Women were first admitted to St. Michael's College in 1911 - 12, a century ago. By the 15th anniversary of their arrival, as Laura Sabia pointed out in her talk to a gathering of SMC alumnae for a Whitsuntide Conference (a series of early 60s conferences meant to balance the longstanding Michaelmas Conference for male-alumni), women students registered in the Faculty of Arts and Science through St. Michael's College already outnumbered the men. That ratio has continued to the present time. But co-education did not come easily to St. Michael's. Founded in the first place to be a stepping stone to admission for Catholic young men to the professions and especially to seminary training for the priesthood, the College seemed to be no place for women in its early years.
Obstacles to university education for women were many. The University of Toronto, far from a pioneer in women's education, admitted its first women students in 1884, 43 years after the first women were admitted to the American Oberlin College and nine years after Grace Ann Lockhart graduated from New Brunswick's Mount Allison University thereby becoming the first woman in the British Empire to receive a university degree. Education at prestigious universities in the United States was gendered: Harvard, Yale and Princeton for men, for example; Vassar, Radcliffe and Smith for women. This was especially true of Catholic colleges and universities.
The Loretto Sisters, (formally, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary IBVM) were Toronto's pioneering Sister-educators. Beginning with their arrival in 1847 at the invitation of Bishop Michael Power - especially for the education of girls in the new diocese of Toronto - they
established a network of day schools for boys and girls and boarding schools for girls and young women. In 1851, they were joined by the Sisters of St. Joseph CSJ, whose initiatives in education, health care and social service have helped to shape policy and practice in many parts of the world. Both congregations had a strong commitment to the education not only of their students but also of their members. In the course of the 19th century, they aligned their curricula with the province, thus enabling their graduates not only to qualify as teachers but to seek admission to university, once universities were open to women.
Alumnae of the Sisters' academies and high schools, both Sisters and lay women, admitted to the University of Toronto through University College, would be celebrated for their leadership and academic success. Among the early admissions to University College was Gertrude Lawler, the 1882 Valedictorian of St Joseph's Academy who, after obtaining A standing in the examination for a teacher's certificate, was admitted to University College where she won prizes for academic excellence, obtained both BA and MA degrees, was appointed to the Senate of the University (1911) and awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 1927. She founded the Catholic Women's Club of the University (1908), the Alumnae Association of St. Joseph's Academy, and was founding Editor of the Lilies, a literary quarterly of 130 pages, published from 1911 to 1954. Her involvement with St. Joseph's Academy and with the Sisters of St. Joseph included their hosting of visiting lecturers on music, art, travel and theology to whet the appetite for further education among Catholic women in the city. Meanwhile the Sisters of both communities were preparing students extramurally for University examinations even while they themselves were obtaining credentials necessary for the approval of their Academies.
Both congregations independently sought federation with the University of Toronto. In 1908, Mother Agatha O'Neill IBVM wrote to President Falconer of the University of Toronto, requesting establishment of a Loretto College for Catholic women. Falconer asked that the 'men of St. Michael's deal with the matter. Sr. Irene Conroy CSJ, newly elected Superior General of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1908, had been Superior and Administrator of St. Michael's Hospital since 1905, and so was already known to University administrators from negotiations concerning the hospital. She too was in support of the congregation moving more fully into tertiary education. When St. Michael's College was fully federated with the University, the terms of its 8 December 1910 agreement allowed St. Michael's as the official Catholic College in the University of Toronto to appoint its professors and have them teach in any location, and so was accomplished the introduction of women into St. Michael's College - and. access through that path to University of Toronto degrees. Archbishop Neil McNeil in 1913, soon after his installation, suggested that there be just one college for Catholic women. However, both the Loretto and the St. Joseph Sisters wanted to be related in, but not submerged by, the new project. In both women's colleges, the Sisters were appointed to teach classics and modern languages. Priests from St. Michael's lectured in Religious Knowledge, Ethics, Psychology and Logic. Students attended other courses (e.g. lab courses) at University College.
The women continued to be taught by the Sisters in their own premises: for Loretto, these were in the 'old' Abbey at 403 Wellington Street, with Mother Estelle Nolan as Dean; for St. Joseph's, they were in the Motherhouse at 89 St. Alban Street (later named Wellesley Street,) with Sister Perpetua Whalen as Dean. The small Colleges provided specific identity, allegiance and ownership for the students in both academic and extra-curricular activities. In June 1915, the First Loretto women graduated from the University of Toronto through St. Michael's College: Mary Power, Gertrude Ryan, Teresa Coughlan and Mona Clarke; women prepared by St. Joseph's College graduated from University College until 1916, when Madeleine Burns was the First graduate of St. Joseph's to have completed all her studies through St. Michael's.
In August 1918, Loretto College moved to 387 Brunswick Avenue, with Mother Margarita O'Connor as Dean. In 1938, the College moved to 86 St. George Street, where Mother St. Margaret Kelly was Dean: the Faculty comprised Mothers St. Stanislaus McCardle, St. Ivan McQuade, Berchmans Doyle and Estelle Nolan. Among the students in graduate studies were four young Loretto Sisters: Marcia Smyth, Marion Norman, Mary Aloysius Kerr and St. Francis Nims. For some 80 years, Loretto Sisters provided a line of distinguished university professors for St. Michael's College in the areas of Classics, English, Modern Languages, Philosophy and Continuing Education, with Sisters Mary Madigan and Marion Norman the last to teach at St. Michael’s.
St. Joseph's resident students continued to live in or near 89 Wellesley Street W. for awhile, in some smaller houses on Breadalbane Street and for a at 25 Queen's Park, for a short time, at 25 Queen's Park. In January 1927, the women moved into the Christie Mansion at 29 Queens Park, still in the immediate proximity of St. Michael's. The St. Joseph Sisters teaching Faculty included classes with Sisters Perpetua Whalen, Austin Warnock, Mary Agnes Murphy, St. John O'Malley, Blandina Hitchen, Dominica Blake, Marie Therese Larochelle, Eleanor Breen, Agnes Joseph O'Brien, Geraldine Thompson and Corinne Meraw, with Sisters Ellen Leonard and Mechtilde O'Mara the most recent to teach at St. Michael's.
Gradually the total separation of men and women in the College was eroded. Initially, there was some combination of classes within the Honour courses. In the employ of St. Michael's, German Professor Victoria Mueller-Carson, a 2T8 graduate of Loretto, taught the students of the three units of the College, at first separately, but by 1952, women students and Sister Professors were fully integrated into St. Michael's. Fr. L.K. Shook CSB, President of the College from 1952 to 1958, observed candidly, 'The fact remains that every time a major concession was made towards the fuller integration of women into the College, a decided advance in academic excellence followed.'
For the first 50 years, students in Loretto and St. Joseph’s had their own language clubs, dramatic societies, debating and athletic teams and sodalities. Especially after the move of Loretto College to its new home at 70 St. Mary Street in 1959, there was greater co-operation between the women in extra-curricular activities.
Expanded by the addition of Mary Hall (1954) and Fontbonne (1956), the St. Josephs College buildings were sold to the University in 2007 and now house Regis College and the Faculty of Music. St. Michael's residences include space for some women. Loretto remains a residence for women in Arts and Science and the Professional Faculties. They come from all parts of the world and a variety of religions.
The IBVM Sisters have made some hard choices, but Loretto College figures prominently in their plans for the future. They now have 12 Sisters living there, along with 110 residents. In September 2012, they will open a Centre for Education around issues of spirituality, justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
The vision for women of IBVM founder Mary Ward went beyond academics: she articulated the goal of Loretto education four centuries ago: 'Love, verity, seek knowledge, not for knowledge, but for the end it brings you to; then you will he happy and able to profit yourselves and others.'
In addition to the lasting friendships arising from the shared experience of three, four or more years of study, there are three historically significant aspects to the early 20th century of the relationships within the College. First, it represented a milestone as two Catholic women's colleges affiliated with a male college. Second, the affiliation of an umbrella Catholic College with a secular university was a unique model of post-secondary education. Finally, for the first half of the 20th century, while the three Catholic colleges operated virtually independently and in discrete spaces, they all shared common goals: to protect the faith, to prepare their students for an active role in Canadian society and to increase the presence of Catholic educated men and women in the professions and in society in general. Although many features of contemporary society have changed since 1911, St. Michael's goals continue to inspire.
With contributions from Archivists Linda Wicks and Michelle Anitra Pariag; Professor Elizabeth Smyth; Sisters Evanne Hunter IBVM, Juliana Dusel IBVM and Mechtilde O'Mara CSJ. Reprinted with permission from St. Michael's: The University of St. Michael's College Alumni Magazine, Fall 2012 edition