Catholic high schools around East York may face major changes in the next few years. The possibilities include new programs and even the relocation of one of the schools.
In June, the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) started a strategic review of five east end schools, including Neil McNeil Catholic Secondary School at 127 Victoria Park Avenue, a few blocks south of Danforth.
On Jan. 27, a Neil McNeil delegation spoke to the TCDSB board meeting at 80 Sheppard Ave. E. Maria Rayson, vice-chair of the school’s Catholic School Advisory Council, voiced concerns about the board’s potential sale of Neil McNeil, soon after its purchase from the Spiritan Fathers, in June 2009. The Spiritans are a Roman Catholic religious congregation founded in 1703 with members in Canada and abroad. They sold the school to the TCDSB with a covenant that the board should use the property as a school for boys for the next 50 years.
“Parents, both past and present, and current students felt that the covenant made in the agreement with the Spiritan priests should be honoured,” Rayson said. “The atmosphere was charged and response from many was strong and passionate.”
She also paraphrased a written statement from Father Bob Colburn of the Spiritan Congregation: “Had the Spiritans known that Neil McNeil would be put on the table for relocation and closure in such a short period of time, they would not have sold the land.”
Neil McNeil, a school for young men, sits on six acres of land beside the Beaches area — where homes easily sell for more than $500,000.
The Spiritans are concerned about a potential relocation of Neil McNeil and sale of the property. According to Father Paul McAuley, the TCDSB should honour recent covenants with the Spiritans, in recognition of their sacrifices over several decades.
“When the school was first built, originally by Irish priests, they slept in classrooms at night,” McAuley said. “For many years, Spiritans taught at Neil McNeil for minimum compensation.”
McAuley added that the priests also sold their administration headquarters and retirement home on the property — so another sale would trigger a relocation of these key facilities. Finally, he said, the congregation may have received a higher price if it had sold the property competitively to real estate developers instead of through a friendly sale to the TCDSB.
Richard Alway, ministry supervisor from the Ontario government’s Ministry of Education, chaired the Jan. 27 TCDSB meeting. He indicated that he had met with Spiritans, while “trying to reassure them of our positive intentions with regard to the process… taking a careful account of the opinions that we hear.”
According to Emmy Szerkeres, acting co-ordinator of communications at the TCDSB, the strategic review was triggered by enrolments above capacity at four of the high schools, including Neil McNeil, which has an enrolment 28 per cent above its targeted capacity.