Re-naming of Jean Vanier Catholic High School stalls
A process to re-name Jean Vanier Catholic High School stalled when a new name chosen through a community consultation process was rejected by Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board trustees in a manner that leaves no clear path forward.
When news of sexual assault allegations against the Jean Vanier, who died in May, surfaced earlier this year, the school board initiated a process of renaming the school.
Vanier, a Canadian philosopher and theologian, is the founder of L’Arche International, a network of more than 150 care communities and 19 projects in 38 countries around the world that support people with intellectual disabilities.
The name Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School received a clear majority as the first choice of more than 600 members of the school community who participated in a community consultation process. Of 638 staff, students and family members, 320 voted for the name, a clear majority over the names St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic High School and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic High School.
At the April 29 board meeting, the motion to accept the name was defeated in a 4-4 tie vote. On May 13, a delegation was prepared to ask the board to reconsider, but they never got a chance because a motion to approve the agenda was defeated, also 4-4, and the meeting came to an abrupt end. The video of the live streamed meeting was promptly removed.
Area trustee Peter Fracasi, who voted against the proposed name, forwarded The Echo’s request for an interview to the school board’s communications manager who said no interviews would be granted at this time.
A statement from the board reads, “We are not in a position to comment on the specific issues related to the name or naming process. Our focus right now is finding a path forward so that this community can continue their healing process – this includes listening to and responding, as best we can, to the concerns of everyone involved.”
The board’s naming convention states the school must be named in honour of the Divinity; a person or a group that has been officially recognized by the church through beatification or canonization; a Catholic tradition; or an exemplary Catholic person or organization of local or historic significance.
Director of Education Brian Beal reported on May 13 that the name had received the blessing of His Eminence, Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Toronto, given that concerns were expressed about his approval of the name.
“I am very glad to approve the name “Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School” for the school in Collingwood. It is always good to name a Catholic School after a saint, and there is no greater saint than Our Lady,” he wrote.
Parent Penny Rush is among those who have taken up the torch on the issue, in an attempt to find resolution and move forward. She has a child in Grade 10 at Jean Vanier, and another in Grade 8 who is set to go there next year.
“This is an absolutely unprecedented situation in the sense that there is no process to move from here,” said Rush.
“It is a very traumatic incident that has caused us to be where we are right now,” she said. “It has been devastating for a large number of the staff, students and parents but we have to deal with this, particularly right now in light of everything else that is going on.”
She said, what was seen as a very fair process with a high level of engagement has been thwarted by those who are supposed to represent their constituents.
“It basically ripped our hearts out again. We want to move on. We want to start our healing process,” said Rush.
She said her children, along with everyone else, are asking a lot of questions. They want to know why the process that resulted in a name recommended by an appointed committee was disregarded.
“In my opinion, they are not doing what’s best for our kids,” said Rush. “It’s a complete disregard for our community.”
Some members of the community are determined to continue to raise the question about how to move forward so that the name can be changed and the healing process can begin. Rush said people are ashamed of the now tarnished legacy of Jean Vanier, and they don’t want to see his name on the school sign, on their uniforms, or on the graduation certificates that will be going out next month.
A letter writing campaign is underway to urge trustees to bring the issue back to the table and find a way forward. A list of trustees can be found at www.smcdsb.on.ca.