Toronto all-girls school celebrates 55th anniversary

Vice principal Theresa Pietrangelo, principal Caroline Falzon, former principal Joan Tschernow and graduates, Annalisa Crudo-Perri and Annalisa Palermo

Madonna Milestone (IT)

by Ayah Victoria Mckhail

Amid the hustle and bustle of a new academic year, a celebratory atmosphere characterizes the mood at Madonna Catholic Secondary School.

The Toronto all-girls school celebrates its 55th anniversary from October 9-14, and students, alumnae, along with current and former staff will be marking the occasion with a series of events, including a display of mementos throughout the school, a 10 km walk-a-thon fundraiser and presentations from staff, alumnae and local politicians.

Madonna symbolizes sisterhood and this spirit endures long after we graduate

Annalisa Crudo-Perri, a former student (class of 1990), current teacher and the president of the Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education (OAPCE), is expecting a great turnout. “When we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2013, it gave us an opportunity to reconnect with many alumnae, staff and friends who we hadn’t seen in years. We’ve since built on that momentum and have been establishing the Madonna Alumnae Association (MAA), which I chair, by creating our Facebook group page, where we have over 1000 Madonna girls connected.”

Annalisa Palermo, who graduated in 1999, is one of them. “Madonna symbolizes sisterhood and this spirit endures long after we graduate. Even when I meet other women who went to Madonna, there’s a palpable sense of camaraderie,” explains the insurance broker, whose parents hail from Rende, Cosenza, Calabria.

Madonna is located in the quiet residential community of Downsview, in Toronto’s north end. It was founded by the Faithful Companions of Jesus, a religious order of sisters, on the tenets of faith, charity and justice. In 1963, the order opened the school to 75 girls. Although it had a predominantly Italian-Canadian population, the student population has diversified as a result of changing immigration patterns throughout the last few decades.

“Over the years, there’s been an influx of students from the Philippines, Latin America and Africa, but we’re all sisters,” explains Crudo-Perri, whose parents are from Calabria and Abruzzo respectively.

In addition to the sense of sisterhood the school fostered, Palermo says it also provided a strong academic experience. “Our teachers encouraged us to find our passion and go into fields that women weren’t necessarily expected to go into, if it was something we really wanted to pursue. They never wanted us to feel pressure or hindered by our gender. That was a really great lesson for me.”

Encouraging students to discover their potential has always been a mandate for the school, points out former principal Joan Tschernow. “Madonna is a special place because it provides our girls with numerous opportunities to challenge themselves academically and through involvement with Catholic social justice initiatives. Our girls have proven that nothing is impossible. For example, in the annual Skills Canada National Competition, which promotes careers in technology and the skilled trades, our robotics teams have won both gold and silver over the past two years.”

Vice-principal Theresa Pietrangelo, who was born in Simbario, Vibo Valentia, Calabria, agrees. “Allowing girls the room to grow and flourish in a single-gendered school has positive results for society at large. The outcome is girls with confidence and motivation; successful young ladies who can analyze problems, develop positive outcomes and believe in their abilities. These are all characteristics that will serve them well as they enter the world of work in the future.”

It’s a sentiment that Crudo-Perri can attest to. She’s come a long way since her days of teased hair and crimson lips. But the memories of her years spent at Madonna will continue to live on. “Once a Madonna girl, always a Madonna girl,” she declares enthusiastically.

And while Palermo is no longer sporting her ‘Italian flag’ beads (three green; three white; and three red), which she wore as a trendy choker, she remains both proud to be Italian-Canadian and a graduate of Madonna. “As I reflect back on my years there, I realize the extent to which they shaped me into the person I am today.”