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Plans to rename Jean Vanier school in Collingwood stalled

Trustee vote to rename school to ‘Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School’ was defeated in a tie vote back in April
Jean Vanier Catholic High School in Collingwood. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

The future name of Jean Vanier Catholic High School is still up in the air.

A proposed name: Our Lady of the Bay Catholic School was turned down by the school board.

Despite being the name of choice among students, teachers and parents, the proposal was voted down by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) trustees during their meeting at the end of April at a vote of 4-4 and now, the board is weighing its options on how to proceed.

Back in February, the SMCDSB made the decision to change the name of Collingwood’s Catholic high school after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against the school’s namesake.

When contacted for comment on Tuesday, Pauline Stevenson, communications manager for the SMCDSB, sent CollingwoodToday a statement on behalf of the board.

“We are not in a position to comment on the specific issues related to the name or naming process,” wrote Stevenson. “Our focus right now is finding a path forward so that this community can continue their healing process – this includes listening to and responding, as best we can, to the concerns of everyone involved.”

During original talks on the issue at the end of April, Superintendent Andy Sendzik explained the background for the name to trustees: "Our Lady" representing Our Mother Mary and "of the Bay" referencing that Collingwood is located on a bay.

According to the meeting minutes, trustee Maria Hardie suggested the proposed name conjures an image of a ghostly person over a lake murdering people and she did not like the name whatsoever, noting that the name is usually connected to faith or education.

Trustee Francis Smith said he expected that the parish priest would sit on the naming committee.

Staff advised that the parish priest was consulted.

Local trustee Peter Fracassi did not return a request for comment from CollingwoodToday.

Two separate votes were held to determine the suggested name, polling Jean Vanier students, parents and teachers. Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School received 54 per cent of the votes in the first vote and 50 per cent of the votes in the second survey.

The other two names under consideration were St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic High School and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic High School.

St. Aloysius is the patron saint of Christian youth, and St. Elizabeth Seton established the first free Catholic school in America.

According to a report released by French-based charity L'Arche International, its late Canadian founder Vanier had manipulative sexual relationships with women over several decades. Vanier, who died last year at the age of 90, had relationships with at least six women between 1970 and 1995, some of whom said Vanier used his power over them to take advantage of them through different kinds of sexual behaviours, alleges the report.

During a board meeting on May 13, trustees were planning to hear a delegation from Jean Vanier teacher Jennifer Foster to reconsider their vote on the issue. Also on the agenda was a report to determine next steps on how to proceed.

Included in the report was a blessing from Cardinal Collins, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Toronto, on choosing Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School as the new name.

“I am very glad to approve the name Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School for the school in Collingwood,” wrote Collins. “It is always good to name a Catholic school after a saint, and there is no greater saint than Our Lady.”

A procedural issue prevented the meeting from going ahead as planned.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings nine years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering county matters, court, Collingwood and Barrie matters
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