A 150th anniversary is a pretty big deal. And that’s exactly the milestone that Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools recently celebrated. What began as three independent school districts—St. Albert Roman Catholic Public District No. 3, Thibault Roman Catholic Public School District No. 35 and Legal School District No. 1738—is now one thriving district, offering Catholic education to the students of St. Albert, Morinville, Legal, Cardiff, Cunningham and Guilbault. From its early history, strongly shaped by the Catholic Church, to its present mandate to welcome students of all faiths, this is the story of Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools.
In 1863, the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity—the Grey Nuns—arrived in St. Albert from Lac St. Anne. The following year, they built a small convent that also operated as a hospital and a schoolhouse.
The first students were seven orphans, and the sisters did most of the teaching, emphasizing moral and religious education. They offered instruction in French, English, grammar and math.
Boys at the school also learned woodworking, carpentry and agriculture. Girls learned about cooking, sewing and gardening.
This school formed the basis of St. Albert Roman Catholic Public District No. 3, which officially formed in 1885.
Thibault Roman Catholic Public School District No. 35 was named after Father Thibault, who started a mission and school near Morinville.
In 1892, the first district school, administered by a board of trustees, opened in Morinville but only operated for a few months.
Father Jolicoeur restarted the school in 1899, and lay teachers (non-ordained instructors) were hired until the religious teachers arrived from France. By 1905, the school had 80 students.
Construction of another school (nicknamed the Red School) began in 1910. It opened in 1914 with 69 students. It had four classrooms, outdoor bathrooms, a barn and a well.
The first school in Legal School District No. 1738 (established in 1907) was south of the town. Sister Marguerite Marie Côté of the Grey Nuns was the principal and the only high-school teacher for many years.
In the mid 1940s, the original Legal schoolhouse was destroyed by fire.
The Thibault district’s “White School” opened in February, 1950.
Sadly, on March 14, 1958, fire struck again and burned down the Red School. The displaced students attended classes in the parish hall until George. P. Vanier School opened on October 24.
In 1940, the St. Albert district offered its first Grade 12 class.
In 1946, the St. Albert district merged with Sturgeon School Division No. 24, but the newly merged district lasted only until 1957. At that time, due to its rapid growth, the St. Albert district re-established itself—independent of Sturgeon—as St. Albert Public School Division No.3. The boundaries of the new St. Albert Public School district matched those of the town of St. Albert.
The 1990s brought significant changes to Catholic education in the St. Albert region.
In 1993, the Legal school district disbanded its high school, and its students were bused to Morinville.
In 1994, Morinville Community High School opened in the Thibault district. That same year, the three independent districts (St. Albert Catholic School District No. 3, Legal School District No. 1738 and Thibault Roman Catholic Public School District No. 35) began regionalization discussions.
On January 1, 1995, the jurisdictions united as Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division No. 29. Dr. J. J. Nearing was the first superintendent, and in 1998, a new St. Albert elementary school was named in his honour.
In 2010, Morinville resident Donna Hunter questioned the lack of a secular public school there and challenged the status of Division No. 29 as a Catholic public division.
Although it took significant time, debate and political action, on July 1, 2012, the St. Albert and Sturgeon Valley School Districts Establishment Act (Bill 4) changed Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division No. 29’s status from public to separate. Its legal name became Greater St. Albert Roman Catholic Separate School District No. 734, but it could continue under the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools name. All schools remained with the district except for Georges P. Vanier, which was reallocated to Sturgeon School Division No. 24, which now provides public secular education in Morinville and Legal.
Schools are the heart of any community, and today, Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools continues to offer exemplary Catholic education to families in the region despite the large-scale changes of recent decades.
In the 2014–15 school year, the district had 7 board trustees, 17 schools, 6000 students and nearly 400 teachers, making it the fourth largest Catholic jurisdiction in Alberta. Although it is a Catholic system, the district welcomes students of any faith.
Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools hosts community conversations to gather input and feedback from parents, students, teachers and the broader community. These conversations on specific education topics help the district formulate future policies and plans. Learn more at gsacrd.ab.ca/about-us/community-conversations.
The district has a long history of excellence reaching back to the early days of St. Albert Roman Catholic Public School District No. 3. In 1893, students from there won several awards at the famous Chicago World’s Fair.