A Commitment to Catholic Education
FOR MORE THAN 100 YEARS, women have made their mark at the University of St. Michael’s College. Whether as students, professors, or staff, women have offered deep and lasting contributions to St. Mike’s. Women’s religious communities opened the college doors for female students more than 100 years ago, with the arrival of the Loretto Sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph as professors and advocates for women’s higher education. Through archival materials and historical accounts, this site celebrates how these two religious communities changed the face of St. Michael’s.
St. Joseph’s College
“The Love of Christ
Gathers Us into One”
St. Michael’s College
“Teach me Goodness, Discipline
“Truth is the Source
of Light and Charity”
A History of Education at St. Michael’s
Highlights from 1847 to 2011
1850 – 1859
Sisters of St. Joseph arrive in Toronto
1851 October 7
Mother Delphine Fontbonne and three other members of the Sisters of St. Joseph came to Toronto from the United States at the request of Bishop de Charbonnel to care for orphans, the sick, the poor and the vulnerable. Within a year of their arrival in 1851, the Sisters of St. Joseph responded to the desperate need for teachers in Catholic schools for Toronto and the neighbouring towns and villages.
Mother Delphine Fontbonne
See Mother Delphine Fontbonne’s Dictionary of Canadian Biography article →
The Sisters opened St. Joseph’s Academy, a private day and boarding school for girls, in their first motherhouse on Power Street beside St. Paul’s Parish. St. Joseph’s Academy offered primary and high school studies.
Bishop de Charbonnel requested the establishment of a Basilian Institution in Toronto.
1852 May 5
The Superior General of the Basilian Fathers in France, the Very Reverend Pierre Tourvieille, agreed to the request of Bishop de Charbonnel to found a Basilian Institution in Toronto. Rev. Jean Soulerin, CSB, and the pioneer staff of St. Michael’s College arrived in Toronto on August 21st.
Rev. Jean Soulerin, CSB
Classes began at St. Mary’s Lesser Seminary under the direction of the Basilian Fathers. At St. Michael’s College on Queen Street, classes began under the direction of the Christian Brothers.
1853 February 14
St. Mary’s Lesser Seminary merged with St. Michael’s College in the north wing of the Bishop’s Palace on Church Street and was placed under the direction of the Basilian Fathers, with Rev. Jean Soulerin as Superior. The College served as high school, college classique, and minor seminary.
Map showing the Bishop’s Palace drawn by Rev. Soulerin.
The Beginnings of St. Michael’s College
John Elmsley gave four lots of his Clover Hill estate to the Basilians for a college and a church. The Basilians later bought four more lots from Captain Elmsley, north of Clover Hill, for future College needs.
Hon. John Elmsley
1855 May 21
An Act of Incorporation of St. Michael’s College received Royal Assent.
The cornerstone of St. Michael’s College and St. Basil’s Church was laid, with William Hay as architect.
Clover Hill before the steeple was built
1856 September 15
Classes taught by the Basilian Fathers began at St. Michael’s College in the new building on Clover Hill.
Construction begins on Clover Hill
1862 July 2
Construction began on the eastern addition to Clover Hill, with William T. Thomas as the architect and William Meredith, builder.
The construction contract for the 1862 Clover Hill addition
The Loretto Sisters, after several relocations to accommodate an increased enrollment of students, constructed their privately owned building at 81 Bond Street, their first Motherhouse in North America. Their institute membership was growing as well as their reputation as educators.
The Motherhouse on Bond Street
The Sisters of St. Joseph’s Motherhouse and St. Joseph’s Academy moved from Power Street to Clover Hill on two acres donated by John Elmsley. St. Joseph’s Academy followed its own private school curriculum and had a respected system of education for its students.
Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, 1872
The Loretto Sisters were invited to teach in Lindsay, where the Pastor, Rev. Michael Stafford, established a Convent school for girls after the pattern of the public high school. As a result of the Lindsay experience, the Community moved from the traditional education of young women to an education that prepared the students for university and professional training.
The school was decidedly academic in focus. Proficiency in languages and music was augmented with higher mathematics and science. The teachers sent to this school would be expected to meet government requirements for certification, and to be inspected by non-community members for their professional competence.
While the Sisters qualified to teach in such a school were first sent to Lindsay, others sought higher education towards this type of education. Much of the earliest degree work was done by correspondence through Queen’s University so that the Sisters could study late afternoons and Saturdays while still engaged in teaching.
1880 – 1889
St. Michael’s becomes a College affiliated with U of T
St. Michael’s became a College in affiliation with the University of Toronto, with a guarantee to allow St. Michael’s to teach philosophy and history. Students (male and female) wishing a university arts program were required to register at University College.
Letter from Alfred Baker, Registrar to Rev. Vincent., March 25, 1881
Miss Gertrude Lawler graduated with the gold medal from St. Joseph’s Academy. She was encouraged to write provincial standardized exams and received high standing. Her individual success encouraged the school to adapt its curriculum to provincial requirements.
Miss Gertrude Lawler, University of Toronto Senator, 1910
See Miss Gertrude Lawler’s Dictionary of Canadian Biography article →
The Ontario legislature passed its first act embodying a scheme of federation. Under the terms of this act, St. Michael’s became, in 1890, a legally federated theological college.
The first edition of The Loretto Rainbow, a literary quarterly that served as the official publication of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in North America, was produced.
Detail from the Loretto Rainbow 1918 issue (USMC Archives)
Find out more about The Loretto Rainbow →
1910 – 1919
St. Michael’s College in the Faculty of Arts in the University of Toronto
1910 December 8
St. Michael’s became the fourth College in the Faculty of Arts and received equal status with University College, Victoria College, and Trinity College. The collège classique programme was replaced with the University’s pass and honours courses. The graduates in the following year were graduates of St. Michael’s College in the Faculty of Arts in the University of Toronto.
In the years leading up to 1911, both religious congregations were committed to providing post-secondary opportunities to young women for teacher education and university degrees. As early as 1908, both congregations began requesting the affiliation of their Colleges along the same lines as St. Hilda’s Anglican Women’s College
Sr. Irene Conroy (above left) who, along with Sr. Perpetua Whalen inaugurated the request to undertake university teaching
The Sisters of St. Joseph provided accommodations for post-secondary women –students attending University and Normal School. Those in residence at St. Joseph’s lived on the top floor of the Motherhouse.
One October day, five young women students who were registered at University College for Greek Philosophy, attended Father Henry Carr’s lecture in Greek Philosophy at St. Michael’s College. This was the first time women ever appeared in a regular class at St. Michael’s. Father Carr was surprised by their presence but allowed them to remain until the lecture was over. For the rest of the year, he taught the five young women twice a week separately from the male students.
1911 October 10
In answer to the “pressing claims of St. Joseph’s and Loretto for affiliation”, Sir Robert Falconer, then President of the University of Toronto, wrote to Sir William Meredith seeking a meeting of the Committee on Affiliation to deal with the matter.
Sir Robert A. Falconer,
President, University of Toronto, 1907-1932
The Very Rev. Nicholas Roche, CSB, Superior of St. Michael’s College, informed the Sisters that St. Michael’s, the Catholic College of the University of Toronto Federation, was registering women students and that St. Joseph’s and Loretto were to share in the privilege of instructing these students in Latin, English, French and German. The University of Toronto would grant degrees.
The Very Rev. Nicholas Roche, CSB, Superior of St. Michael’s College
Loretto College began its existence at Loretto Abbey, 403 Wellington Street, where it shared space in the Loretto Motherhouse with the Academy School. The Loretto Sisters retained in residence, a group of their outstanding secondary school graduates, and instructed them in the first-year university subjects. This arrangement was the origin of “Loretto Abbey College.”
The first Dean was Mother Estelle Nolan, and the faculty comprised Mothers Margarita O’Connor, Gertrude Gumpricht, and Lucilla Breen.
Loretto Abbey, 403 Wellington Street
St. Joseph’s College was established in 1911 for women students of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. The first college classes at St. Joseph’s were given on the second floor of the Academy. University girls lived on the top floor of the convent.
Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse
See the Deans and Notables of St. Joseph’s College →
Ten Loretto Abbey students under the direction of Mother Estelle Nolan registered in the University of Toronto through St. Michael’s College. Three were prepared to begin the Second Year of the Arts course, and seven, to begin First Year.
The first ten Loretto College students
Nine St. Joseph’s College students registered through St. Michael’s College.
Detail from the Registrar
The inaugural issue of Saint Joseph Lilies edited by Rev. Mother M. Irene and Miss Gertrude Lawler is published
June 1912, vol 1, no. 1 Saint Joseph Lilies (USMC Archives)
Find out more about Saint Joseph Lilies →
The Newman Club opened at 97 St. Joseph Street in a house purchased by Archbishop Neil McNeil. The Catholic Women’s Club of the University of Toronto (founded in 1908) merged into the newly founded Newman Club in October. On November 7 the first meeting of the Newman Club for the election of officers was held at 97 St. Joseph Street.
The former Newman Club chapel, 2011
Enrolment at St. Michael’s College passed 100 in the year 1913-1914 with 85 men and 29 women enrolled
Sister Mary Agnes Murphy was the first woman, and the first Sister to receive a degree from St. Michael’s College after it became a federated college. This was followed by a Master of Arts degree in Modern Languages in 1925. As a member of the French Department faculty from 1914-1940, she won the respect of her university colleagues by the soundness of her judgment no less than by her fine scholarship. Despite the heavy teaching burden and limited accommodation in the early days of St. Joseph’s College, Sister Mary Agnes was noted not only for her efficiency as a teacher but for the understanding and patience with which she dealt with all difficulties.
See the Deans and Notables of St. Joseph’s College →
Four laywomen from Loretto College graduated from the University of Toronto.
1915 Graduating Class of St. Michael’s College including the first four women graduates
Miss Madeline Burns was the first lay graduate from St. Joseph’s College. Her three daughters would each in turn be winners of the Sister Perpetua Whalen Entrance Scholarship and two would later become members of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.
Miss Madeline Burns on graduation day
St. Joseph’s College residence was located for one year at 25 Queen’s Park — St. Joseph’s University Hall — owned by the Basilians. The building was later expropriated by the Ontario Government to build offices.
1918 September 16
To alleviate crowding at Loretto Abbey, the Loretto College student body moved to the newly constructed “Loretto Abbey Day School” at 387 Brunswick Avenue in September, 1918. Here the College shared space in the High School and had residence accommodation for a number of the College students. The school’s name was accordingly changed to “Loretto Abbey College and Day School.”
Loretto College students moved from the Abbey to 387 Brunswick Avenue
Mother Margarita O’Connor was Dean; other faculty members were Mothers Estelle Nolan, Athanasia Quinlivan, Dorothea Barry, Gertrude Gumpricht, Lucilla Breen, and St. Clare McEachen. Distance from the University campus was still a major disadvantage but was accepted cheerfully. Social life among the students of the Catholic unit was still an individual affair, with Newman Club the chief meeting ground.
Before 1918, Graduates of the two women colleges attended convocation at Convocation Hall, and private graduations were held at the sister colleges. This was the arrangement until 1918 when Loretto College moved to Brunswick Avenue and the sister colleges took turns entertaining the graduates.
When the celebration began to rotate in 1918, St. Joseph’s took the first turn. Fr. Muckle, CSB was chairman of the entertainment in which four Loretto graduates, five St. Joseph graduates and five young men from St. Michael’s participated.
Graduating class, 1918
1920 – 1929
Loretto and St. Joseph Colleges elect their first Student Councils
Both St. Joseph’s College and Loretto College established student government and elected their first Student Councils.
Enrolment at St. Michael’s College passed 200 in the year 1920-1921 with 121 men and 85 women enrolled.
For the third time Loretto College Debating Society won the Shield contested by the women of all four Colleges.
1926 October 8
“Christie House” at 29 Queen’s Park Crescent, along with 90 St. Alban Street, were purchased by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The property was used as university residence and classrooms for the women students.
1927 August 12 – 16
A Loretto College Reunion was held in celebration of the founding of Loretto College in 1911.
1927 Reunion at Loretto College
1928 October 6
Centenary of the University of Toronto. At the parade celebration, a float mounted by “St. Michael’s Women” indicated their presence in the make-up of the University of Toronto.
“St. Michael’s Women” Parade Float
St. Joseph’s College French Club “Le Cercle Français” began publishing L’Echo du Cercle, the only French magazine published by students at the University of Toronto.
St. Joseph’s College French Club (1925)
1930 – 1949
A Decade of “Firsts”
Victoria Mueller was the first woman at the University of Toronto to graduate with a PhD in German and brought German to St. Michael’s College when she was appointed the first Chair of the German Department in 1931. She won international recognition for her studies in German literature and upon the publication of her book Herman Stehr a memoir (Würzburg Holzner Verlag) in 1964, she was appointed the Herman Stehr Bronze medallion.
Prof. Mueller-Carson was the first non-religious woman to teach at the College and the first person to teach the co-educational classes when they were introduced. In addition to her dedication to publishing and teaching, she sponsored many gatherings for first-year St. Michael’s women in order to help them ease into university life.
She taught at St. Michael’s for forty years and even after her retirement in 1971 she remained active on campus. In 1977 she received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of St. Michael’s College, the first woman to do so.
In May 2007, the late Victoria Mueller-Carson was honoured by the University of St. Michael’s College in a ceremony dedicating a bench in her memory.
PhD Graduation photograph of Victoria Mueller (CSJT Archives)
As the student population at Loretto College increased, a need was felt to bring the College closer to the University Campus and to St. Michael’s College.
Mother General St. Teresa Finnigan and her Council oversaw the purchase of the #86 -90 St. George Street property, with the firm support of Mother Estelle Nolan, Mother Margarita O’Connor, and others interested in the higher education of girls as part of their apostolate.
Loretto College, 86 St. George Street
This was the first “home of its own” for Loretto College, with Mother Carmelita Connor as Superior of the Loretto Community. The new Dean was Mother St. Margaret Kelly, who taught English, while the faculty consisted of Mothers Berchmans Doyle (French and English), St. Stanislaus McCardle (Latin), St. Ivan McQuade (French), Estelle Nolan (Classics). Among the students were four young Loretto Sisters, Marcia Smyth, Marion Norman, Mary Aloysius Kerr, and St. Francis Nims.
The first Mass was celebrated in the new St. George Street College Chapel for Loretto College by Rev. Terence Patrick McLaughlin, CSB.
1937 October 19
Marked the death of Mother Estelle Nolan, who contributed greatly to the beginning and growth of Loretto College, and whose great gifts of heart and mind inspired so much of the life of the College and its students.
Mother Estelle Nolan
See the Deans and Notables of Loretto College →
1950 – 1959
Formal Integration of Teaching at St. Michael’s College
1952 January 18
Rev. Louis J. Bondy, CSB, Superior of St. Michael’s wrote to Loretto and St. Joseph’s Colleges proposing the integration of teaching at St. Michael’s College.
January 1952 Letter from Rev. Louis J. Bondy, CSB
Co-education had gradually become a feature, beginning first in certain Honours classes, then in others also, with classes being held wherever the professor was attached – at St. Michael’s, Loretto, or St. Joseph’s. In 1952 this developed into complete co-education. On September 23, the last lectures at Loretto College and St. Joseph’s College took place. Henceforth all teaching would be done in the classrooms of St. Michael’s College in Carr Hall, Clover Hill, Teefy Hall, or other rooms of St. Michael’s College. All Loretto and St. Joseph staff members were required to teach in St. Michael’s College classrooms.
Notable exceptions were Sr. St. John’s and Sr. Blandina’s university extension Latin classes.
Sr. Blandina teaching her Latin extension class at St. Joseph’s College
1952 March 16
Celebrations for the centennial of the founding of St Michael’s College featured an anniversary banquet with the Rt. Hon. Louis St. Laurent, Prime Minister of Canada, as the guest of honour. On May 14th a special Convocation of the University of Toronto took place.
Louis St. Laurent second from left with Cardinal McGuigan and Rev. Bondy, CSB, Superior (USMC Archives)
1953 October 15
Construction on St. Joseph’s “Maryhall” began for a new dining room and additional residence. Maryhall was completed and blessed on November 30, 1954.
Turning the sod for Maryhall, first college addition, 1953
The Ontario Legislature passed an amendment to the original St Michael’s College Act of 1855, granting the College the right to grant degrees in theology. His Eminence James C. Cardinal McGuigan, became St Michael’s first Chancellor.
St. Joseph’s College, 90 Wellesley St. W., 1956 (CSJT Archives)
1955 November 15
Construction began on Fontbonne Hall, St. Joseph’s College. In 1956
Fontbonne Hall opened along Wellesley, thus changing the address of the College to 90 Wellesley Street.
New joint S.A.C. from the Torontonensis, 1956
1955 Voting took place under the revised Constitution for a joint S.A.C., representing St. Michael’s, Loretto, and St. Joseph’s Colleges.
1956 May 26
The customary college graduation ceremony held alternatively at Loretto or St. Joseph’s College was discontinued and replaced by a reception for the Graduation Class, their families and friends.
1958 July 1
The University of St Michael’s College Act went into effect granting St Michael’s university status as a federated university within the University of Toronto.
The Reverend Laurence K. Shook, C.S.B. assumed office as the first President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Michael’s College. This marked the separation of the office of the religious head of the Basilian Fathers of the College, the Superior, from that of the executive and academic head of the University, the President
Drawing of the proposed residence, 70 St. Mary Street
1958 September 29
The cornerstone of the new Loretto College Residence, 70 St. Mary Street, was blessed by His Eminence, James C. Cardinal McGuigan.
Farewell to 86 St. George Street,
Resident Students at 86 St. George St.  (IBVM Archives)
1958 December 28
The Loretto College Alumnae sponsored a Farewell Party at 86 St. George Street before the College would be moved to 70 St. Mary Street.
1959 November 15
The formal opening of Loretto College at 70 St. Mary Street.
Enjoying the new residence at 70 St. Mary Street which brought the College to the St. Michael’s campus
1960 – 1969
Celebrating the Golden Jubilee Homecoming for St. Michael’s Alumnae
Loretto Sisters on campus 
After 1960, the Loretto Sisters in the Juniorate, residing at 70 St.Mary Street, took their studies at St. Michael’s College.
Enrolment at St. Michael’s College passed 1,000 in the year 1961-1962.
“Remember When” For 500 Grads”. Article from the Toronto Star, June 2, 1962
1962 June 2
Celebrated the Golden Jubilee Home-Coming for St. Michael’s Alumnae (1912-62). There were some 500 guests for the combined Loretto and St. Joseph’s Brunch.
“Toronto Whitsuntide meeting to study theme of ecumenism” article from the Catholic Register, June 2, 1962.
At this homecoming event, the Whitsuntide Conferences were initiated, the annual counterpart of the Michaelmas Conferences.
1963 July 1
At the 51st reunion of St. Michael’s College Alumnae, the first Whitsuntide Conference was held.
Monastery of the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood before demolition
1967 January 10
St. Michael’s College purchased the Monastery of the Precious Blood Sisters at 113 St. Joseph Street as the site of its new library.
The new library was named in honour of Rev. John M. Kelly, 1969
The John M. Kelly Library opens
1970 – 1999
Incorporation with TST
and a “Memorandum of Understanding” with U of T
Sr. St. John O’Malley, CSJ, shown here in 1984 with Rev. McCorkell, CSB
1970 July 3
Sr. St. John O’Malley, CSJ, class of 1921, was honoured at a banquet in Hart House for more than twenty years of teaching Latin in the Extension Department of the University of Toronto.
47 Queen’s Park Crescent, Toronto
1970 April 30
Incorporation of the Toronto School of Theology took place, combining the Catholic and Protestant theological colleges of the University of Toronto, including the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael’s College.
Memorandum of Understanding, first page (USMC Archives)
The University of St. Michael’s College, along with the other federated universities, Trinity and Victoria, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Toronto, establishing the terms of their new relationship with the Faculty of Arts and Science.
Sr. Ellen Leonard
Sr. Ellen Leonard one of the first women theology professors at St. Michael’s College.
Catherine (Massel) Brayley 7T9 elected the first woman president of SMCSU.
Sr. Mechtilde O’Mara, CSJ appointed Vice-President (Administration), University of St. Michael’s College and Vice-Chair of the Collegium of USMC
2000 – 2009
St. Joseph College closes as St. Michael’s offers residence to women students
Residence life at St. Joseph’s College in the 1990s
2004 November 8
Sr. Anne Marie Marrin, CSJ, Dean of St. Joseph’s College formally notified the College community of her congregation’s plan to close the university residence in May 2006. This decision of the Sisters of St. Joseph was based on many factors, including changes in the needs and accommodation preferences of undergraduate students.
Resident students outside of St. Joseph’s College 
In anticipation of the closure of the St Joseph’s College women’s residence in May 2006, St. Michael’s began offering residence to women students in designated floors of Elmsley Hall and Sorbara Hall.
St. Joseph’s College closed in May 2006.
Sisters of St. Joseph Chair in Systemic Theology
With the closing of St. Joseph’s College at the end of the 2006 academic year, the Sisters sought a way of maintaining their lengthy CSJ partnership with the University of St. Michael’s College, and the concept of an Endowment Chair in Theology offered that opportunity. The congregation donated $2.5 million to establish a Chair in Systematic Theology at St. Michael’s College of the University of Toronto.
“Our gift to St. Michael’s is intended to convey our continuing commitment to Catholic post-secondary education,” said Sr. Margaret Myatt, CSJ Congregational Leader
At St. Michael’s celebration of the inauguration of this Chair at the York Club on September 28, Sr. Margaret quoted from an early account of the beginning of St. Joseph’s College which described the endeavours of the Loretto Sisters, the Basilian Fathers and the Sisters of St. Joseph to achieve equality for women in education “… permission was given by the University in October 1911…to have lectures given at St. Joseph’s and Loretto Colleges. The priests taught religious knowledge, ethics and logic; while English, French, German and Latin were taught by the Sisters… as late as the 1920s it was not considered feasible for ‘the weaker sex’ to study psychology or systematic theology…”
“The endowment will continue the legacy of our Sisters who in the early 1900s established our ministry in postgraduate education — which ministry, by the way, is actively continued today by Professors Ellen Leonard and Mechtilde O’Mara.”
Prof. Margaret O’Gara, first Chair of Systematic Theology,
with Sr. Margaret Myatt, CSJ, General Superior
The first professor to hold the chair is the Catholic Theological Society of America president Margaret O’Gara. In an article in the Catholic Register of Sept. 30, 2007, Ms. O’Gara said, “I’m very struck that they (the sisters) have decided to use their resources this way. This is really a commitment to this faculty.”
Sr. Anne Anderson, CSJ, assumed office as the sixth President and Vice-Chancellor and the first woman to be so appointed after serving as first woman Dean of the Faculty of Theology from 2001.
Sr. Anne Anderson, CSJ, Installation Ceremony
2009 September 29
Portraits of Sr. Frances Nims, IBVM 3T9, long-time SMC Professor of English, and Sr. St. John O’Malley, CSJ, 2T1, SMC Professor of Classics were added to the St. Michael’s College Legacy Wall in Alumni Hall – the first women thus honoured.
Legacy Wall, Muzzo Family Alumni Hall showing Sr. St. John and Sr. Frances
2010 – 2011
Enrollment at St. Michael’s College exceeds 4500
Enrollment at St. Michael’s College passes 4500, with more than 2600 women students.
Loretto College in 2011
One hundred years after federation, Loretto College at 70 St. Mary Street continues the University apostolate begun in 1911 at the “Old Abbey” on Wellington Street.
Students enjoying a musical evening at Loretto College, 2010
In past years, the Loretto Sisters provided a line of distinguished university teachers in the fields of modern and classical languages, literature and philosophy, and of administrators for St. Michael’s College, the Catholic presence in the University of Toronto. That line has dwindled, but the College apostolate has continued in other ways. It still fills to its capacity a critical need at the University for student resident space, and strives, further, to provide a healthy, safe environment for young women enrolled in a variety of degree programs at the University of Toronto. They enjoy the encouragement of the lay Dean and of the Loretto Sisters who live there and contribute to the life of the residence.
Resident students at Loretto College, 2011
CSB Archives: Congregation of St. Basil
CSJT Archives: Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto
IBVM Archives: Loretto Sisters (IBVM, Canadian Province)
USMC Archives: University of St. Michael’s College
See the Overview page to learn more about this exhibit →