Vital Grandin Catholic School has seen many changes through its 60 years, from sock hop dances to smartphones. But there remains one constant for this St. Albert school — the Catholic faith.
“As a faith community, prayer and our values come into all that we do,” said former student and current principal Cheryl LaBuick. “That’s what people want when they come to a Catholic school — faith to permeate. We still celebrate that faith every week here.”
As 93-year-old Marie Kramps made her way to the school’s gymnasium for its 60th anniversary, her memories of the school’s dawning days began to blossom. Thoughts of the past brought a faint smile to the former teacher’s face.
“I can’t believe that the school is here after all these years,” she said. “Many schools that weren’t even here when Vital Grandin was already open have been torn down and rebuilt.
“I thought because so many of those original teachers have passed away, I should show up and honour that today.”
On June 3, many returning teachers, faculty and alumni packed Vital Grandin’s gymnasium to celebrate the 60th anniversary celebration. The school, named after the first Bishop of St. Albert, began some classes on Feb. 1, 1959, though its official opening was on Nov. 18 of that year.
Seeing the reunion of around 100 past staff and students, LaBuick said it shows the vital role that Catholic education has had in the St. Albert community.
“I think this validates the importance of Catholic education,” she said. “It just goes to show that the Church and school bond was strong then, and it still is now. This is a place where people come together and they’re connected, and faith is at the core of that connection.
“It’s woven through everything, the relationship we have, all we hold dear – it’s held together by our faith.”
Kramps was a teacher at Vital Grandin School for 20 years, beginning her job with the school’s first semester. While the school has had its share of renovations, the original structure still remains in place. Even a blazing inferno that threatened to burn down the entire school in November 1981 was not enough to bring it down.
LaBuick finds great symbolism in the fact that 60 years later, a teacher like Kramps can come to the school and still see the same gymnasium and classrooms today.
“It has stood the test of time in all ways,” said LaBuick. “It remains that core place for our families in this city.”
Kramps taught religion for her entire 20 years at Vital Grandin, including preparing her Grade 2 classes for First Communion. She noted many changes to the school. Along with more staff and resources, the city of St. Albert is much busier now than in her teaching days, when the school was surrounded by farms and open fields. In 1959, the school taught Grades 1-9 and had 572 students. Today it serves kindergarten to Grade 6 with 225 students enrolled.
Kramps is grateful that the faith has endured through it all and the school remains Catholic. In light of past political uncertainties around the future of Catholic education, she hopes that Alberta’s Catholic schools will continue.
Harriette Beland attended the school from 1961 until she graduated Grade 9 in 1964. She agrees that Catholic education shows the role of faith in creating and sustaining a community.
“I enrolled my children in Catholic schools; it’s good to keep kids as part of that community,” she said. “That’s why Catholic education is so important, it shows kids community. From the school to the church, there is a sense of belonging.”
Grade 6 student Derek Gahl felt that sense of belonging first-hand during the celebration. From getting to sing with his fellow classmates to seeing former students reuniting at the day’s event, the day made Gahl feel like a part of the entire school and its long history.
“It was really cool to hear how the harmonies came together with all the school singing,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to know that this school has been here and it’s still going strong. We’re a small part of the world and a small part of the school.”
As soon as former student Karen Wilson arrived for the 60th anniversary celebration, she began flipping through the old yearbooks on display. But she wasn’t looking for pictures from her time going there in the 1970s – she was looking for pictures of a teacher: her mother Eleanor Wilson, who died in April.
“I look exactly like her, and I still have people to this day come up to me and say ‘Your mom taught me, my kids, my grandkids’,” said Wilson. “It was a big part of her legacy in this community, and I know she would have been here today.”
Wilson’s mother also taught from the school’s beginning year and retired in 1985. As the school’s current Grade 1-6 classes sang together at the celebration’s end, Wilson said the day brought a tear to her eye.
Kramps got to cut the 60th anniversary cake along with two other students – Paris Nolan in Grade 6 and Abby Deale in Grade 3. It was a symbolic gesture for a school that links together St. Albert’s past and future Catholic community.
“To see people coming back so passionate about out school and to see our little ones just as excited, it almost bridges those two worlds,” LaBuick said. “It makes you feel like you’re a part of something a lot bigger than you may have realized.”