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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What opportunity did the French Basilians seize in 1852 after the Jesuits said no thanks?

Answer They created the Roman Catholic St. Michael's College, which affiliated with the University of Toronto in 1881. This year St. Michael's is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

The Roman Catholic St. Michael's College had been founded by the French Basilians in 1852. The Roman Catholic bishop of Toronto had been trained by the Basilians in France, and he had invited four members of the thirty-member French-speaking community to join the one member already in Toronto.

They were impressed by the wealth of the city, one of them writing that the houses "have two or sometimes three stories, very beautiful on the exterior but even more magnificent inside. Everywhere one sees carpets, armchairs, sofas, stuffed chairs, splendid mirrors. Here no one ever waxes floors; the corridors, even the stairs of the houses are carpeted."

Jean Matheiu Soulerin
Jean Mathieu Soulerin, the founding superior of St. Michael's College, circa 1865

The Jesuits had been invited earlier to establish the college but had declined, even though John Elmsley, a convert to Catholicism, had offered them some of his land. In 1853, this land was offered to the Basilians on the condition that they erect a parish church along with a college. St Basil's Church and the attached college on Clover Hill were the result. The church and the college were officially opened in 1856, the oldest surviving buildings in the university. It would not be until 1881 that St Michael's would affiliate with its neighbour, the University of Toronto.

Between its affiliation with the University and 1910, when it was formally admitted as a federated college, only some ten St Michael's students in total received degrees from the University of Toronto.

Certain members of the royal commission of 1906, such as Goldwin Smith and William Meredith, were noted for their anti-Catholic views and may have wanted to keep St Michael's as primarily a theological college. Some members of the St Michael's community also probably wanted to keep it that way, thinking that their first objective was to produce priests.

The youngest member of the St Michael's staff, Father Henry Carr, wanted to bring St Michael's more directly into the University.

But the youngest member of the St Michael's staff, Father Henry Carr, wanted to bring St Michael's more directly into the University. He almost single-handedly changed the St Michael's high school curriculum to make students eligible for admission to the University. Before that, the high school had been modelled on European classical lines, which may not have been a problem for its many American students, who returned to the United States for further study, but which barred Canadian students, who did not have the necessary junior matriculation qualifications, from entering the University of Toronto.

John Teefy
John Teefy, a graduate of University College in 1871, who became a superior of St. Michael's College, circa 1883

The first class graduating from St Michael's without the assistance of University College was in 1911. That year, the university arts calendar for the first time contained the name of St Michael's on its cover along with those of the three other arts colleges. In 1912, the two women's Catholic colleges, St Joseph's and Loretto, affiliated with St Michael's College, and their students were able to take University of Toronto degrees through St Michael's. It was not a co-educational program, however. The women's colleges taught the college subjects. Not until 1952 did the sisters give their lectures in St Michael's, and not until Carr Hall opened in 1954 was St Michael's finally co-educational.

St Joseph's did not move to the campus until 1926, when it obtained the Christie (of biscuit fame) grand residence at the north-east corner of Queen's Park and Wellesley Street. Loretto College would not move to its present location as a residence on the north side of St Mary Street until 1959. Father Carr, who became president of St Michael's in 1915, had ambitious plans for the college. In a letter to President Falconer the following year, he stated that in "a comparatively short time" St Michael's College could be made "the greatest Catholic education centre in the world."

St. Michael's College
St. Michael's College and St. Basil's Church, circa 1870.

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