Would St. Clements be the same without St. Clement Catholic School? It’s far from a certainty, but trustees at the Waterloo Catholic District School Board are keeping the option on the table.At a meeting Monday night, trustees voted to ask the Ministry of Education if they could consider shutting down the rural school. The trustees have already considered closing St. Agatha Catholic School in Wilmot due to declining student numbers (102 enrolled) and pricey repairs ($2 million).
The first incarnation of Roman Catholic Secondary School #11 was a log cabin built in 1837, used both for classes and church meetings. When a separate church was built on the property in 1840, the facility became a school full-time, and a more formalized separate school was established in 1855, despite some controversy. “It was thought that the combined cost of church dues and school taxes would be too hard to bear,” wrote Annette Oudejans in her book The Separate Schools of Wellesley Township.
When enrolment rose at the turn of the twentieth century, a two-storey structure was built in 1904, and electricity followed in 1935. The present structure was built in 1958, and serves close to 200 students, who also learn from parish staff at the neighbouring St. Clements Church.
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“It is still a heavily Catholic population [in St. Clements], and the school has been very important to the community,” said Oudejans in an interview. Oudejans, whose children attended the school, added that, “I think it would be better to save the school the way it is, but I have no idea how much money they would save.”
“I really can’t speak to the trustees, but we have a wonderful school here,” said Principal Al Simoes. “We have a great community, great students, great families.”
One problem facing the school is the estimated $4 million in repairs. Woolwich/Wellesley/Wilmot trustee Frank Johnson notes that the Ministry of Education will authorize a new facility if construction costs equal repairing the existing building, although it’s uncertain if that would be the case with St. Clement.
Some trustees speculated that relocating the school in the higher-populated Wellesley Village could make Catholic education accessible to students now enrolled in Wellesley PS. But trustee Janek Jagiellowicz argued that the village’s heavy Mennonite population would be less conducive than St. Clements, where the school shares property with a Catholic church.
“Students would have to be bused to Wellesley, and I think Wellesley is a very poor choice for the students of St. Clements. That is mostly a Protestant community,” said Oudejans.
If a decision is made, it will come from the accommodation review committee, a group made up of community members in addition to the trustees.
“Closing a school is a really emotional decision,” said Johnson. “You have to deal with the history of that school, not only in terms of an academic history but also an emotional history or even a familial history. There are lots of cases, particularly in rural schools, where perhaps the mom and dad went to the school and other kids went to the school or you might have grandparents, they have several generations.”
He continued, “It’s not necessarily to the building, per se, but the institution and the memories.
“You have to consider that people have a lot of emotional attachment to the schools where they grew up,” said Johnson. However, “If you say, ‘Well, people have a lot of memories of this place so you have to keep it open,’ that doesn’t make a lot of sense when you have the opportunity to perhaps create a better learning environment for more students.”