Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 6, 2006
Grads, staff share memories at St. Joe's
St. Joseph High School's 75th anniversary celebrates its success and students
By RAMON GONZALEZ
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Photos of past principals of St. Joe's – Fr. F.W. Daly, left, Fr. A.D. MacDonald and Mother Margaret Mary Hicky – were on display for the festivities.
The 75th anniversary program also included a Mass with Archbishop Thomas Collins, Msgr. Felix Otterson and legendary chaplain Father Michael Troy.
The school south gym was rededicated as the Msgr. Otterson Gym in recognition of his ties to the school as a student, teacher and acting principal.
"St. Joe's was the Catholic school of choice, the place you went to if you wanted to star in sports, academics or to learn a trade," said former teacher Muriel Dunnigan, who taught in the school in the early 1960s.
"(Former grads) not only helped to put St. Joe's on the map, so to speak, during their student days, but they've gone on to very successful careers in a variety of fields.
"Many of the health care professionals, lawyers, doctors, teachers, school administrators, civic leaders and business people in this city have passed through this school."
Some even made it to Hollywood, such as entertainer Robert Goulet, who starred in the 1960 original Broadway version of Camelot, and Ed Eleniak, who went on to become the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney movies.
The list of graduates also includes several priests such as the late Msgr. Bill Irwin, Msgr. Otterson and Father Greg Bittman, the archdiocesan chancellor.
Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Allan Wachowich and his brother Ed, former chief provincial court judge, were also among the graduates.
"This was a great school because of this fact - it was the central school, the only high school for the Catholics and you came from all over," said Allan Wachowich, who established the baseball and the basketball teams at St. Joe's.
He noted that of 58 students who graduated with him in 1953, over two-thirds went to the University of Alberta.
"We learned well due to this school. If I became anything in this life, it is largely due to my parents, this school and the values that were taught to me from my faith."
"St. Joe's gave me a commitment to life and to others," Dr. Philip Patsula, a retired professor of counselling psychology at the University of Ottawa, said in an interview.
- WCR photo by
"Teachers would place a great emphasis on character building encouraging us to get involved, to participate and to contribute. They would say, 'Be cooperators and take responsibility for yourself and others.'"
St. Joseph's High was built in 1931 to educate young Catholic boys. With the closure of St. Mary's School in 1954, girls entered its halls but were kept in separate classes until the mid-1960s when the schools amalgamated.
Dunnigan said the chapel at noon hour was extremely busy because that was the only place that the boys and the girls could actually sit beside each other. Boys and girls had lockers right across from each other in the hallway but the two could not speak.
Teachers and nuns in black garments would stand at each end of the hallway at the noon hour "to make sure no one spoke to each other across the hallway."
In 1963 the vocational wing at the north end was built.
In 1967 the special education and vocational wing at the south end were built and at that time St. Joe's had the largest physical space of any school in the province.
Bob Ritter was a student at St. Joe's and graduated in 1968. He has been a teacher and administrator with Edmonton Catholic Schools and is currently a district principal.
Things have changed over the years, but in many ways St. Joe's remains the same. "St. Joe's was a welcoming home when I was here for Ukrainian students and Italian students and newcomers," Ritter recalled.
"St. Joe's, when I taught here in the early '70s, welcomed Eastern Europeans and people from Chile and people from Vietnam.
"Today St. Joe's extends its arms to newcomers from Africa, Central America and Asia. And St. Joe's is the same in another way: many of its students are successful and famous.
"More important is the fact that the students that graduated were inculturated into Catholic values and became successful parents and successful citizens."
St. Joe's students are also known for bravery. During the Second World War, 550 staff, students and former students entered the Armed Forces.
Forty-eight of them died fighting against Nazism and St. Joe's holds one of the city's largest Remembrance Day celebrations.
The 1970s, 1980s and 1990s brought additional changes to St. Joe's. Father Michael Troy became a teacher and coach as well as a chaplain.
The staff and students began to look beyond to make the world a better place by founding the St. Joseph's Save the Children Fund, an NGO that sponsored projects around the world.
In 2000, St. Joe's underwent a multimillion-dollar overhaul that changed its physical shape drastically as well as the way it delivers education.
Since then St. Joe's has been operating programs in which its 1,200 students learn at their own pace and accept responsibility for their own learning.
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