Jean Vanier Student Leaders Embark on a Life-Changing Journey to the University of Notre Dame
“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi
On November 21, 2019, a group of 20 Grade 12 Leadership students of diverse faith and ethnicity from Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School embarked on a life-changing journey to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, to celebrate their senior weekend retreat. The point of this retreat was not simply to watch a football game. After all, despite their reputation as a football mecca, the University of Notre Dame stands for so much more.

Notre Dame is a world renowned Catholic university, first established in 1842 by Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C. Steeped rich in tradition, the University of Notre Dame prides itself on beinga Catholic academic community of higher learning that fosters in its students the development of mind, body and spirit. As their mission statement affirms, “the University seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings, but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice, and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”  

If this mission sounds familiar, it is probably because it is remarkably consistent with the mission of Ontario Catholic schools, articulated through the Ontario Catholic School Graduate Expectations (OCSGEs).

And on that basis, the OCSGEs provided the framework to guide the learning on this senior weekend retreat. Jean Vanier Principal, Katharine Stevenson, and Vice-Principal, Paul Nalli, provided lessons on the OCSGEs with the students. After sharing personal experiences linking the OCSGEs to their own successes and failures, students were asked to create an electronic portfolio capturing images as to how the OCSGEs are embodied on the Notre Dame campus. 

Students took part in various sights and sounds at Notre Dame, which included:
  • Participating in the Senior Day Pep Rally at the Compton Family Ice Arena;
  • Praying at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes;
  • Breaking bread in community at the South Dining Hall;
  • Seeing the trumpets under the dome;
  • Enjoying a tailgate lunch at the ACE commons and learning about the ACE Teacher and Principal formation program from Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C.;
  • Reflecting on the beauty of the Word of Life Mural at the Hesburgh Library;
  • Exploring the pride and culture of Notre Dame at the Bookstore;
  • Celebrating the Eucharist at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart during the feast of Christ the King;
  • Embarking on a serenity walk around the campus and sharing the culture on a game day with fellow students and visitors at Notre Dame.
Many of these excursions were captured on the school’s Twitter account, documenting a memorable experience for the students, as well as the school administrators who chaperoned the trip.

For Vice-Principal Nalli, the only Canadian graduate of the Remick Leadership Program in the Alliance for Catholic Education, it was a particularly rewarding experience to return to Notre Dame University and be able to share some of his learning with the student leaders.

“Our students absolutely loved the culture and wholeheartedly appreciated how the Catholic faith is lived out overtly and intentionally at Notre Dame,” says Mr. Nalli. “Our Board’s theological theme ‘Do you Love Me?’ came to life in all forms on this retreat and I think it demonstrated for them that it’s cool to be faithful, and to live out our faith in accordance with the OCSGEs.”

Kudos to Mr. Nalli and Mrs. Stevenson for sharing this remarkable experience with the student leaders at Jean Vanier! This journey exemplifies how the relationship between learning and believing is fundamental in our Catholic schools. Our students and staff are so clearly Achieving, Believing and Belonging at Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Milton!


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