Our History

60 Years of St. Thomas Aquinas

Vancouver Archbishop William Duke proposed the establishment of a Catholic High School on the North Shore. Sr. Dorothy Crowe, the Provincial Superior of the Sisters of the Child Jesus, offered land owned by the sisters in North Vancouver for the school. Archbishop Duke suggested that the new school be named St. Thomas Aquinas, after the brilliant theologian and patron saint of students and Catholic Education.

1950s – The school is built

Construction on the school began in 1958

The building was completed in 1959. The school opened its doors to 168 students from grades 9-12 that September. The school staff included Sr. Marie Irene (Rita Tellier) as the principal, nine teaching Sisters and two lay teachers.

1960s – A number of firsts

There were 22 students in the first graduating class in 1960.

The school motto, ‘Dirige Me In Veritate Tua‘ was taken from Psalm 25. Translated it reads: ‘Guide me in Your Truth’ and it became the prayerful maxim of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (STA).

The new school adopted the name ‘Saints‘ for its athletic teams with red and gold as the school colours. In the school’s first decade, STA teams competed with other Catholic high schools in all the major sports, including football,

In 1966, the Department of Education made sweeping changes to the Grade 11 and 12 science curriculums which necessitated more lab time and science equipment. With increased costs and no government funding the decision was made to transform STA into a Junior High School (Grades 8-10). Home Economics and Industrial Arts would now be taught at STA.

1970s – Expanding

In the early 1970s STA joined the North Shore Secondary Schools Athletic Association (NSSSAA) and began to participate in extracurricular activities with the neighboring public schools.

Parents who wanted a full high school (grade 8-12) Catholic Education for their children began Saturday Night Bingo, to raise funds for operating the school.

1975 saw the first graduating class in nine years. Sr. Gilberte Painchaud and Sr. Jessie Gillis were the last two sisters to teach at the school. STA owes a great debt to the Sisters for their commitment and dedication to staff and run the school.

In 1976 Ian Stuart became the first lay principal. During his time the school expanded in the areas of physical education and extracurricular activities such as public speaking, outdoor education programs and school retreats.

In 1977 faith based and independent schools received some support from the Provincial Government. At that time, partial funding was set at 35% compared to 100% funding for Public Schools.

1980s – New programs for students

From 1980 to 1985 Doug Lauson served as principal. School enrollment grew to over 230 students which allowed for two classes at each grade level. STA established a Computer Studies Department, a Drama program and constructed an in school Chapel. Skiing and boys soccer were added to the school’s athletic schedule.

Marilyn Williams was appointed principal in 1987. School enrollment increased to 485 students, thus enabling three classes at each grade level. During this time Honours English and A.P. Calculus were added to the academic course offering. The music program was expanded and an annual theatre production launched. The athletic program expanded to include golf, swimming, cross country and wrestling. Student activities included the Improv, Jazz Band and an Environment Club.

In 1988, government support was raised to 50%. Other costs to operate the schools were and continue to be covered tuition fees and fundraising activities.

1990s – Continued growth. More offerings

In 1991, the Senior Girls Volleyball Team won the Provincial Championship. It was the first B.C Provincial Championship won by an STA team. Since then, STA has won 15 Provincial Championships in volleyball, basketball, soccer and boys gymnastics.

Dan Moric became principal in 1999. Shortly after his appointment the convent of the Sisters of the Child Jesus was purchased by the Archdiocese, which then transferred the property to St. Thomas Aquinas. This heritage building now houses the school’s music, drama, and choir programs, the life skills program, school chapel and two general purpose classrooms.

By the end of the 90s, school enrollment climbed to 580 students enabling the school to offer a fourth class at each grade level. STA expanded programs and extracurricular activities to include rowing, girls field hockey, girls soccer, gymnastics, Media Arts and the Duke of Edinburgh program. In addition a Campus Ministry program was established and the after school choir transitioned into a Concert and Chamber choir.

2000s – STA flourishes. Need for a larger school

STA was recognized as the ‘Outstanding School’ of 2005-06 by B.C. School Sports. The Outstanding School Award recognizes a school whose special commitment to improving the lives of its students and staff through athletics, leadership, and public service has contributed significantly to the welfare of school athletics in its local community and to BC School Sports.

In 2005, a new science wing was added to the school campus. This wing contains four state of the art science labs, two general purpose classrooms and a large modern art room.

The spiritual life of the school continued to flourish as Campus Ministry provided full retreats for all grades and overnight ones for grades 11 and 12. These retreats provide students an opportunity for community building and to explore their faith and love of God. The retreats inspire many students to involve themselves in Campus Ministry outreach projects such as The Door’s Open, Street Ministry, Mexico Encounter and Philippines Encounter.

In 2007 Frank Dragojevich became the school principal. STA added new courses to the school curriculum such as Law, Psychology and Earth Science as well as a first year university English course in conjunction with Corpus Christi College.

The school population grew to over 600 by 2011. Even with three portables added over the years to help with the expanding student population, it was evident that the original school building was outdated and too small. A larger school was needed!

In 2013 John Campbell was appointed as the principal. The academic curriculum expanded to include new courses such as AP Computer Science, Robotics, Philosophy, Entrepreneurship, Economics, Human Geography and Political Studies. PE Academy classes that concentrated on basketball, volleyball and conditioning were introduced and badminton was added to the school’s competitive athletic program.

In 2014-15, St.Thomas Aquinas was recognized again by BC School Sports with the ‘Outstanding School‘ Award (“‘Inspirational School Award”) giving St.Thomas Aquinas the distinction of being the only school in the province to receive this award twice.

In 2014 the school’s Education Committee in conjunction with the Vancouver Archdiocese undertook the planning and construction of a new school building which would be located near the old school. The new four floor school opened in September 2019, exactly 60 years after the opening of the original school. The new school, along with the convent, science wing and Maker’s Lab, provides teaching space for over 600 students and 70 teachers and non teaching staff.

Today the principal, Mieszko Krol, and the school staff continue the mission of providing a Catholic Education for Catholic families on the North Shore.

Remembering the Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School: 1898 to 1958

St. Thomas Aquinas stands on the site of the only Indian Residential School in the Metro Vancouver area.

Built in 1898, the Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School was a three-storey, wood-frame structure and began as the first school for First Nations people on the North Shore. The Department of Indian Affairs took over the school in 1900 and operated it as a residential school until 1958. It was one of 28 Indian Residential Schools in BC.

Photographs indicate that at any given time, approximately 75 students were in the school. Over six decades, more than 2,000 children from the surrounding Squamish Nation reserves in the Lower Mainland including the Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Nations were forced to attend the school. Some lived at the school, while others were at the school during the day and went home at night. Canadian federal legislation required all First Nations children – aged 7 to 16 – to be sent to residential schools.

Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School closed in 1958 and was demolished a year later because of fire safety concerns. The land was handed over to the Archdiocese of Vancouver for construction of St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School.

A monument, dedicated in 2014, honours the survivors of the Saint Paul’s Indian Residential School. Designed by Jason Nahanee, a survivor of the school, the memorial is a piece of Squamish Nation art. The concrete base has the names of those who attended the school. A red cedar carving depicting two children sits on top of the concrete base. The monument is located in front of the convent on West Sixth Street. The North Vancouver School District now uses the memorial as a learning tool for students. The monument was created in collaboration between the Squamish Nation, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, the Sisters of the Child Jesus, the Assembly of First Nations and the City of North Vancouver.

First Nations students began attending St. Thomas Aquinas in 1959 and students from the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations continue to be part of the school today.