Writing conversation: 175th Anniversary of Regiopolis-Notre Dame

During the 175th anniversary of Regiopolis-Notre Dame I was also able to talk with Ray Gazeley. He was at Regi for 5 years as a student, then came back for many years as a teacher.

“Neil taught me English in grade 11 and History in grade 13. That old building was kind of crumbly – the stone walls were 4 foot thick while the roof was just 1 foot thick.”

Yet he and Pat Coyne, who had been head of the Phys-ed department, agreed that Regi was so much more than just a school.

“There has been an accumulation over the years of positive experiences” they said.

“It’s a community that keeps getting stronger, a family even, where people help each other, local businesses pitch in, and students want to give something back. Many have returned as teachers and coaches.”

At the dinner, Ed Zarichny, long-time former teacher and principal, spoke of the school being committed to academic excellence, and the empowerment of young people; an engaged community of laity with graduates who have demonstrated leadership in a variety of cases nationally and internationally.

After the dinner, I was lucky enough to run into Con Stevenson who,  though he was not taught by Neil,  remembers that he was well-liked by the older kids. Con went to Regi in 1952-57, left as a brash kid who would do anything, landed his first job in radio in Peterborough, went on to found a station in Cape Breton, became general manager of CKCK in Regina, after 5 years at Kingston’s CKLC and 13 at Hamilton’s CKOC.

“ I transmitted in radio what I had learned at Regi – ask questions – don’t go along with commonly held prejudices”. Con’s wife and I agreed he should write all this down.

A story in Monday’s Globe and Mail highlights the importance of this kind of training.

“for years the story of the Great Chicago Fire (October 8, 1871) was also the story of Mrs O’Leary’s cow. This tale appeared first in the Chicago Daily Tribune, and soon spread: a cow owned by Catherine and Patrick O’Leary kicked over a barn lantern, sparking a fire that consumed 18,000 buildings, killed more than 300 people and left another third of the city homeless.

Antipathy towards Irish immigrants was high before the fire and only grew when allegations emerged that Mrs O’Leary was intoxicated the night of the fire. People appeared on her doorstep calling a “drunken old hag”. That account, and the hostility, lasted until 1893, when the Tribune reporter, Michael Aherne, admitted he had fabricated the whole story.”

All in all, the Regiopolis-Notre Dame 175th anniversary was a weekend I will not soon forget, with the dedication of the spectacular new chapel at the heart of the school by Archbishop Brendan O’Brien. It is dedicated to Marguerite Bourgeoys, the daring young nun, who crossed the stormy Atlantic six times in a sailing ship to accompany the ‘Filles du Roy”, the orphans who became future mothers in the burgeoning colony of New France. At critical moments in the history of Regi her congregation of Notre-Dame played a key role in ensuring the school’s future – it is now co-educational. A number of the sisters were present throughout the ceremony.

The new chapel at Regi

Wayne Hill, principal of Regi underlined this in an interview with ‘Kingston This Week’. “The students are the children and grandchildren of the people who have come here, who live in the community. So it’s kind of a family institution for lots of folks. It’s just incredible to see what kids can do!”

He encouraged the whole community to take part in the celebrations.

“The school wouldn’t be the same without the nurturing of the community has given it over the years”

Tamie Daudet, a grade 12 teacher who graduated from Regi in 1989, told ‘Kingston This Week’ that “the kids I have in my class are just amazing. I know my friends are surprised I am so excited to come to work with teenagers, as teenagers get a bad reputation with the press”

“I find it works just the exact opposite. I feel the more of a chance we give teenagers to pride themselves, they just seem to come through fine”

Catharine McKenty

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