Catholic school set to open 2017 in Blackfalds

This illustration depicts what the planned Blackfalds school will look like.

PHOTO | COURTESY RDCRS

This illustration depicts what the planned Blackfalds school will look like.

October 26, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol remembers when she was a kid growing up in Camrose, Ash Wednesday services were always held at the schools.

Stol and her family have lived in the young and rapidly-growing Central Alberta community of Blackfalds since 1991.

The town has never had a Catholic church, but it is now officially getting its first Catholic school.

A sod-turning event for the highly anticipated kindergarten to Grade 9 St. Gregory the Great school was held Oct. 20.

After about 8 years of lobbying the provincial government, funding for the town's first Catholic school as well as a new public intermediate school - which will be housed on the same site as St. Gregory the Great - was recently approved.

Thinking back on her own school days, when the faithful could gather at the schools to mark feast days and services, Stol hopes that bringing the Catholic school to town will draw a larger presence from the parishes.

Because Blackfalds has never had a Catholic church, parishioners either go to nearby Red Deer or to Lacombe for services.

catholic community

Given the limited number of priests available to perform services, Stol knows building a Catholic church in each community is probably no longer an option or a reality, she said.

"But by offering some services, Catholics could have an opportunity to become part of the school community through worship," she said.

Paul Mason

Paul Mason

"If it would play out that way, it becomes more of a community thing instead of just a school thing, which of course makes it a healthier community and a healthier school. The two are intertwined."

Set to open September 2017 to 400 students, it will be the 20th school under the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools division.

Superintendent Dr. V. Paul Mason said the school division has seen "robust growth" of approximately four and five per cent each year.

"Six communities, 20 schools, robust growth; it's an exciting time to be in Catholic education," said Mason.

"We believe that's indicative that people see the importance and continue to support faithbased education."

The board is excited by the opportunity to partner with a new community, said Mason, bringing its number of communities to six, including Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Rocky Mountain House, Innisfail and Olds.

Blackfalds itself has had a vigorous growth rate, seeing its population rise to almost 9,000 this year, from around 3,000 in 2003, said Stol.

"We've had a tremendous growth rate and a lot of young families have been moving to Blackfalds," she said. "In 10 years, we're over double the size that we were."

Lobbying for more schools became a major priority for the mayor and town council as the number of children in the community grew while schools were not being built in the province.

There are currently two schools in the town of Blackfalds with around 600 students being bussed out of Blackfalds for school, including about 300 elementary to high school students being bussed to schools in the Red Deer Catholic school system.

Melodie Stol

Melodie Stol

"We believe it was really important for students to get their education here in town, whether it be a public education or a Catholic education."

Stol gave this as their explaination why the community took the proactive approach of lobbying hard with its school trustees to have new schools constructed.

"We didn't think people wanted to see their kids getting bussed to the next community because then you're not connected to the community.

"Your Christmas concerts are in another community and your school sports are in another community and we'd rather those things be going on right here, in Blackfalds."

The naming of the school was a consultative process including nominations from the

public submitted online. The submissions were shortlisted to five names which were approved by Archbishop Richard Smith.

BOARD DECISION

The board then decided the school in Blackfalds would be called St. Gregory the Great, after the patron saint of teachers, students, musicians and singers.

"It will be a school of creativity, ingenuity and innovation," said Mason about the vision for the Blackfalds school.

"It will be a school that will be valued by the community, where the students will be the beneficiaries, and it will be a school that we will set up for many years of future success."

The school will accommodate approximately 400 students with a future build for approximately 800.