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St. Anthony's School







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Home > Community > St. Anthony's School
From Dante Academy to St. Anthony’s School
By Fiona Story
Dr. John Dorner hurriedly strides into his office at St. Anthony’s School and snatches up the phone. Seconds later, he is informing one unsuspecting mother that her child has fallen in the playground and suffered a few cuts to her face. He calmly answers the concerned parent’s questions and assures her that her daughter has suffered only minor injuries.

Five minutes into the conversation, a tiny girl appears and slowly walks into the office, uncertainly approaching the principal’s doorway. She enters at the beckon of Dr. Dorner, gingerly holding a wad of paper towels to the right side of her face. With great authority, she takes the receiver handed to her and bluntly assures her mother that she is perfectly fine.

“The mother would like us to put ointment on the cuts,” Dr. Dorner tells the secretary after finishing the call.

“Will it sting?” the little girl asks with concern as the secretary fishes out the cream.

“No, it shouldn’t,” Dr. Dorner assures her as he gently applies the ointment.

While he carefully covers her cuts with Band-Aids, the little girl turns her tiny head towards the principal.

“It stings,” she says frankly.


After winning the “Ugly Schoolyard” contest, the school obtained the funds to transform a concrete jungle into a real jungle.

A white billboard set on the face of the school bears the school’s insignia and the motto, “We Help Each Other.”

Angela Ierullo, a former student of the elementary school in the 1960's, claims that this principle has been an enduring one.

“In my day, there were a few boys who were from Italy and they could not speak a word of English,” she says. “It was the other children who would help them and this has stayed. The children help each other and they are the ones who have broken the language barriers.”

St. Anthony’s, which houses 232 students, has always served a very large immigrant population. A quick stroll down the main hallway in December reveals a wall bearing the words “Merry Christmas” in seven different languages.

Classes are taught in English and French by a staff of 18 teachers and five teaching assistants. On Saturdays, special classes are offered in other languages of the community such as Vietnamese and Mandarin. St. Anthony’s also offers special classes to students who have no knowledge of English. This variety of culture and language is something that has remained with the school since the days when it was known as Dante’s Academy.

Dr. Dorner remarks that documented facts of Dante’s Academy are extremely scarce.

“There’s nothing in any of the city records that have a recording of this address as being a school from earlier days, when it was known to have been a school.”

The first students of Dante Academy in 1925.

Inquiries into the school board’s archives have also turned up empty. However, school secretary Alicia Broomfield worked at the board during the French-English board separation in 1987-88 and has witnessed the archival problems that accompany transition. She believes that the information might exist but could be temporarily unavailable.

“With the recent city mergers, the school boards have had to merge too and each board has different archival methods, so it’s a question of bringing all the archives together from the various places where they are housed. There might be something in the files, which are being moved around,” she explains.

The only remnant of its predecessor that St. Anthony’s has in its possession is a framed document containing the names of former Dante’s Academy students who volunteered for “Canada’s Fighting Forces.”

The exact date when the name transitioned from Dante’s Academy to St. Anthony’s School remains a mystery as well. Dr. Dorner does mention that the origin of the name may lie with St. Anthony’s Church.

“Many schools within our community share the same name as the parish with which they’re connected,” he says.

The church has always played a very large role in both the community and the school. Regular visits are paid to the school by the pastor and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as the Sacrament of First Communion, are received by the children in grade two. The Sacrament of Confirmation is delivered in grade six. The established norms of the Sacraments are under review this year and could be made available to younger children as well. All changes will be consistent with those made by the church.

The opportunity offered by the school to integrate religion into education is invaluable for some families.

“We have a number of children who are not Catholic in our school,” Dr. Dorner says. “Many of them have come from countries where there is no opportunity to have faith, there is perhaps legislated atheism. We have families who come here hungering for an opportunity for their children to experience a sense of spiritualism.”

St. Anthony’s offers far more than spirituality. It has won various awards and recognition, the most notorious is the Ottawa-wide, “Ugly Schoolyard” contest of 1998.

“The children here came up with the highest level priority being to have trees in their schoolyard. It was 100 percent concrete and not at all suitable for children to be playing there,” says Dr. Dorner. “It came down to a question of funding.”

St. Anthony’s won the contest and obtained the required funds.

“There was a tremendous celebration within the community. We had a symbolic planting of a tree. We couldn’t actually plant it because at the time there was absolutely no earth to plant it in,” Dr. Dorner remembers with a laugh.

From that point on, it became a community effort to introduce greenery to the schoolyard. Children and parents from both St. Anthony’s and Cambridge Street Community School lent a hand. The Italian Community Association also participated and so did local politicians.

“It’s like a mini rainforest now,” exclaims former student Angela Ierullo, who also participated in the planting. “It’s giving these kids a knowledge of the environment we didn’t have as children.”

The schoolyard gardens are ongoing projects. In early January 2001, an expert from the Canadian Biodiversity Institute will be meeting with St. Anthony’s School teachers to plan this year’s planting and composting.

Dr. Dorner remarks that the schoolyard has become an outdoor classroom and the school is doing all it can to ensure its success.

St. Anthony’s School only has one remnant of its predecessor Dante Academy: a document containing the names of former Dante Academy students who volunteered for “Canada’s Fighting Forces.”

“We’re looking at the biodiversity possibilities within our schoolyard. We’re looking at what kinds of life exist there and how do we support it.”

Another project under consideration at the school is a video-connection of the classrooms. The morning announcements, which are done by the students, are currently broadcast over the PA system. Dr. Dorner says that the school would like to obtain a video camera and television sets for the classrooms to enable televised broadcast of the announcements.

“It will incorporate technology, science and the language arts,” he states. “We’re trying to bring technology to the children. It is the modus operandi of learning the skills they will need later in life.”

The project, however, is still in the very early stages of consideration and its future is uncertain.

St. Anthony’s has also had its fair share of obstacles as well. Within the last year, the school endured a hard fight to prevent its closure by the school board. Ierullo felt that the idea of closing St. Anthony’s School was ridiculous considering the school’s cultural diversity.

“How can they [the board] claim to support immigration and diverse cultures and not support institutions which support these cultures?” she asks.

The closing of the school would have had repercussions on a spiritual level as well. St. Anthony’s is the only Catholic school left in Centretown. Sister Emilia Testa, supervisor of the St. Anthony Daycare, feels that many parents would have opted to enroll their children in the public Cambridge Street Community School as opposed to sending them out to Bayswater to attend St. Mary’s, the closest Catholic school.

“The families and children would have lost a lot of services because the school makes enormous efforts to include diverse languages and special needs,” she says.

With the help of regional councillor Diane Holmes, around 100 people were bused to the strategy meeting before the board. Not only did community members speak out against the closing of St. Anthony’s School but the students did as well.

“The kids were a hit,” says Ierullo. “Two students from St. Anthony’s and two from Cambridge (Public School) spoke. They had prepared their own speeches, every word was from their mouths and minds.”

The board spared the school and the closure of St. Anthony’s School is no longer an issue.

The school has also been the focus of media attention. Recently, CBC has been knocking on St. Anthony’s door hoping to cover the letter-writing campaign the children undertake every Christmas. Each year, students send letters of greetings to Canadian peacekeepers who are unable to be with their families at Christmastime.

Among its other good deeds, St. Anthony’s also coordinates a Christmas gift and food donation for the families of students who are known to be in times of economic trouble. The Servite Sisters of St. Anthony donate toys and church parishioners donate groceries.

St. Anthony, although a vehicle of education, is also an outlet for spirituality and community cooperation.

Ierullo remembers with fondness her years at St. Anthony and its sister school, St. Agnes, which is now closed.

“There was a real community warmth. We, as children, felt important,” she says.

Whether it be tending to a few cuts on the face or lobbying against the closure of the school, the students are learning the importance and strength of cooperation. The community’s evolution and survival has been based on helping one another and St. Anthony’s School mirrors that ideal perfectly.


This article was originally published in the January 2001 issue of Il Postino.


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