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School expands from modest beginnings

Any longstanding tree comes from the humble beginnings of a seed, and in the case of St. Augustine Catholic School it was no different.
Last year’s graduates celebrate the end of high school.

Any longstanding tree comes from the humble beginnings of a seed, and in the case of St. Augustine Catholic School it was no different.

As the school prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, those who were involved during some of the significant stages of St. Augustine’s history consider its growth over the years.

It started with the introduction of a provincial foundation grant and the enthusiasm of Father Archie Mackenzie, assistant pastor of the St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Ponoka. In the fall of 1961 Mackenzie helped form the Catholic Separate School District through an interim school committee with Lou Gorman, R.J. Comeau, Hugh Greene and Frank Vogel.

Along the way there were meetings with parishioners at the church on establishing a Catholic school. Voting for the school was held Nov. 28, 1961 after a 90 minute open discussion with overwhelming support to establish the school.

It was after this that the first five-member board of trustees was nominated and Lou Gorman, Mike Prediger, Pius Sieben, and Frank Vogel were elected to represent the needs of the school. Father Mackenzie was made an honorary member.

The first organizational meeting was held Nov. 30 that same year and Gorman became chairman for nine years.

For Gorman the decision to move forward was met with a certain amount of nervousness but when he looks back at their humble beginnings there is now happiness. “I’ve gotta be quite happy because of the first efforts that were made in order to establish it.”

There were many discussions with the school superintendent at the time who managed both school divisions in Ponoka.

“I didn’t know what the format was,” he explained.

He feels the relationship with the superintendent was a positive one.

“He would help me out on any questions that I wanted to clarify. In the meantime we had to hire teachers. That was more or less my responsibility; interviewing them and finding them,” explained Gorman.

Seven acres of land was donated by Laura Haseloh and the option to purchase three more was exercised in 1973. In the spring of 1972 construction began for St. Augustine primary school with an estimated cost of $235,000.

On Sept. 4, 1962, the doors opened for 189 students entering grades one to nine with seven classrooms, a gym, some office space and room to grow.

There were several milestones along the way for the primary school, including the addition of a classroom, library, two support rooms, a storage room and a corridor for $98,000 in 1968.

The school also kept up with technology and in 1982 two computers were purchased. Gorman’s wife Noreen was on the board of trustees at the time and she feels it was a chance to move forward.

She credits a strong teaching staff for creating a positive environment for students. “I am just so proud of our staff through the years.”

She believes the Catholic education has benefits for students.

“I felt a need to provide an environment where a student could grow up and realize their value,” she stated.

In 2004 the school updated to what is now the high school. It was originally planned to replace the primary school but the board of trustees felt there might be an opportunity for a high school.

The $7.9 million project was completed in 2004 with 542 students from Kindergarten to Grade 10 and there were 50 teachers and support staff. The official blessing and Mass was held Oct. 25.

Fred Calkins was chairman of the board at the time; he felt it was a chance they could not pass up. “I just thought it was an excellent opportunity.”

The goal was to increase the amount of children receiving a Catholic education and bring the school’s core values of church, school and parents.

“The Catholic schools exist to offer parents the opportunity to send their kids to a Christian school,” explained Calkins. “If we don’t openly offer Catholic education then there’d be no point to having a Catholic school.”

It was another move forward that was met with nervousness and the board was unsure if students would even stay, said Calkins.

Their goal was to offer a high quality of education. Growth came; there were eight students in the first graduating class and each class has grown since then.

Now St. Augustine has 561 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 with 55 teachers and support staff. The school will host its 50th anniversary Oct. 20 with Mass at 10:30 and school tours from 1 to 3 p.m.