Catholic High Schools in Canada

Tue, 30 Apr 2019

International Students and Publicly Funded Catholic High Schools in Ontario

By Jeff Myers, Director of Sales & Academic Strategist, CISS MLI

Canada’s public education system has gained a lot interest in the past few years as more and more international students and their families consider taking some part of their high school studies overseas.  Compared to traditional international schooling destinations such as the UK and the US, Canada is seen as offering safe, high quality public education alongside the warmth, politeness and abundant natural beauty for which the country is famous. The reputation is well deserved; Canada ranks number one among English-speaking countries on the OECD’s biannual comparative study of public education systems, PISA. It gets high marks in all three of the subject categories assessed by PISA, i.e. reading, science and math. International students in our system also encounter an educational philosophy that values collaboration and individual attention, and considers how to best meet the needs of each individual child. For many, it’s a refreshing, student-centered approach.

When considering Canada for high school though, parents and students quickly realize they have a lot of choice, in part due to the fact that Canada is a federation so each province has its own distinct education system. One of the options parents will find in the province of Ontario is publicly funded Catholic schools.  This article will give you a brief history of why these exist, and what advantages they offer to international students considering Canada for their overseas High School experience.

Many people around the world may associate Catholic education with private schooling, and indeed there are numerous private Catholic schools in Canada. In Ontario, however, Catholic schools are publicly funded alongside secular schools.  The roots of this “double system” are in the country’s colonial history; by the time the British seized control of North America in the mid-1700s, significant communities of French speakers already existed throughout modern-day eastern Canada, from Ontario to Nova Scotia. The vast majority of the French population were Catholic, and their nascent schools were operated by the Catholic Church. Their new English governors, on the other hand, were Anglican, but decided to allow Catholic schools to continue while they set up a parallel system for newly arriving English families and their descendants.

Fast forward to 2019 and most provinces — including Québec, where the majority of today’s French-speaking Canadians live — have long since amalgamated the two into one secular public education system. In Ontario though, nearly every community in the province continues to maintain two separate school districts: regular Public (formerly the Anglican system) and Catholic. In fact, in places around the province with large French-speaking populations, there can be as many as four systems: English Public, English Catholic, French Public and French Catholic.  As Canada’s most populous province, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Ontario’s public school system is also the most complex in the country.

CISS MLI has been placing international students in Canadian high schools for over 25 years and, in our experience, the key to success is matching the student to a school and host family that will keep them safe, meet their needs, and provide the learning experience they’re looking for. We frequently recommend public Catholic schools in Ontario, in part because there are fewer international students in them. More importantly, however, we have come to appreciate the excellent care for students provided by our Catholic education partners.

There is a strong sense in Catholic schools that education should address more than just reading, math and science skills. Catholic educators take as part of their core responsibility looking after each student’s spirit and wellbeing, and the system is designed to set students on a moral pathway to becoming caring, contributing citizens of the future. The curriculum itself offers an example: although public Catholic schools generally follow the same curriculum guidelines as their public cousins, most students in their schools take one credit per year (of eight total) in “Catholic education”. At the high school level, however, these are not studies in religious doctrine but rather philosophically oriented courses on topics such as social justice, world religions, and the importance of charity in society.

Inside the buildings themselves, international students will encounter schools that look more or less the same as regular public schools. The main differences are the presence of Catholic symbols, and typically a chapel used for private reflection and student masses.  In most Catholic High Schools, a uniform is required, but it is typically a casual outfit, often as simple as a polo shirt and brown pants. The administration and teachers are mostly of the Catholic faith, but are trained as teachers in the same Higher Education institutions as those in the secular Public system.  In our experience touring schools across Canada, Catholic high schools in Ontario also stand out for their excellent facilities – bright, modern buildings with well-designed common spaces and classrooms; equipped speciality classes particularly in the Arts and Sciences; and warm, welcoming teams of teachers and guidance counsellors dedicated to the success of all students, including those from overseas.

Some people in Ontario think that publicly funded Catholic education is an historical anomaly and that the two systems should be amalgamated as in most other provinces. Ontario’s Catholic schools, however, have been able to maintain their relevance in the modern era, in part by embracing Canada’s cherished values of diversity and equality and welcoming students of any faith. With their focus on both educational and spiritual development, Catholic schools have also found appeal among many newly arriving immigrant families, regardless of their religion. Meanwhile, the teachers and administrators have worked hard to improve outcomes for students, and data suggests they’re doing something right with higher graduation rates and strong performing schools.

In summary, Catholic High Schools in Ontario offer an excellent alternative to regular public schools with some significant benefits. Regardless of faith or background, any student considering a placement in a Catholic school should think carefully about whether they will feel comfortable there — it’s not necessarily the right fit for everyone, which is why we maintain a long list of options to suit every student type and need — but if you’re open to the idea, we think you’ll be impressed with what Ontario’s public Catholic High Schools have to offer.


For more information, please contact us.


Below are a few of the Catholic schools CISS offers that are open for registration for students starting in September 2019.

Limitations based on English proficiency, nationality or grade level may apply.

Archbishop Denis O’Connor
Ajax, Ontario  (Toronto East Region)
All Saints 
Whitby, Ontario (Toronto East Region)
St. Joseph-Scollard Hall 
North Bay, Ontario
Ecole Secondaire Sacre-Coeur
Sudbury, Ontario
(FRENCH language school)
Mother Teresa
London, Ontario
St. Thomas Aquinas
London, Ontario
Holy Cross
Peterborough, Ontario
St. Peter
Peterborough, Ontario
St. Anne
Lakeshore, Ontario (Windsor suburb)
St. Joseph
Windsor, Ontario
Red Deer - Notre Dame CSS Notre Dame
Red Deer, Alberta
St. Joseph
Red Deer, Alberta

Lear More about Catholic Education in Canada