Article by M.C. Havey, Archivist
Photos by Fr. James Mason, C.Ss.R.
The buzz of conversation and laughter wafted among family, confreres, friends, former teaching colleagues and students who gathered for the blessing of the Father Donald MacLellan Catholic Secondary School on May 31.
Provincial Superior Mark Miller (pictured at left with MC Havey and students at the entrance of the main site of the Fr. Donald MacLellan shcools) officially blessed the school, which is dedicated to students who have left and returned to complete their high school education in the Durham Catholic District School Board.
Homilist Fr. William Fitzgerald (pictured at right) spoke of Fr. Don’s great mission with the young throughout his life, and especially as chaplain (1992-2002) at Monsignor Pereyma Catholic Secondary School of the Durham Board. “Before he died, he described the Pereyma community as the wind beneath my wings.”
Tom Fitzsimmons, principal during some of Fr. Don’s decade at Monsignor Pereyma in Oshawa, described Fr. Don as “a champion of young people who were struggling.”
The Fr. Don schools “will continue his work here,” Fr. Fitzgerald noted.
In February 2007, the alternative education programme of the Durham school board began with 15 students and one teacher in one classroom. Now at five sites, 300 students are assisted by 30 staff, including teachers, educational assistants, child and youth counsellors, social workers and administration. In this month, 100 students will complete their high school diploma.
Each site of the Fr. Don Schools serves a specific type of student. For suspended and expelled students, the program called “Catholic Return Ticket” is located in a small mall, where staff work with students in both an academic and non-academic role to assist them to return to mainstream schools.
Another site, called “Centre for Success,” offers at-risk students a one-semester placement to participate in a dual high school and community college credit system at Durham College. At three other sites specific for “Reconnect”, “Outreach and Re-engagement” programs, staff find and give students support to finish high school credits, including in the main building, a converted office building in Whitby where the blessing was held.
The 100 guests, including Fr. James Mason and Fr. Paul Hansen, toured the classrooms where staff and students explained the programs. Childhood friends, Isidore Chaisson and Fr. Gus MacLeod, travelled from Cape Breton. Fr. Don’s sisters, Marcella and Jessie also from Cape Breton, joined his Toronto-area sisters, Peggy and Theresa, for the occasion along with other family members.
In one of the classrooms, a student commented that the Fr. Don schools “had given me a second chance.”
Nephew and godson Joe Kennedy said nothing made his uncle happier than to help people.
Vice Principal Sonia Wylie of the Fr. Don schools, who made the official submission for the school to be named after Fr. Don, expressed appreciation to the Redemptorist archives for photographs, exhibits and biography of Fr. Don. An exhibit and a framed photograph of Fr. Don will be placed in each of the sites for students and staff.
Each guest received a card of the school’s programs as well as a pen and golf ball with the school logo inscribed on them.
The connection continued between the CSsRs and the Durham board. On June 14, Fr. Mason celebrated the annual staff Mass in memory of Fr. Don at Monsignor Pereyma school in the Fr. Don MacLellan chapel named in his honour six months after his death on June 15, 2008.