Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 17, 2005
Priest goes to bat for school
Fr. Laverty endures hostility but Devon gets Catholic school
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
He had to endure doors slammed in his face and rude comments, but Spiritan Father Frank Laverty was unrelenting in his efforts to ensure the town of Devon got its own Catholic school.
Now his efforts have come to fruition as have those of 17 other volunteers who went door-to-door in 1999 to locate all the Catholic households in the town of 6,000.
Holy Spirit School this fall opened its doors to 175 K-6 students and has plans to expand to Grade 9 in the following years. Archbishop Emeritus Joseph MacNeil will bless the school during a Confirmation Mass Oct. 22 at 5 p.m. An official grand opening will wait until the spring.
Laverty and his dedicated volunteers knocked on more than 1,800 doors, with the priest surveying 434 homes himself.
"I have had such gratitude for the gift of Holy Spirit School," said parish secretary Nadia Rhodes. "I think of the hardships our 17 volunteers and their families faced; some of them dealing with rude or abusive people. It was missionary work. I think of Father Frank, who offered up endless prayer and sacrifices for this school to be realized. Many doors were slammed in his face.
"Father is a man of great humility and deep faith," said Rhodes. "He is a man of few words but great action as is evident in the fact that he spent many hours surveying without complaint. He was always willing to take another batch of houses if needed."
Rhodes recalled the September 1999 meeting to determine if the Catholic community wanted the school. The vote was more than 90 per cent in favour.
"That was a wild night. Father Frank was on his annual pilgrimage to Ireland. He must have been praying up a storm for us. He left a contact number for us to call. He was overjoyed at the news," she said.
Library honours pastor
It is fitting then that the school's library is named after Laverty.
The building itself is bright with large windows placed continually around the school. There is a central gathering area to be used for assembly and prayer with computer and science labs nearby.
The school's gymnasium is now doubling as the worship home of St. Maria Goretti Parish while renovation of the church continues until Easter.
Principal Steve Dempsey likes the design because the light permeates the school and the students.
"This is a very comfortable place to be," said Dempsey, 51, a teacher and administrator with Evergreen Catholic Schools in Spruce Grove for 25 years. "I like to think as the light comes in, it brings the Holy Spirit. The community has been so welcoming and giving."
Not initially, however. When the Alberta government approved a Catholic school for Devon in 1999 - allocating more than $4 million - its logical location was deemed to be on a reserve parcel held by the town located between "Pipeline Park" and the town's soccer fields.
The government wanted an environmental assessment to determine if the site was suitable for a school. That delayed Evergreen's proposed September 2001 opening.
In November 2002, Evergreen met with Devon town council to discuss the transfer of land for the new school. The goal then was to open the new school in September 2004.
The original plans had a portion of the school built into a berm along Pipeline Park, which would preserve the soccer fields but possibly breach the integrity of the pipeline. To do so would also put the project well over-budget. Pilings had to be drilled to stabilize the ground.
The plans were amended to fit the funding available, but this required the removal of the soccer fields. Not a popular option for non-Catholics with sports-minded children. Eventually, however, town council agreed with the plan and the town is now looking for a new site for its soccer fields.
The community is talking about how it can help the children, Dempsey said. The Knights of Columbus is donating a portable altar and the Catholic Women's League will help parent volunteers serve up hot lunches.
"We were all praying we would get the school and it was a matter of having faith," he said.
Even though several students were baptized Catholic, many of them did not know how to make the Sign of the Cross. Dempsey sees it as an opportunity to teach them how to pray in many forms.
"In the children, we see acceptance and joy."
The school is currently holding a name-the-sports-team contest. Dempsey said some suggestions are the Angels, the Doves and the Crusaders. His personal preference is the Flames to denote the fire within, although he concedes it might not be a popular choice.
Evergreen board of trustees chair Gerald Bernakevitch said getting the school in Devon was quite a struggle for many people. The entire community has begun to realize the benefits of having a Catholic school in Devon.
Bernakevitch noted the effort of Laverty and the nucleus of volunteers.
"We are thrilled to see 175 students at this time and we hope the community will see its value and more Catholic children will join us in the future," he said. "Naming the library after Father Frank was a very good choice."
Existing schools in Devon and the Graminia area north of the North Saskatchewan River saw a slight drop in their numbers.
"The school is here and the children came," Dempsey said. "The Spirit brought them to us. This happened because it was meant to happen."