Manitoba

Jesuit school outrages indigenous leader, Winnipeg school board chair

Two prominent voices are speaking out against Gonzaga Middle School, a private Jesuit school set to open in Winnipeg's inner city next fall.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission not asking the church to teach kids again, says Larry Morrissette

Gonzaga Middle School is located at 174 Maple St. N. in Winnipeg. The property is being leased from St. Andrews Ukrainian Catholic Church. (CBC)

Two prominent voices are speaking out against Gonzaga Middle School, a 60-student private Jesuit school set to open in Winnipeg's inner city next fall.

The Catholic school will "divide" and "impoverish" the community, says Mark Wasyliw, chair of the Winnipeg School Division board. 

"You're basically trying to pick, in your mind, winners and losers," Wasyliw said.

We're trying to build communities up, and you don't do that by taking the best and brightest out … then sending them to Tuxedo.- Mark  Wasyliw , Winnipeg School Division board chair

Larry Morrissette shares his concern. Morrissette works in the North End and is co-founder of the Winnipeg School Division's Children of the Earth High School, a Winnipeg school focused on indigenous identity and culture.

"Nowhere [is] Truth and Reconciliation asking the church to begin teaching kids again," Morrissette said, who himself was raised Catholic. His mother went to a residential school.

"This school is stepping in and saying to us, as a people, we know better than you," Morrissette said.

​In November, a group of St. Paul's High School alumni, including Mark Chipman, chair of Jets owner True North Sports and Entertainment, announced a plan to build the small school. Organizers promised to help address poverty in the area through rigorous education and support for students.

Two private Catholic schools in Winnipeg, St. Mary's Academy and St. Paul's High School, have already agreed to accept "qualified applicants" from Gonzaga in the future and waive their tuition, Gonzaga principal and executive director Tom Lussier said in November.

"We're trying to build communities up," said school board chair Wasyliw. "You don't do that by taking the best and brightest out of that community and then sending them to Tuxedo."

Jesuit schools 'an apostolic instrument'

Gonzaga's founders were inspired to start the school after seeing the impact Jesuit schools had on inner city youth in U.S. cities, Lussier said. Mother Teresa Middle School, which opened recently in Regina, "created more impetus" for a Jesuit school in Winnipeg, he said in November. 

Mother Teresa and several American Jesuit schools are members of the Jesuit Schools Network. A handbook published by the network titled Our Way of Proceeding: Standards & Benchmarks for Jesuit Schools in the 21st Century says a Jesuit school's "primary and operative self-understanding" is defined as "an apostolic instrument at the service of the mission of the Society of Jesus and of the Church." 

While the culture of Gonzaga will remain Catholic, Lussier said, students of all faith backgrounds will have a place in the school, he promised.

"Aboriginal studies will be part of the curriculum and we will continue to seek the support of aboriginal educators and consult indigenous elders with respect to this curriculum and indigenous spiritual teachings and practices," said Lussier in a written statement.

Nevertheless, Wasyliw and Morrissette worry Gonzaga will overtly or indirectly pressure students to adopt the Catholic faith.

"A country-club education," Wasyliw said. "In exchange, you're going to be part of our religion."

Morrissette said if Gonzaga's founders want to improve the lives of at-risk youth in Winnipeg, the $3 million it will take to build and operate the school for three years would be better spent on drop-in centres and youth-oriented programs already running in the area. 
The cover image of Our Way of Proceeding: Standards & Benchmarks for Jesuit Schools in the 21st Century, published by the Washington-based Jesuit Schools Network. Ad majorem Dei gloriam translates to "for the greater glory of God." (Jesuit Schools Network)

For Wasyliw's part, he'd like to see that $3 million flow directly into the Winnipeg School Division — and see Mark Chipman's business interests pay more tax.

"The Winnipeg Jets is a very profitable corporation that is getting taxpayer-money subsidies. If they want to help, return those subsidies back to the taxpayer, and the money would flow back into the education system," he said.

Wasyliw added he wants the MTS Centre to pay school taxes as well.

"With that kind of resources, we could provide really intensive programming. It would do a lot of good, and we could certainly help more than the 60 students they're talking about," he said.

Morrissette said he will stop speaking out against Gonzaga if the school meets with a panel of residential school survivors and the survivors come out in support of the school. 

Gonzaga Middle School declined CBC's recent interview requests and instead offered the written statement below.

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