Athol Murray College of Notre Dame KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Athol Murray College of Notre Dame's Feature Review excerpts disclose its unique character. Based on discussions with the school's alumni, parents, students, and administrators, they reveal the school’s distinctive culture, community, and identity.
What we know
- Notre Dame has a balanced approach to facilitate strong development of mind, body, and spirit. It maintains its legacy as a centre for academic and athletic excellence.
- The school has a 100% graduation rate with 80% of the students earning honour roll status.•
- The dedication to being a Notre Dame Hound doesn’t end at graduation. Members of the closely-knit community carry the identity and pride into their future lives.
At a time when many tiny prairie towns are failing to thrive, Wilcox, Saskatchewan is shining as home to Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, affectionately known as “Notre Dame.” The school sits on 50 acres of land in the village 50 kilometres south of Regina, surrounded by fields, fresh air, and wide-open skies. It’s a place to focus on growth without the distractions of the city.
Founded in 1920 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis, it started out as Notre Dame Convent and St. Augustine School. In the late 1920s, Père Athol Murray brought his love of athletics and the ability to teach the values of commitment, teamwork, and leadership to the region. The school’s alumni include professional athletes, authors, politicians, educators, industry leaders and developers, and eight members of the Order of Canada.
ON THE SCHOOL’S VALUES
Although the school offers Christian teaching in a Catholic environment, all faith backgrounds are welcome. “Père wanted students to have faith in something, to believe in something. He built a ‘Tower of God’ that celebrates the three biggest religions in the world. In the center, is a statue to symbolize that ‘if you don’t believe in God, believe in something,’“ says Scott Yanko, director of enrolment and marketing.
Père’s writings still hold the heart of the college and the community today, even though he passed away in 1975. Here are a few lines from his beloved poem, “The Notre Dame Man & Woman.”
“The world today is looking for men and women,
Who are not for sale
Who are honest, sound from centre to circumference, true to the heart’s core
With consciences as steady as the needle to the pole.”
ON SCHOOL CULTURE
“Students come for all different reasons,” says Yanko. “It could be sports or academics. It could be to learn how to speak English and have a cultural experience. Some people come and want to start a life here in Canada.” As they attract more students from diverse backgrounds, they are adding AP and STEAM programs. “Like entrepreneurial business, robotics, coding, and a stronger arts program,” he added. They are currently expanding fine arts programming with renovations to an existing building to create more opportunities for visual and performing arts.
Many students spend their entire high school journey living and playing at Notre Dame, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for new students and teammates to join. Recent graduate, Bo, from Tri-Cities, Washington, started attending in Grade 11. “Where I came from, there weren’t a lot of highly competitive places to play hockey. I was looking to branch out and Notre Dame came up. I began looking at more of the school aspect, the prep school, the boarding school. It appealed to me more than billeting somewhere. I thought it would be a good place to develop as a player and as a student. Coming in. I didn’t know anyone, but it doesn’t take long here, being together all the time, to quickly make friendships and bonds after the first few weeks. Right off the bat I felt fully welcomed and accepted,” he says.
At Notre Dame, 90% of students call the school their home. There are four dorms for male students and one for females. Rooms are assigned to two to four students. Roommates can include students from across the province and nation, and from around the world, representing 20 different countries.
Recent graduate, Juli, is a legacy student. Her mother, uncles, and brothers have all attended Notre Dame and it made sense to follow in their footsteps. “Being a part of this community has made me feel like I have a family away from home. I have great relationships with everyone in the dorms. We’re always making sure we have something to do together,” she says.
“This place is incredible, you build relationships with people from all over the world and they are lifelong friendships,” says Kathie Yanko. “It’s a safe place for kids to come, for parents to trust us.” Yanko has served the school for 27 years. Her husband attended the school as well as her children. Many of the staff members have deeply connected roots to the school community and are genuinely committed to the students. They care for the health of the whole person including the need for good rest. “In the dorms, we shut down the Wi-Fi at midnight every night,” Yanko says. Work is done to encourage healthy habits regarding technology, with guidelines for the appropriate use of cell phones and other gadgets at specific times.
Class sizes are small and student-teacher relationships thrive. Scheduled student conference hours and daily supervised study times encourage students to excel. The curriculum is aligned with the Ministry of Education for the province of Saskatchewan.
“Connections with the teachers really help make students want to learn. I came here struggling, not really a great learner and now I’ve been excelling with honours for the last four years,” says Juli.
“The thing that makes Notre Dame unique is that we have the sports and academics entwined so all of our students are taking a full academic load, five classes a day,” says Vice-Principal Bob Baumuller.
Traditionally a university preparatory school, the educational offerings aim to develop curious, lifelong learners. Elena Kruger is the department head and teaching and learning coordinator. “We’re trying to shape individuals who have a broad perspective, who are deep thinkers, who are good writers, and articulate speakers,” she said. “Another thing that we try to teach them is how to seek out help and not be ashamed to ask for help. We want them to recognize that all of us as faculty are here to help, and we want to help.”
Notre Dame has long been known in the Prairies and beyond as a hockey school. Père Murray once said, “I love God, Canada, and hockey—not always in that order.” 215 Hounds have been drafted or signed to the NHL including 17 players and 4 coaches active in the 2022/23 season.
Nicky came to Notre Dame in Grade 9 from Montreal. After taking in a hockey practice, shadowing a student in classes, and enjoying a meal at one of the long tables in Varsity, he was convinced. “I pretty much fell in love with it when I came to visit. I decided to come, and it was a good decision,” he says. “It’s a place that takes a lot of commitment. It’s a place that’s not for everyone, just in the sense that if you come here just for hockey and do the bare minimum there’s no point. We have a shooting centre, we have practices and workouts. If you’re not doing extra because the resources are here, the benefits won’t be there for you.” He came specifically for the hockey program but found the school was so much more. “I didn’t end up focusing only on hockey and I got way more out of it because of that, a lot of leadership opportunities on campus, a lot of public speaking, a lot of opportunities to build character.”
The school has nine male hockey programs and two for females. It also offers 14 other sports including rugby, their most successful team sport, and the recently added Esports, which Baumuller describes as “a new pathway for entrepreneurship and scholarships to universities.” He explained that the athletic program attracts many busy families, who want the best opportunities they can offer their children. “A lot of parents look at the sport first. Yes, we have the sport, but the great thing is you can get your education and you can play your sport. Everything is embedded right in one place,” says Baumuller.
Moving forward with an eye to a winning future, Notre Dame is constructing and adapting athletic facilities that include a new hockey rink and an indoor fieldhouse with a running track, two courts, batting cages, golf simulators, and artificial turf for year-round soccer, football, track and field, rugby, lacrosse, cheer, baseball, softball, golf, volleyball, basketball, programs and more.
Times change, and so do the buildings, the programs, and the faces of the students, but the school spirit is thriving and as Juli says, “It’s a life-changing place.”
ON THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Driving into Wilcox GPS navigation becomes unnecessary as the school dominates the landscape. Notre Dame is more like a small college campus than most high schools. Even the setting and layout help to prepare students for their future educational endevours.
“You can definitely see the tradition it holds. I remember thinking it had a vintage feel when I pulled in. There is a sense of unity in the community,” said Bo.
Buildings include the classrooms, a student centre for relaxation and recreation, and a health centre attached to the female dorms. “Every boarding school has dorms, a cafeteria building, etc. What sets Notre Dame apart from other places are buildings such as our brand-new Arts and Science Building, our Olympic-sized hockey arena with state-of-the-art fitness centre and Off-Ice Skills Centre. The Tower of God is also an amazing and unique building here on Campus. Situated in the middle of Campus, it’s a building that provides physical proof of what kind of a person Notre Dame is looking for in a student. It doesn’t matter what your spirituality or belief system is, if you’re a kid that wants to make the world a better place and be a leader throughout your life, well, that’s who Notre Dame is for and I think the Tower of God represents that,” said Randy Brenzen, international enrollment officer.
Scott Yanko described the Archive Building. “It’s a museum, it tells about the history of Notre Dame, about the people who have excelled and exceeded. It’s also a gathering place for alumni, we hold meetings there. It also holds a rare book collection including parchment books from the early 1200s and 1300s handwritten on goat skin. You’ve got the Nuremberg Chronicle in there from 1493, one of the first books ever printed on a printing press.”
ON THE STUDENT POPULATION
“The students are so varied, they come from so many different backgrounds and cultures,” said Scott Yanko. He called them adventurous and complimented their high levels of intelligence. “They’re always friendly, they’re always genuine. They grow and change and develop. Interacting with all of these kids from all over the world adds to that,” he said and added “they advocate for themselves.”
Kathie Yanko talked about how courageous the students are. “It’s amazing to watch them learn a new language and how quickly they can adapt to something.” She stressed how important relationships and connections are. “I feel that as they become more independent and real leaders, there comes kindness, they’re less selfish, more self-less. They’ll continue doing for others more than they ever probably even imagined when they got here. We hear all the time how respectful our kids are.”
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Athol Murray College of Notre Dame
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