Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 16, 2004
MacNeil humbled by school honouring him
Retired archbishop delights in his frequent visits
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
The day before the official opening of the school named after him, Archbishop Joseph MacNeil was an excited man.
"It is humbling," MacNeil said in an interview. "I'm very excited. It's the first time this has ever happened to me. I'm not too sure why, but I'm happy to revel in the reality of this great honour."
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil Elementary/Junior High School was to officially open Feb. 11 in southwest Edmonton. But the retired archbishop is already a frequent visitor to the school.
"He comes to the school and the students love having him here. He is so good with them, from the little ones up. He has done little celebrations with the Grade 2s to having the entire school in Thanksgiving," said principal Dave Andrews. "And sometimes he just comes in to join us.
"It's a huge honour to have this school named after such a great man. Everybody knows him. He has touched so many people."
About 280 students from kindergarten to Grade 8 occupy the school which currently operates at about half capacity. The school will accommodate the influx of Catholic families into the expanding Terwillegar area.
Modelled to commemorate a man who served the Edmonton Archdiocese for more than 25 years, the $6.3 million school has chosen to follow MacNeil's own motto: Let us grow together into Christ.
"Since I became a bishop in 1969 in Saint John, N.B., that is the motto I chose and I carried it here to Edmonton in 1973," MacNeil said. "It comes from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. It basically is an invitation for all of us to develop and grow as friends of Jesus Christ into the community of God, the body of Christ.
"I think it also challenges teachers and students to collaborate with one another. A school like that is a learning place for everyone," he said.
Andrews chose blue and green as the school colours based on the MacNeil tartan. Andrews has also instilled a curriculum based on prayer and social programs as a way of exposing the students to the service MacNeil has given his entire life.
"I'm very proud of the social programs and activities they have done," said the 79-year-old MacNeil, who retired in 1999. "I think it really signifies what it means to be a friend of Jesus; a Christian; a Catholic. It means there is someone who cares and shares love and compassion.
"I think it is what David and the staff are sharing with the students," he said.
Andrews, 45, said, "This school is unbelievable. Everything is brand new. The kids are all excited."
Andrews has structured the school's activities to include prayers to begin and close each day. Apart from religion classes, the school has already completed a variety of social justice activities. Students have collected food for the food bank. They have collected mittens, scarves and toques for the Wings of Providence. There was also a shoebox collection of toiletries for the Marian Centre.
"Families here are very generous. We have been able to capitalize on that and give back to the community in a number of ways."
Having such a mix of ages might pose a problem although Andrews has not noticed a single incident. In fact, quite the opposite is true as shown by the older students' enthusiasm for the buddy-up program.
He anticipates it developing even further given the imminent growth of the student body.
"I have one class each of kindergarten to Grade 6. I have one Grade 8 class. Next year we'll have a Grade 9 class. However, we have four classes of Grade 7. There is a bit of imbalance now, but perhaps as early as next year there will be four more Grade 7 classes and four Grade 8 classes. I think within two years our junior high totals will be 300 students," Andrews said.
"The buddy-up program creates an intermingling in a variety of activities. The older and younger students do projects together, they read together and if there is a celebration, the buddies hook up and sit together."
Andrews thinks junior high students are more responsible when elementary students are near.
"I think having an elementary/junior high building is the best because the elementary students like to watch the junior highs to see what they are doing. There isn't a sense where the younger ones are nervous. In a lot of cases, the older ones are brothers and sisters, or their friends."
For many families a K-9 school is convenient because the entire family can attend one school.
The school has an open, central area which branches out in four directions.
It features three career and technology studies areas for the various modules in food and fashion, science and technology and information processing.
"When we came in, it was Aug. 25, 2003. We didn't have the whole building yet. It was still a construction zone," Andrews said. "We didn't have grass or a playground. Eventually, everything came together."
The staff and students have shared many little thrills, as when the flagpole was erected; when the name was put on the school; when the bike racks were installed.
"We are a great school and we love being named after Archbishop MacNeil," Andrews said. "He is a wonderful man with a wonderful presence. And we have hundreds of parents who love this school and everything about it."
As do the students. The impression set by visits with the archbishop and the fact she doesn't have to scrounge for materials are two things Grade 8 student Mackenzie Currah enjoys in the school.
"The teachers are all really nice," she said. "The archbishop is a very kind man. He gets along with everyone really well."
Grade 7 student Christian Koller likes the new computers the most.
"The school is clean and it has a great staff. All of the equipment and tools are new. And I like the archbishop because he's so funny," he said.