsequent years.

“The interesting thing at that point is that the convent for the Sisters was not ready,” said Sr. Conrad Lauber, appointed the school’s principal in 1967, the same year the Oshawa Separate School Board began providing $300 per student in Grades 9 and 10. “At that point the Sisters were driven from Morrow Park (Toronto) out to Oshawa, both the elementary and secondary teachers, and they were picked up again at six o’clock and taken back.”

By the time Lauber became principal — a post she held until 1979 — St. Joseph’s Senior School had relocated and became known as Oshawa Catholic High School (the name change came in 1965). One year later the construction of the convent on the school’s new grounds at 700 Stevenson Rd. N. had been completed, meaning Lauber no longer faced the more than 50-km commute.

The early years were a struggle for the school, as full funding of Catholic education was still years down the road. Unable to compete with the salaries from the public system, Oshawa Catholic High School relied on clergy and dedicated laypeople, who were willing to forego the salaries and benefits offered by the secular school board. This reliance on the latter grew even greater in 1969 when tragedy struck. After an end-of-year staff social, a station wagon with a number of staff in it was involved in an accident. Two Sisters and a lay teacher were killed, and four other Sisters were injured and unable to return to the school. Lauber was the only one able to resume teaching duties.

With few available and qualified clergy, Lauber turned to the laity to fill the positions, putting extra financial stress on the already struggling school.

“At one point when I asked the (Sisters of St. Joseph) for more funding our general superior ... told me that we might not even be able to continue next year because we didn’t have the finances,” said Lauber.

With no additional funding forthcoming, nothing significant at least, Lauber turned to the local community to save the city’s only Catholic high school.

“As we lost Sisters from the staff we had to replace them with laypeople and our costs increased significantly. So to stay alive we ran a walk-a-thon,” said Lauber. “In those days we walked miles not kilometres. The kids walked 25 miles and the parents walked five miles and we raised $56,000.” 

Such success turned the walk-a-thon into an annual event which helped cement full-spectrum Catholic education in Oshawa, said Boissoin, who remembers participating in the walk-a-thon as a student from 1974 to 1979. 

“When we were forced to do the walk-a-thons and the fundraising activities there was an incredible Oshawa Catholic High School pride within the community ... it also solidified us as a community,” he said. “It was an opportunity for people to show that this is important. When you had a walk-a-thon of that magnitude ... it was almost like a statement.”

It was during this era the Sisters of St. Joseph first sought another name change to honour Paul Dwyer — the spark that lit the school’s flame.

“Msgr. Paul Dwyer was the inspiration behind the founding of the school,” said Lauber. “He’s the one that wanted Catholic education in Oshawa.”

Although approved, Dwyer declined the honour in 1973, telling Lauber over lunch that he felt Dwyer would be too hard for immigrants to spell — something he felt conflicted with his image of welcoming new Canadians with open arms.

“He also said so many other people were involved in the establishment of the school he didn’t want to take all of the credit,” said Lauber, who saw the name change in 1976 to Paul Dwyer Catholic School following Dwyer’s death that year. “Obviously his wishes to not have the school named after him were ignored.”

OECTA deal aims at avoiding strikes, official says


TORONTO - In an effort to be facilitate local bargaining procedures, avoid potential strikes and remain responsible to younger teachers, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) signed a tentative two-year deal with the province earlier this month, a deal that has angered their public school counterparts.

"This framework will now constitute each and every collective agreement within the province. They'll go through the local bargaining process to go ahead and address that," said Kevin O'Dwyer, OECTA's provincial executive. "It tries to be pretty responsible to the younger teachers."

Parent group wants trustees to fight Bill-13


TORONTO - Parents as First Educators’ (PAFE) president Teresa Pierre is urging Ontario’s Catholic school trustees to pressure their boards into refusing to implement Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in Catholic schools.

“A legal opinion (from lawyer Geoff Cauchi) obtained by PAFE argues Catholic trustees are obliged to refuse to implement GSAs in Catholic schools,” said Pierre at a news conference held in the shadow of St. Michael’s Cathedral in downtown Toronto July 5. “Mr. Cauchi says a reasonable court should find that ‘it would be absurd to expect a Catholic board to tolerate the presence in its schools of student groups that present an anti-Catholic counter witness.’ ”