Villanova College: It All Started With Faith

In the glow of Villanova College’s 25th Anniversary Celebration, Headmaster Paul Paradiso honours its origins with a promising future.

Villanova College, the independent Catholic Augustinian school, was established in 1999 to provide Catholic families in the York Region with an opportunity: to have their children attend a faith-based independent university-preparatory school that focuses on academic excellence, faith and community.

In its first year, the school had 26 students, 84 students the following year and 170 students the year after. Today, the institution proudly opens its doors to approximately 575 students, with growing enrolment numbers every year.

How has the 25-year journey been? “It’s been phenomenal,” says Paul Paradiso, Headmaster of Villanova College. “The students here at Villanova are happy to come to school. They want to be here. They know they are in a safe environment with dedicated and caring teachers.”

During the beginning years, a 12,000-square-foot portable situated on a beautiful 33-acre property was all that Villanova College had — that and a vision. Paradiso promised all the students in those first graduating years that they would have more than just a portable by the time they graduated.

That was when “The Master Plan” was developed, in 2000. With the help of Villanova College’s initial board of advisers, together they created an actionable strategic game plan, which would be implemented in stages to build for the future. “I’ve told families from Day One to today, we’re not building a school only for your children. It’s also for your children’s children,” says Paradiso.

The Master Plan entailed adding new facilities within 10 years of each expansion. So far, they have stayed on track — 1999, 2002, 2003, 2009, 2017, and now 2025! With the expansion of their campus land to 53 acres, they are just scratching the surface of what Villanova College will become with the Project 2025: Building the Future Together campaign.

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In addition to its well-established athletic and social outreach programs, the school has a growing number of arts programs, and its students deserve the best facilities to pursue their passions. This includes a new 330-seat theatre and rehearsal facility, the Romeo De Gasperis Centre for the Performing Arts, named to honour the memory of Villanova College’s first true benefactor. Romeo De Gasperis’s support for the school, personally and through his business, ConDrain, was generous and ongoing, and included support in 2018 to upgrade the school’s main field to a turf field. Sadly, just two months prior to the turf field’s completion and opening, he lost a courageous eighteen-year battle with cancer. Now, the beautiful new performing arts space named in his honour will further enrich the student experience as well as allowing current spaces, including the armoury, music classrooms and cafeteria, to be repurposed into a physics lab, art studio and classrooms, to create specialized spaces and accommodate increasing enrolment.

While Project 2025 is all about growth, for Paradiso the priority is controlled growth.

“We plan to address growth by providing the best facilities while maintaining a reasonable tuition and small class sizes. We are not expanding because we have the space. We are building to provide programming in the best way possible with the faculty in place to deliver, lead and build those programs,” says Paradiso.

However, this does not mean that they intend to increase the size of the overall student body. For Paradiso, the relationship between the teachers and students has been paramount to the institution’s success. They have yet to operate with classes of more than 20 students per class, giving the teachers the opportunity to develop the students’ strengths and address their areas of need.

“The students here at Villanova are happy to come to school. They want to be here. They know they are in a safe environment with dedicated and caring teachers.”
— Paul Paradiso, Headmaster of Villanova College

“The students getting to know the teachers and the teachers getting to know the students both in and out of their classrooms is what we want, because that is the only way we can build community,” says Paradiso.

The dedicated educators at Villanova College are there to serve the students both in and outside the classroom, as well as to be role models in their life. As an independent school, Villanova has capitalized on the opportunity to build a teaching staff who are not only qualified in their subject areas but also understand their responsibility, which extends beyond the classroom.

For the past 24 years, Villanova College has established itself as a well- rounded, rigorous academic institution that prepares students to succeed in their post-secondary studies and to become leaders who serve. The institution’s expectations of respect, responsibility and values are embedded into the curriculum and extend from the first day of class to the rest of the student’s life. Project 2025 serves as a testament to everything the school has achieved and will achieve in the next 25 years.

Along with the newly built facilities accommodating various academic and extracurricular activities, students can expect a bright and beautiful new dining hall and kitchen, chapel, specialty classrooms, administrative offices and a new home for the school store by early 2025.

When City Life Magazine asked Paradiso to recall some of his fondest memories during his 25 years as Headmaster, his response was heartwarming, to say the least. “The fondest memory for me was the leap of faith the founding families took and when we received the blessing and permission of the Archdiocese of Toronto in 1997. Without them, Villanova College would not exist.”

Paradiso kept his cards close to his chest as he did not want to spoil potential surprises when he was asked what is on the horizon for Villanova College in the next 25 years. With the expansion of the campus grounds to 53 acres, the possibility of a separate school for Junior Kindergarten to Grade 6 is being considered, as well as a residential facility and more recreational facilities.

At the end of the day, there is no limit to what can be achieved with a vision for the future, hard work and blessings along the way. But until then, Paradiso will enjoy watching the multi-championship Villanova Knights battle, take pride in the breathtaking musical theatre productions and music performances, and celebrate the momentous graduation ceremonies each June.

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