TORONTO - Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board (BHNCDSB) has made it official! The Catholic Board renames Jean Vanier Catholic Elementary.
The Catholic Board unanimously approved the new name, “Madonna Della Libera Catholic Elementary School” in a board meeting on June 23, as per the Board’s Press release signed by Chair Rick Petrella.
The school’s former namesake, Jean Vanier (died last year at the age of 90), was a prominent Catholic figure who founded L’Arche, an international organization to help improve the lives of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
A report released by L’Arche International (February 2020), revealed that Vanier sexually abused at least six women over a period from 1970 to 2005. Keeping his name on a Catholic school would contradict the values of the Catholic message.
The renaming of the Brantford school follows the debate in renaming of other schools across the Province that bear the Jean Vanier name. BHN
CDSB appears to be one of the first to follow through with concrete action to move forward.
The new name has strong ties to the Italian community in Brantford. The city of Brantford, population of about 100,000 boasts a large Italian community (10-15%) and home to many immigrants from Pratola Peligna.
Corriere Canadese interviewed the Chair of the Board, Rick Petrella (Italian of Pratolan origin) and asked why the choice of name? He responded “the Board wanted to choose a name with historical (significance), reflect community and ties back to St. Mary’s Parish, while supporting the Italian community”.
The history of Madonna Della Libera dates back to the 1500s when a cholera outbreak afflicted the Peligna Valley (in the province of L’Aquila, in the Abruzzo region of Italy), causing devastation and death.
A farmer, in Pratola Peligna, suffering near death, received a vision from the Virgin Mary. The farmer fell to his knees and exclaimed: “Madonna Liberaci!” (Our lady Deliver Us!). The Madonna delivered a message that he was to rejoice and return to his family and friends. The contagious disease ended abruptly, and the village was saved.
In 1540, to honour the Madonna Della Libera, the grateful citizens erected a [the] first chapel in Pratola Peligna. As news of the miracle spread, the small chapel could no longer accommodate the faithful who visited. In 1587, a larger church was built to welcome all the pilgrims that visit and still stands today.
Every year, on the first Sunday in May, the people of Pratola Peligna celebrate the Feast day of the Madonna Della Libera. In 1958, immigrants from Pratola brought the devotion of the Madonna Della Libera to the City of Brantford.
The statue of the Madonna Della Libera stands in the chapel of St. Mary’s Parish in Brantford and welcomes the faithful who come to pay tribute, give thanks and pray for deliverance.
The school has not yet finalized plans for a re-dedication or a re-blessing. The Covid-19 crisis has prompted school closures and uncertainty as to what the start of school in September will look like.
When asked if the Board might have been motivated by a recalling of more trusting times in the interventions by the Virgin Mother and whether an the invocation of a simple prayer, “Madonna Liberaci”, might not be in order, Mr. Petrella smiled at the timing and the appropriateness of the circumstances.