Holy Name of Mary College School KEY INSIGHTS
Each school is different. Holy Name of Mary College School'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
- Holy Name of Mary College School (HNMCS) combines Catholic values with rigorous academics to prepare students for higher education, while adopting modern teaching approaches and technology to meet students’ evolving educational needs.
- The school actively promotes girls’ engagement in underrepresented fields like science, business, and engineering.
- HNMCS is suited for academically-inclined girls who share the school’s values, facilitated by a tight-knit student and parent community.
Holy Name of Mary College School is an independent day school for girls in Mississauga, Ontario. It offers a liberal arts education inflected with the values of the Catholic faith. At its heart, the school is an expression of the Felician Sisters of St. Francis, an order which shares a campus with the school, and the Basilian Fathers of St. Michael’s College School. Holy Name offers Grades 5 through 12, divided between a middle school and a senior school, with the guiding intention to prepare girls for success at university, while also empowering them to leadership roles in science, entrepreneurship, the arts, and community service.
The academic program is progressive, hands-on, and project-oriented, and includes a dedication to STEAM, an emphasis on 21st century competencies, and a desire to look to the future, with a particular eye to fields in which women have historically been underrepresented.
Holy Name of Mary College School is Ontario’s only independent Catholic school for girls in Grades 5 to 12. It shares a formal association with St. Michael’s College School, the largest Roman Catholic boys’ day school in Canada.
The campus sits in the middle of a long stretch of Mississauga Road that meanders through an area of large, established residential properties, anchored at one end by the bucolic Mississauga Golf and Country Club. All the buildings on the property are set back from the road on a 25-acre site, and, if not for the signs and the flags, the campus would be very easy to miss. “You can’t really see the school as you go along Mississauga Road,” says Carrie Hughes-Grant, the head of school.
The seclusion lends a lovely feel to the campus, an awareness of being set apart, allowing students to concentrate on the work of the school and be free from the distractions of urban life. It’s a unique asset, particularly given that the school is located within the largest urban area in the country.
The façade of the school is an example of 1960s modernism: a box with windows, devoid of ornamentation. By contrast, the interior spaces are beautifully adorned and memorable for all the right reasons. Instructional spaces are ample, inviting, and filled with natural light. Shared spaces, including the cafeteria, invite a sense of calm, thanks in part to ample interfaces with the grounds outside. The chapel has the same straight lines as the rest of the school—the stations of the cross are square tiles in keeping with the dimensions and feel of the room—dominated by a stained glass window along the southwest-facing wall. The feel that the window lends is one of calm, bathing the room in yellows and greens. It’s a highlight of the campus, in part because it was constructed by hand—one piece of polished glass at a time—by Sr. Colette Michniewicz, a former art teacher at Holy Name, helped by other Sisters and students. The window and the chapel are a vibrant part of the school and provide an analogy for the culture of the school: life lived in service, the sense of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, the strength of the extended community, and an air of peaceful, reasoned reflection.
“It’s a sisterhood,” says a parent. “And, I believe by accepting each other the way you are, and learning to give the best of yourself, that’s what we’re getting from this school. My daughter is a happier child. She feels that she is accepted here.” Community is an important aspect of school life, and the administration works hard to ensure that students have a clear sense of their place within it. The school year begins with grade level retreats. Grades 7 and 9 begin the year with a four-day experience at Camp Arowhon. Grades 8 and 10 go to Camp Wanakita in winter and the 5s and 6s attend a camp in the spring. The 11s and 12s are welcome to attend any of these camps as leaders. Programming is centred around self-awareness, self-actualization, and community.
The approach to everyday discipline is collaborative and restorative, rather than punitive. One parent reports: “Two girls might be bickering, but the teacher talks not just to the two, but to the whole group, asking ‘What can we do to support them?’ It’s not just those two girls that have to deal with the issue, but rather the sense that we’re all responsible for each other. That’s huge.” While there are, of course, set guidelines, the school nevertheless embraces the belief that it takes a village to raise a girl, and it orients aspects of the school year in order to promote and facilitate that approach.
A recent alum credits Holy Name with giving her the drive to get the marks and the experience she needed to get into McGill and succeed in that environment. A culture of achievement informs the programs at the school, effectively creating the rising tide that lifts all ships.
The academic program was initially modelled on St. Michael’s College School, and, as there, the curriculum is accredited by the Archdiocese and the Institute for Catholic Education. The school is committed to the integration of 21st century skills and the development of each girl’s love of learning. The curriculum is tailored for girls who are given every opportunity to develop and excel in the way they learn best. Coursework is rigorous, and the pace of delivery accelerated, though within a culture of achievement and support. Students graduate with the Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
Development initiatives include third parties, such as the Future Design School, which was consulted on the Innovation Time program as well as other 21st century literacy and learning initiatives. There is a growing relationship with the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), with girls visiting to attend lectures, participate in forensic science labs, and make use of the athletics facilities. In time, all going well, HNMCS intends to include opportunities for high school students to attend university courses at that campus.
In recent years, roughly two-thirds of the graduates have gone on to mathematics, science, and engineering and technology programs at university. “This is completely against the norm of what you would find traditionally,” says the school, something it credits to immersing girls in activities that may be new to them, as well as the opportunities that an all-girls environment necessarily provides.
On Fridays, there is a dedicated Chapel period, which can range from guided discussion, to student presentations, to an outside speaker addressing a topic of interest. Topics are rooted in the values of the school and tend to be big, such as community connectedness, mental health, and environmental stewardship. Mass is held one Friday each month, presided over by one of the Basilian Fathers or a Priest from the local community.
The school is small, though with a broad athletics program—there are 23 teams in a school of 225 students—so a vast majority of the girls are actively involved in something, and many take part in multiple teams. If a girl really wants to be involved, she will be; if a girl sort of wants to be involved, again, she will be. Because so many students are involved, there is by default a culture of activity and participation. As a result, even though physical activity isn’t regimented or mandatory for the most part, girls gravitate to athletics simply because it’s in the air.
In 2018, students travelled to the Galapagos, the Amazon, India, and New York and benefited from experiential learning opportunities. The global program is intended as a continuation of what’s going on in the classroom: developing the skills, attitudes, and behaviours necessary to succeed in an increasingly globalized marketplace. The girls get involved in specific projects that are as important as the experience of travel itself, if not more so. “We were helping the scientists collect data through fish, herpetofauna, cave, bird, and mammal surveys,” says a student who participated on a trip to Croatia. “It was so exciting to be part of real life scientific research, that I would even sign up for extra activities, like a bird survey at night.”
While all students are welcome, for the most part they share a religious heritage, and many of the families that enrol are drawn by the expression of Catholic values within the life of the school. Not all of the students who attend are Catholic or Christian, though a majority are. “Everything we do here is rooted in our core values of respect, compassion, justice, and transformation and families come here for that moral grounding,” says Hughes-Grant. All students are expected to participate in the religious life of the school.
As one of the only Catholic all-girls schools in the province of Ontario, the catchment area is considerably larger than most other schools in the region, and the school is serviced by buses that draw students daily from as far away as Georgetown to the north, Milton and Oakville to the west, and Richmond Hill, Kleinburg, and Vaughan to the east.
THE OUR KIDS REPORT: Holy Name of Mary College School
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