A small Catholic high school in Perth, Ont. is combining ambition, heart and justice to break records and help its community.
St. John Catholic High School is proving that even rural schools can make a big difference, as it prepares to host its 14th annual Relay for Life event to benefit the Canadian Cancer Society. The school has already raised almost $570,000 over the past 13 years for the cause – and expects to add more to the total this year.
Dave Peters, teacher at SJCHS and staff co-ordinator of the event, says no other school in the province has run as many Relay for Life events – St. John Catholic High School holds the designation in Ontario. “It has become an event that defines our school,” he said. “The Relay is something we do at St. John. The entire school community is on board and supports the event whole-heartedly.”
The 12-hour overnight event sees enthusiastic teams of participants take turns continuously walking throughout the night for pledges. In addition to raising money, it brings awareness to fighting cancer while celebrating life.
Peters said the atmosphere during the night is truly inspirational. “As a teacher, it is the one night that can restore your faith in youth,” he said. “It is organized by a student committee, run by student volunteers and supported by more than 370 students. It is unbelievable how much they care about helping others.”
But Peters said he feels the event’s impact carries on well past the last steps of the relay event. He said St. John Catholic High School tackles many social justice initiatives throughout the year and the relay is the perfect way to finish off the school year in that respect. In fact, the event is extending this year to get other local schools involved.
Jim Roberts, principal of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School in Lanark, Ont. is also the co-chair of a special Catholic Education Coalition event to be held in conjunction with the Relay for Life at SJCHS in Perth.
He said the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario has planned regional Catholic Education Coalition events with the intention of bringing together the six partners of Catholic education: students, parents, clergy, parishioners, board employees, and the broader Catholic community.
The Coalition decided this year to build on the existing Relay for Life that St. John Catholic High School hosts each year, by offering a chance for 900 students from more than 10 local schools to participate in a daytime walk at SJCHS. The event allows schools from Lanark, Almonte, Carleton Place, Smiths Falls, Westport and Perth to come together.
Roberts said each school is busing students and staff to the event and each school principal has also reached out to parents, clergy, parishioners and the broader community in hopes that they will join students to walk in solidarity.
“The Catholic Virtues (Faith, Hope, Love, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance and Prudence) frame all of the work we do in Catholic schools,” Roberts said. He added that this particular initiative provides a tangible connection with many of the Virtues, especially Love, Hope and Justice.
“It really is all about getting together as a Catholic community to answer our call to serve others through our work and to bring hope to others,” he said.
But there is also a very human element to the Relay for Life. “There would be very few families in our system which have not been touched by cancer in some way,” Roberts said.
David Chaplin principal of St. John Catholic High School agrees, noting that families have the opportunity to purchase luminaries in memory or in celebration of loved ones. “Everyone has been affected by cancer whether it’s someone they know, a family member, or perhaps they have experienced someone close to them passing away,” Chaplin said. “The Relay for Life gives our community a good opportunity to reflect on that. After all, community is what this is all about.”