Sexual misconduct allegations made public in February 2020 have prompted a Whitehorse Catholic high school to change its name.
Moving forward, the Yukon government announced in a June 20 release, Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Riverdale will be known as St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Secondary School.
Truska Gorrell has been a member of the school’s council for four years.
Gorrell said the meaning behind the new name is tied to Francis of Assisi’s “witnessing of faith in the world.”
“He was very environmentally involved in love of nature and love of animals,” she said.
“We are all unique, and we’re all valuable, whether it’s my dog or my cat or the birds, we’re all one and so for me, I very much support using that name.”
Gorrell expressed gratitude to the people who partook in the process and explained the steps undertaken to come up with the latest name change. She said two things became clear upon reaching out to the community: a majority wanted a name change and the new name must reflect the school’s values.
A February 2021 online update on the school name indicates the school council listened to input from teachers, students, parish members and the diocese to determine that “it is the right time for us to change the name to reflect more accurately the mission and values of our community.”
“The school council knows that the name of our school is part of what drives the culture and ethos of our community,” reads the update.
“As most of you know, recent events involving one of the Vanier family members has led to a reflection on the current name of our school.”
It does not elaborate on those events.
Both Gorrell and the Department of Education confirmed the old school name was a reference to the Vanier family name.
“As the school was not named after Jean Vanier specifically, but rather the whole Vanier family, the school community took their time to determine whether a name change was warranted,” Clarissa Wall, director of Education in community relations and engagement, said in a June 23 email.
“A survey was conducted, and the results showed that the school community supported changing the school’s name.”
A 2020 report by L’Arche International digs into sexual assault allegations levied by six women against Jean Vanier, who died in 2019 and is founder of the global organization that supports people with intellectual disabilities. The inquiry examined alleged relationships between Jean Vanier and several women; his relationship with Father Thomas Philippe, Jean Vanier’s mentor, related to his knowledge of Philippe’s theories and sexual practices; and Jean Vanier’s response to situations of abuse that were brought to his attention.
Gorrell said the name needed to change given that Jean Vanier was so central in the family.
“That was why we needed to look at changing the name,” she said.
In the update, the school council invited current students, teachers and administration to propose new names.
The update indicates council and a small support group reviewed and evaluated the proposals in choosing a new name, then asked the Episcopal Corporation for a blessing on the new name and worked with the Department of Education to put forward that name to the Yukon government, who made the final decision.
In the update, the council had hoped to select a new name and have it in place going into this school year.
A November 2021 update advised a new name had been submitted and the council was waiting on the territorial government’s decision. The Education department said the selection process had been completed in 2021, but there was not enough time to complete the name change for the start of the 2021-22 school year.
“Written support of the new name was then received from the Government of Yukon, Bishop Hector Vila of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Whitehorse, the Chief and Council of the Taʼan Kwächʼän Council and the Chief and Council of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation,” Wall said.
The proposal form for a new name outlines the criteria that was intended to be followed.
“To avoid any future issues that we are experiencing with the current school name, we will not be accepting school names that use the name of a person other than that of a canonized saint,” reads the criteria.
“The canonization process provides us with the assurance that the name of that person is worthy of imitation.”
Roman Catholic Diocese of Whitehorse Bishop Hector Vila said in the release he hopes the new name inspires students.
“Francis of Assisi gave up a life of prosperity, social standing and self-interest, and instead found happiness in poverty, serving his neighbour and devoting himself to God,” Vila said.
“It is my hope that students will be inspired by this humble young man.”
The department said minor costs will be associated with replacing signage at the school, adding that much of the signage at the school is more than 20 years old and “due to be refreshed.”
“Yukon schools should reflect the needs and values of the communities they serve,” Minister of Education Jeanie McLean said in the release.
“I want to thank the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Secondary School community for working together to find a name that fits their values as a school community. This new name will help instill strong connections for students and teachers to their faith and the Yukon’s natural and unique environment.”
Up until the 1992-93 school year, the department said, the building was called “GA Jeckell Junior High” and then “Riverdale Junior High,” neither of which were Catholic schools.
“In the 96/97 and 97/98 school years, there was a large grade reorganization in Whitehorse,” the department said. “Riverdale Junior High was closed and Christ the King Junior High moved into that building and was renamed Vanier Catholic Secondary in the 97/98 school year.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org