Edmonton schools mark 125 years of Catholic education

Edmonton Ukrainian Catholic Bishop David Motiuk said Catholic education inspires students to serve God and one another.


Edmonton Ukrainian Catholic Bishop David Motiuk said Catholic education inspires students to serve God and one another.

November 25, 2013

The Edmonton Catholic School District was built by those who believe in and support Catholic education. They were people of adventure and spirit.

Edmonton Catholic Schools has a long and proud history, dating back 125 years, well before Alberta became a province. This milestone was celebrated Nov. 18 at Edmonton City Hall.

"This is a day of rejoicing and celebrating our rich heritage, the foundation of where we are today," said Superintendent Joan Carr.

"It provides us with that firm base that enables us to fulfill our mission, which is to provide Catholic education that inspires students to learn and prepares them to serve God and one another."

Edmonton Catholic Schools, Carr explained, is an organization of people who embrace the growth and development of the whole person, of the whole child, as they build the kingdom of God.

"As we look forward into the future, we know that tomorrow's graduates will have to succeed and contribute in an increasingly interdependent world and solve complex global problems in new and innovative ways - but always guided by our faith and hope in our Lord Jesus Christ," said Carr.

Quoting poet William Butler Yeats, she said education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.

"Thank you to all of those who have dedicated their lives to lighting the fire of educational excellence in building Edmonton Catholic Schools," she said.


The hour-long celebration was emceed by assistant superintendent Laurie Pelkie, and featured musical interludes with the choir from Monsignor Fee Otterson School, a presentation of proclamation from city councillor Amarjeet Sohi, and greetings from Sister Pat Halpin, the last sister from the Faithful Companions of Jesus to teach with the school district.

Students from Monsignor Fee Otterson School provided music at the anniversary celebration.


Students from Monsignor Fee Otterson School provided music at the anniversary celebration.

Saying the opening prayer at the celebration was Father Adam Lech, the chancellor for the Edmonton Archdiocese. Rather than focusing on the past, he commended the current students for being the leaders of tomorrow.

"You are the future teachers, priests, nuns, doctors and all who serve us when we retire. It is our mission to do for them our best because they will eventually be caring for us when we are older," said Lech.

In August 1888, Edmonton Catholic parents applied to organize a separate school district for their children.

That October, three sisters from the Faithful Companions of Jesus sailed from France to open a convent and a school in the city. Those sisters started teaching at the newly-opened St. Joachim School on Nov. 2, 1888.

The sisters taught 23 students that first year in a one-room schoolhouse. In those days, compulsory schooling began at age seven and was complete by age 12.

As well, most of the teachers were priests and nuns. Today, staffing is almost entirely laypeople. A constant throughout the years is that Catholic students, parents, staff and trustees remain people of adventure and spirit.


Cindy Olsen, board chairperson, remarked that in an ever-changing world, Edmonton Catholic School students are being prepared through faith-based learning for a world of globalization and technological innovation.

Superintendent Joan Carr

Superintendent Joan Carr

Students learn about social justice issues and are encouraged "to give back to their community globally, nationally and even internationally," said Olsen.

In the 125 years that have passed, the school district has expanded to 88 schools with about 35,000 students. In the past three years alone, the number of students has grown by 10.8 per cent.

"It is Catholic education that inspires students to learn, and encourages them to serve God and one another," said Ukrainian Bishop David Motiuk.

"Edmonton Catholic Schools has been an important part of the academic achievement of Edmontonians for 125 years, and has instilled the values and morals that help our children respect one another."

People often ask, "Why Catholic education? Why integrate faith, life and culture with education?" The answer is the same today as it was 125 years ago - to help future citizens discern and develop their God-given talents and reach academic success. That is the Catholic way.


"I am very proud that for 40 of these 125 years of Catholic education, the Edmonton Catholic School District has become home to Canada's largest Ukrainian bilingual program," said Motiuk.

A short film was shown at the celebration to highlight Edmonton Catholic Schools. The film features more than 80 people, most of them former students of the school district, as well as several coomunity leaders.

The film chronology flows from the oldest former student to the youngest, offering a history of the school district, Edmonton, and Alberta.


Some of the local celebrities featured include Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, former mayors Bill Smith and Stephen Mandel, Premier Alison Redford, school chaplain Father Michael Mireau and some current students.

Also shown in the film is Sister Annata Brockman, the last sister to serve as a principal with Edmonton Catholic Schools.

In closing the celebration, Brockman prayed, "Empower us to be convinced of our identity as sons and daughters of God striving to be creative, faith-filled, inner-directed and global citizens, future agents for the transformation of the world."