Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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Memories of Women's Education at St. Michael's College

On March 7, 2012, Sister Mechtilde O'Mara gave a talk on the history of St. Joseph's College. Laughter filled the lecture hall at Christie Mansion, where more than 90 people gathered to hear Sister Mechtilde O'Mara speak on the history of St. Joseph's College. Sister Mechtilde, Classics Professor Emerita at St. Michael's College, explained the exclusion of women from St. Michael's in the early years, how the proximity of St. Joseph’s to the campus facilitated affiliation with St Michael’s in 1911 (along with Loretto College), and led in 1952 to full integration of women into St Michael’s at the University of Toronto. Increasing professionalism of teaching and some women of distinction — Gertrude Lawler and the Sisters — were important influences. Pictures and profiles of Sisters and eminent visitors highlighted the breadth of interest fostered at the College.

Mimi Marrocco, an organizer of the series, described the talk as "superb — informative, lively and very, very enjoyable. You certainly did infuse new life into those 'old' stories.  I especially enjoyed your ever so subtle 'battle of the great dames' with Loretto. General agreement was that this was a fitting conclusion to an important (but previously more subdued) celebration of 100 years of women's education at St. Michael's College."

Sister Mechtilde shared her own memories of the variety of people and activities at St. Joseph's College from language clubs, debates, and dramatics, to athletics, dances, social outreach and participation in the Young Christian Student Movement and the Marian Pageant during Hurricane Hazel.

She recalled the change in university life in the 1970’s. "The Kent State violence against students protesting the Vietnamese War made campuses places of all but open warfare," she said. "Canadian students also slipped into the attitude of not trusting anyone over 30." Subsequent retreats and workshops were designed to deepen relationships, build on trust, and develop leadership potential. In summary, she said, "Connecting with members of the college has been a privilege and a joy.”

The distinguished historian, J.K. McConica, CSB, emphasized the importance of the series as an account by participants of the evolvement of an institution. Linda Wicks, Archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph, felt Sister Mechtilde's talk offered something special. "The website has a lot of detailed information, but Sister Mechtilde's talk gave a fun, personal perspective, with wonderful anecdotes of university life."


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