Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 23, 2007
Graduates reap Caritas High School's blessings
Alternative Catholic high school allowed students to flourish
By RAMON GONZALEZ
In addition to carrying the standard Alberta curriculum and religion courses, Caritas offered its pupils an opportunity to develop and use their God-given gifts and to interact with the world through community involvement, practical experience and apprenticeships.
Prospective students and their parents were interviewed by staff and signed a contract accepting the school's philosophy and regulations.
Students could wear anything they wanted, except for jeans, and were encouraged to measure their success according to how well they cooperated and served others. The message of social justice was said to pervade the school curriculum and environment.
Former student Nicole Zaboroski, a stay-at-home mother of one from Sherwood Park, originally organized the reunion for the class of 1987, her class. But when she learned that Sister Anne Lemire, Caritas' founder and first principal, would attend, she decided to expand the invitation to all former Caritas students and staff.
"We celebrate that 25 years ago the Sisters of St. Joseph took the bold and courageous action to make manifest a school with a difference, a school rooted in a community of love - Caritas," Rena Keenan Buhler, a mother of two from Timmins, Ont., said during a presentation honouring Lemire.
At the ACT Centre ceremony, former students thanked Lemire and her staff for a job well done and gave their beloved former principal a scrapbook filled with newspaper cutouts, letters, pamphlets, photos and dedications.
Lemire, who left the school in late 1984, said Caritas was a school with Gospel values that gave students an experience of community based in reverence. "When I see your happiness I know that God was most definitely a part of this adventure," she told her former pupils.
Caritas opened with 25 Grade 10 students and operated out of St. Alphonsus School for the first three years, adding one grade level a year. Then it moved to what is now Father Lacombe School.
Cecily Mills left a teaching position at J.H. Picard High School and took a 20 per cent pay cut to teach at Caritas in 1982. She was drawn by the school's emphasis on community, respect, cooperation, service and involvement.
"It was a great experience," Mills said. "Almost all the students were changed in some way."
Mills left in 1988 after the principles that originally drew her to Caritas were no longer there.
Former student Michael Horbaty, a piping engineer and designer in Edmonton, said Caritas erased boundaries and stereotypes allowing students like him to flourish in a climate of peace and fraternity.
"There were no cliques in the school," he recalled. "You'd basically try to be friendly and have conversations with everyone."
Horbaty, 38, said in addition to giving him life skills and teaching him how to treat others, Caritas opened his eyes to social injustice. "I don't think I would have been the person that I am had I not attended Caritas."
Ken Hakes, an analyst with Alberta Environment and a father of one, said he enrolled at Caritas because he liked the philosophy of the school.
"I thought the philosophy was unique," he said. "There were no boundaries, we were allowed freedoms in the school that other schools would not allow, teachers were accessible, everybody was given the same opportunities, there was a religious content and there was a small class structure that allowed students to bond."
In the school's culture lockers had no locks and students were responsible for their own behaviour, Hakes recalled. "I think Caritas influenced my personality, making me more patient and kind."
Marie Trudel, a self-described gentle soul, thinks it would have been hard for her to survive in a regular school with gangs and bullying. "I'm very shy so I consider myself very fortunate to have attended Caritas," she said, sobbing. "It was just a place where everybody could be themselves."
At Caritas, Trudel, 37, was treated with respect, kindness and compassion and, as a result, she flourished. Now she works as an employment counsellor with the Alberta government and said she brings to her job the values and the compassion she learned at Caritas.
Trudel and other former students recalled going to farms in the summer to glean potatoes and donating them to the food bank. They also told of the monthly family day in which students, their parents and the staff would gather together to socialize, pray, talk about school matters and enjoy a potluck supper.
Caritas students also did choral singing, theatre and musicals productions such as Fiddler on the Roof and Carousel. They also did a ritual called Walkabout, which required them to plan an activity or project that would help themselves or others.
Caritas School closed in 1991 after the Sisters of St. Joseph's left and their original philosophy died out.
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