On my return from Toronto this morning, I went straight from the Ottawa Airport to a non-descript school at 1000 Brookfield Street (not far from Bank and Heron). The building, formerly a French-language public school (Gabrielle Roy) now houses three entities: a Christian Horizons school for handicapped youth, a French-language Islamic school and, on the second floor at the back, Maryvale Academy.
There are some sixty students in grades 1-8 (all classes are split: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8) with an average of 16 pupils per home room. Parents pay for what they believe is a sounder Catholic education than is available in the Catholic public system. The tuition ranges from $5500-6500 per child, with discounted rates for more than one child per family and an overall cost that is socially adjusted to family income.
Maestro Uwe Lieflander leads a sound music programme and a year- end musical evening for friends of the school is scheduled for June 3rd. There will be a comedic program on Pinnochio by the younger children and a variation of A Midsummer Night's Dream by the older ones.
My visit coincided with the hiring of a new principal, Mr. Michael Dopp, who formally begins his duties on June 1. Newly married and fresh from a Master's Degree in Evangelization from Detroit's Sacred Heart School of Theology as well as with a background in business, he seems ready to take the school to a new level.
Catholics believe that parents are charged by God with being the first educators of their children in the faith. This led, when I was in Halifax, to the establishment there of Our Lady of Schools, a fledgling educational venture that began its first year with eight students and gradually inched towards forty students after five years of existence.
Such schools are strong on the element of faith: these children are charged with becoming saints by everyone on the staff, and there is a wholesomeness about the atmosphere, even as the surroundings are a bit threadbare. One stays with the educational program for one's children out of conviction.
Celebrating Mass was a real joy as the choir sang with zest and competence, the altar servers comported themselves with aplomb, and reverence was the keynote of the liturgical gathering.
In my homily after a bit of Show and Tell concerning the crozier, miter and pallium, I spoke briefly about the saying St. Paul attributes to Jesus in today's first reading from Acts, that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
I sensed everyone was happy to give today: to the bishop and to each other (a delicious meal was served to the older students, the faculty, staff and board of direction/parents group). During a brief visit with the first- and second-graders, I was given a stack of hand-printed cards. Visiting with the third- and fourth-graders, we had a Q & A on the life of a bishop.
During lunch, all the junior school students performed a feat of showing their knowledge of the key catechism questions they had committed to memory. It ended with all of them exclaiming: "TA-DAH!!!"
The whole body of the Academy also gets along with their neighbours, sharing the gym with the Muslim school, etc.
The school received permission from Archbishop Gervais for the Blessed Sacrament to be kept in an Adoration Chapel and all have the opportunity to drop in for prayer as the opportunity allows.
May Our Lady, in whose honour the school is dedicated, continue to watch over this courageous and challenging experiment in private Catholic schooling!