A new Catholic school named after a famous saint hopes to live up to its name.

Saint John Paul II Academy opened for its first-ever full day of classes Wednesday, Sept. 5. Science and math teacher Tony Walters is hoping its 17 young students embrace the motto: “Enter to learn. Leave to serve.”

“I think we’re going to have that charism of Pope John Paul II: that spirit of not being afraid, reaching out, and hope for youth for the future,” said Walters.

Saint John Paul II Academy officially opened for classes with 17 students in Grade 8. Next year, the plan is to add a Grade 9 class, and so on all the way up to Grade 12.

The school’s namesake, Pope John Paul II, hosted the first World Youth Day in 1985 and was widely recognized as a saint and great encourager of young people until his death 13 years ago.

A painting of St. John Paul II in a school hallway.

Walters is happy with the school’s small size to start with, saying it gives students, teachers, and parents a chance to get to know each other and build a foundation for the future of the academy.

At other schools, “older students and staff provide the culture, and you enter into it,” he said. But at the tiny, temporary school on Fir Street, “there is an amazing new opportunity for the kids to be part of building a culture from the ground up. That’s going to last for decades.”

The 17 first students are attending classes in a renovated community centre at Star of the Sea Parish in White Rock. Meanwhile, a field at 184 Street near 24 Avenue in South Surrey is being transformed into a high school campus, expected to be complete by 2020.  

Plans have been in the works to build a faith-based school like Saint John Paul II Academy for at least 20 years. Its principal, Michel DesLauriers, was hired in 2017.

“A year ago, when I was a staff of one, I could never envision standing where we are now,” DesLauriers said on the first day of school.

A student reads a prayer during the blessing of the school Sept. 5.

Previously the principal of St. Thomas More Collegiate for six years, DesLauriers hopes the new school will become known as a centre for learning and for service in the community. “It’s been an incredible transformation” from dream to reality, he said.

Father Glenn Dion, pastor of Star of the Sea Parish, blessed the temporary classrooms before lessons began Sept. 5.

“All disciplines, sciences, and teaching about the world and human life that are pursued must, in their final purpose, bring us to knowledge of the truth and worship of the true God,” he said.

He prayed that students “will find in their teachers the image of Christ,” and then, in turn, “be ready to enlighten and assist others.”

The school is next door to Star of the Sea Church, a two-minute walk away from a community library, and about 10 minutes away from the White Rock pier.

Students get to know each other during a welcome reception Sept. 5.
The first students and teachers of Saint John Paul II Academy.
Students and teachers with parents and community members.