St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School

Villanova gearing up for production of “Mamma Mia!”



By Ron Giofu


The actors, singers and backstage crew at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School are getting ready for their upcoming production of “Mamma Mia!”

Opening night is Feb. 22 with six performances scheduled overall. Regan White, a Grade 11 student from Amherstburg who plays “Donna” in the show, said they are excited.

“We’ve been working really hard for a few months,” said White. “It’s going to be a great show.”

St. Thomas of Villanova will soon present “Mamma Mia!” with (from left) Alexa Monacco, Regan White and Nicole Gyorgi part of the show.

White noted they have been working since last fall on their dancing, acting and singing, the latter involving five vocal instructors. She plays in a lead role and said that there is a lot of responsibility but that is something she enjoys.

“It’s fun,” said White. “It’s a lot of work, though.”

Auditions were last October, she added, and that she sought out that role. The role of “Donna” is one that a lot of people could relate to, White added.

This isn’t the first time White has been in a lead role with a Villanova production as she was one of the stars of “We Will Rock You” and “Rock of Ages” in previous years. White also performs musical theatre with Cardinal Music Productions in Windsor.

“I’d like to do this professionally,” she said. “I’d like to do this on Broadway.”

White added the cast and crew are grateful to the teachers assisting on “Mamma Mia!” including director Mary Jo Grado and musical director Ann Marie Brunet.

“All of the teachers are really hard at work and we really want to thank them for that,” said White.

Players in the upcoming St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School production of “Mamma Mia!” rehearse a scene.

Justin Bobbie plays “Sam” and also said “it’s really exciting” especially with opening night closing in.

“It’s so exciting being a lead. It’s good to have so many responsibilities. It makes you feel like you are doing something,” said Bobbie. “It’s a lot of work. I almost feel like I’m 50, I get tired so fast.”

Bobbie said he is confident in his own abilities and that of his cast mates.

“When those lights hit you, there’s nothing else like it,” he said.

Bobbie has been a lead before but pointed out that he doesn’t have as much on his plate as previous years. He added he feels he is fully prepared for the show.

As for his future plans, Bobbie said he is keeping his options open.

“Honestly, guys like me are a dime a dozen,” he said, adding “it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.”

Players in the upcoming St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School production of “Mamma Mia!” rehearse a scene.

Grado said there are about 75-80 students in total that are involved with the production of “Mamma Mia!” including about 57 on stage.

“It takes this amount of kids to put on a show like this,” she said. “The dedication level is high and it’s a demanding show.”

Andy Paling’s construction class also helps to literally put the show together as they build sets. It was Paling who decided to present “Mamma Mia!” this year as he is retiring after spending 30 years teaching at Villanova.

“This really is his baby,” said Grado. “We decided, as his retirement gift, that he got to pick the last show of his career.”

Shows are Feb. 22 and Feb. 23 at 7 p.m., Feb. 24 at 1 p.m., and there are also 7 p.m. shows Feb. 28, March 1 and March 2. Tickets are $15 for adults and students, $10 for seniors and children 6-12 and free for children under six, except for Feb. 24 and Feb. 28 when all seats are $10. They are available at the school or at the door the night of the show.

Villanova honouring local veteran by purchasing flag in his memory



By Ron Giofu


St. Thomas of Villanova High School is doing its part to keep the memory of an Amherstburg veteran alive.

Villanova has purchased a flag in honour of John White as part of the Veterans’ Voices of Canada’s “Flags of Remembrance” project, which runs September to November along the Windsor riverfront.

Laura Beltran, vice principal at Villanova, noted the school noted that White “made a tremendous impact on the lives of young people. “

White, who was a lifelong Amherstburg resident and World War II veteran, enlisted with the Essex-Kent Scottish regiment and served with the 3rd Medium Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery in the battlefields of France and Belgium. White was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his military service.

John White, as seen during World War II. (Submitted photo)

“He knew the importance and value of educating our youth about the history that he was very much a part of.  He generously gave of his time on several occasions to enlighten our students about his experiences,” Beltran noted.  “He always said, ‘many soldiers never returned from war and those that did live will never be the same again’.”

When the administration at Villanova learned of the Flags of Remembrance project with Veteran Voices of Canada, Beltran said they knew that they had the perfect opportunity to respect White.  They have purchased a flag in memory of him in the hopes that his legacy can be honoured.

Kathy Parks, White’s daughter, said Beltran has always honoured him every Remembrance Day along with other local veterans.

“I started to cry when she told me over the phone. She is an incredible lady who has done more than anyone I know to instill in young people the importance of our veterans and always invited him to speak at the Remembrance Day assemblies and share his stories where we were so proud to accompany him,” said Parks. “What an honour for us and so wonderful that the Villanova kids did this in (White’s) honour.”

John White passed away July 9, 2013 at age 90.

Villanova among the winners at ERCA’s Conservation Awards


Eight organizations and/or individuals have been recognized by the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) as winners of Conservation Awards.

The award presentation followed ERCA’s annual general meeting, held last Thursday night in Essex.

“It’s always inspiring to learn more about those who have made tangible contributions to our regional environment,” said new ERCA chair Irek Kusmierczyk. “By moving forward, together, with committed organizations and individuals like those we honour tonight, we will ensure that our region remains the Place for Life.”

Among the winners of Conservation Awards were St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School. The school received the Education Award and was honoured for more than two decades of educating students about the environment, and inspiring them to action through greening, cleanups, invasive species removals, and Monarch protection. Villanova was also recognized this past year as a gold school under the Ontario Eco-Schools program.

“The ongoing efforts of teacher Andy Paling is the driving force behind the school’s success,” said Danielle Stuebing, ERCA’s director of communications and outreach services.

Paling stated that “it’s easy to do what we do at our campus,” noting that Villanova sits on 11 acres on County Road 8. He also said “thousands of students” have been involved in environmental efforts over the years and added that the school has developed “amazing partnerships.”

ERCA vice chair Tonia Jobin (left) and chair Irek Kusmierczyk (right) present St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School with the Education Award during last Thursday night’s Essex Region Conservation Authority’s Conservation Awards.

It is “incredibly rewarding” to see students become eager to get excited about gathering seeds, working in the greenhouse or doing some of the many other environmental initiatives Villanova undertakes.

“Kids are willing and yearning to do these things,” he said. “They just need the opportunities.”

Ceara Copat captured the Youth Award for her dedication to natural and cultural heritage interpretation and action, including tree planting, invasive species removal, and engagement. Maurice Chauvin won the Conservation Farm Award for adopting a variety of conservation and best management practices, over six generations of farming, to protect their greatest resource – the soil.

The Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment Association earned the John R. Park Homestead Award for maintaining and promoting the historic and cultural significant of the Regiment in the community, and extra efforts this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.

In an emotional moment, Karen Batke was posthumously awarded the  Volunteer Award for more than 35 years of volunteering to protect and restore Cedar, Mill and Wigle Creeks through tree planting, cleanups, and invasive species removal.

Winners of the Conservation Awards gather for a group photo following ERCA’s annual general meeting Jan. 24 at the Essex Civic Centre.

The group Just Fishin’ Friends captured Volunteer Organization Award for their dedication in providing learn to fish opportunities to residents across the region, to help them learn more about native fish species and the Great Lakes. Tepperman’s earned the Environmental Achievement award for its “Live for Tomorrow” sustainability plan and significant achievements in waste reduction, energy consumption, innovative recycling solutions, and a shared environmental ethic with staff, suppliers and partners.

Laura Monforton won the Dennis Chase Staff Award for her dedication, conscientiousness, kindness and compassion to colleagues, customers and partners through a variety of roles at ERCA, including tree planting and restoration, events and outreach, and protecting sources of drinking water as the region’s risk management official/inspector.

ERCA also reviewed the accomplishments of the past year, including forward momentum towards a regional Climate Change Strategy, restoring 143 acres of habitat, connecting nearly 10,000 kids to nature through outdoor education, releasing its five-year Watershed Report Card, and welcoming over 75,000 visitors to conservation areas and trails.

A full copy of ERCA’s Annual Report and corresponding video can be found at



Robotics season kicking off for A-Team Robotics and WiredCats



By Ron Giofu


The 2019 FIRST Robotics League has started with a space theme and local teams are back together to figure out how they are going to build their new robots to do the tasks asked of it.

A-Team Robotics, which currently meets five days per week out of the Centreline facility on Alma St., is made up of 21 students primarily from General Amherst High School, though there are Western Secondary and Sandwich Secondary students on the team as well.

“All of the kids are from Amherstburg,” said mentor/coach Allan Parks. “It’s a community-based team.”

There is even a Chinese exchange student part of this year’s team, he noted.

The students have to memorize the new rule book and work together to not only build the robot, but to seek sponsorships and learn to drive the robot. They have six weeks to accomplish their task.

“They’re all excited,” said coach/mentor Sherri Laframboise.

Adam Orchard and Liam Parks of A-Team Robotics disassemble last year’s robot.

Parks said the students are looking forward to the challenge more than in past years and are “ready for the challenge.”

“We picked up some new kids, which is great,” he added.

A-Team Robotics now has 21 members and word-of-mouth has led to new members. The team is in its third year with the three-year members mentoring the first-year members.

“Their skill-set has grown over the last few years,” said Parks.

The first competition for A-Team Robotics is in Barrie March 15 with another at the University of Windsor March 28-29 as they aim to make it to provincials.

Parks noted they have been at various community events broadening their outreach and the team “had a busy summer.” Laframboise added they hope to gain more sponsorships and support while Parks noted they may have to find a new location soon.

The team has to spend at least $17,000 per season to enter competitions and actually build the robot, Parks noted.

Ethan Richard, one of the team members, said he enjoys working with his teammates and mentors to try and build a robot and learn new things. Josh Joncas added he enjoys working with people of similar interests and coming together over a six-week period to build the robot.

The WiredCats, the robotics team at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School, has about 60 members this year. They are in their fourth season.

“Every year is a new year for us,” said captain Erica Rossi. “It’s our fourth year so we roll with the punches.”

One of the groups that comprise the WiredCats are pictured at a recent practice.

There are veteran team members and new team members as well on the WiredCats, Rossi explained, and that there are a lot of Grade 9 and 10 members as well. Members are split into business, electronic, programming and mechanical sub-units with each of those sub-units also helping out in other areas as needed.

Teacher/mentor Jon Scott pointed out many are learning new skills as some have never even used a screwdriver before. The WiredCats have two teacher mentors, as well as parents and companies helping out.

The WiredCats are also busy, getting together four to six days per week.

“We are like a family. We see each other for long periods of time,” said Rossi. “We’re really excited for the season.”

The first competition for the WiredCats is March 2 at Durham College.

Villanova offers robotics courses at all grade levels, Scott noted, and that students are gaining hands-on experience in a variety of different skill-sets.

For more information on A-Team Robotics, visit their website They can be found on social media as well, with their Twitter account being @a_robotics, their Facebook page being and their Instagram account, which is a_team_robotics.

For more information on the WiredCats, visit, call 519-734-6444 ext. 8111 or e-mail

St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School opens its doors at Grade 8 open house



By Ron Giofu


A large crowd of prospective students, parents, guardians and Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board officials packed into the theatre at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School last week to see what the school has to offer.

The area’s Catholic high school held its Grade 8 open house last Wednesday evening with the night opening with a presentation in the theatre before tours of the County Road 8 building were held. Principal Amy Facchineri told students and parents from the Catholic feeder schools that attending Villanova would be an extension of their education.

Villanova students perform a song and dance number as part of the school’s Grade 8 open house Dec. 12.

“For those of you that may be new, don’t worry,” she continued, stating their children would be “embraced” by the staff and students at Villanova.

Facchineri said they had a tremendous number of current students that wanted to help with the Grade 8 open house.

“We were overwhelmed by the number of students here that wanted to help,” she said.

Facchineri also pointed out that every department within the school was represented at the Grade 8 open house. She noted the students at St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School excel in the classroom, using their EQAO test scores as one example, and they also have a wide range of athletic and extra-curricular activities as well.

“We really do have something for everyone,” Facchineri stated.

Villanova students clown around in a “car” that was built at the school. It was displayed during the Grade 8 open house Dec. 12.

The evening also featured performances by Villanova students, who sang and danced for the large crowd in the theatre. Lindsay Pietrangelo, head of the school council, also promoted Villanova and said becoming involved with the school council is a great way to be “plugged in” on what is happening at the school.

Frank DiTomasso, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board trustee for Amherstburg and LaSalle, also promoted Villanova.

“I think this is the greatest school in Essex County,” he said. “They have a lot to offer.”