Crusaders no more: Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School seeks new nickname

Students play volleyball near a sign that will soon be retired; Holy Cross has been the home of the Crusaders since the school’s inception, but the time for change has come. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

“What’s in a name?” asks Shakespeare’s Juliet, observing, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Yet when it comes to team names or school nicknames, it turns out they can mean quite a lot — and can even become a bit rank over time. 

Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School (HC) in Kingston is the latest to consider a name change because its nickname no longer connects with the message the school wants to embrace. 

Students and staff have gone by the nickname “Crusaders” since the school first opened in 1986. A video produced by Holy Cross Grade 12 Communications students for the school’s 25th anniversary in 2011 features past staff and students who explain that the name was chosen through a contest that challenged members of the student body to come up with a nickname.

Former Vice-Principal Glen Williamson says in the video that “Crusaders” was chosen to encapsulate the ideals of the institution: working together to achieve a common goal, faith, and determination.

Interestingly, even in that 2011 video, former teacher Sister Peggy Malcolm noted that some staff in the Religion department objected to the name originally, due to its historical context. Yet Crusaders won the student contest and took on a life of its own, with chants, cheers and, more recently, a mascot.

As Principal Terri Daniel explains, the school motto “Once a Crusader, always a Crusader” has been used yearly as a welcoming statement for incoming ninth graders seeking a sense of belonging at their new school, and as a reminder at graduation of what a student can accomplish with faith, dedication, and teamwork. And she would know; her father, Maurice “Mo” Daniel, was the first principal of the school when it opened in 1986.

However, a Crusader also refers to a knight of the Crusades, during which, in the 11th through 13th centuries, Roman Catholics attempted to win control of parts of what they considered the Holy Land (currently Israeli, Jordanian, Lebanese, and Palestinian lands) and waged military battles against the Muslims who controlled the land. Thus the word “crusade” also carries the connotation of violence and even xenophobia, contradicting the sense of openness and inclusivity it once sought to convey.

Daniel notes that the name has been part of an ongoing discussion at the school.

“It meant ‘crusading for good causes’,” she says, “but it continues to be a question from students, staff, and community members. And some of the context of the Crusades is hard to connect with what we want to be: unifying, a positive force in our community. “

“A couple of years ago, the board moved forward with their equity plan, and [a name change] was an action item for the two schools in the board who have [the] Crusaders nickname,” Daniel says. (The other is Nicholson Catholic College in Belleville.) She notes that an important part of Holy Cross’s mission, vision, and values is “making sure everyone in our faith-filled learning community is inspired and successful and feels like they belong.”

Daniel supports the change of name; she acknowledges, however, “Changing is tough. There are so many emotions connected with every part of school identity. It’s bigger than a sports team nickname.” She points out that over the last several years the school’s teams have begun putting “Holy Cross” on their team uniforms instead of “Crusaders,” because students and staff have voiced concern about the nickname.

The next step will be to ask both students and staff and then the community to work on a new name, Daniel says; then a smaller committee of students and staff will narrow down the choices and scrutinize them.

Enthusiastic members of a physical education class show their school spirit. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Within the last few years, the school selected a patron saint to whom they could dedicate the school chapel: Saint André Bessette — or “Brother André,” as he is often called — was known as the “Miracle Man of Montreal.”

“We wanted a saint [whose life] we could focus on to help grow our identity,” Daniel says. Once a short list of names closest to their goals was compiled, students and staff voted, and it went to the board for approval. Daniel thinks the name change will follow the same process, with former students and the broader community invited to participate, as well.

There has been some pushback against the name change by “people who just feel strongly that there’s no need to change it,” Daniel confirmed when asked; this pushback is mostly from people who formerly attended the school.

But, she acknowledges, growth and change are inevitable over time.

For example, Regiopolis-Notre Dame is the oldest Catholic high school in Canada, and its current nickname “Regi Panthers” is just the latest of many name updates since that school’s inception over 175 years ago. As with the recently renamed Washington Commanders in the National Football League, Regiopolis’s previous “Redskins” name was dropped because it was considered an insensitive stereotype of Indigenous people.

More recently, École Sir John A. Macdonald Public School was completely renamed and became Ecole Maple Elementary School for similar reasons.

“Once a Crusader, always a Crusader,” means many things to Holy Cross students, alumni, and staff, notes Daniel. But the original intention of being “unifying, a positive force in our community” ultimately means the time has come to select a new name.

Holy Cross is part of the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB).

One thought on “Crusaders no more: Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School seeks new nickname

  • Let’s erase history and lets continue to see negativity. Crusades and people who participate in them, Crusaders, often accomplish good things. Every single ethnic/religious / organization in existence has some history that is not acceptable today yet somehow there is a need to see angst or betrayal today 800 hundred years later!

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