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Church of Our Lady / BM History


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spk 05-Jan-2004
Kiki Olsen 07-Jan-2004


Subject: Church of Our Lady / BM History 
From: spk
Date: Jan 05, 2004 12:00 AM

From Guelph Mercury January 2002

High on a hill in downtown Guelph, sits a place rich in excellence, tradition, and history.

It all started when John Galt founded Guelph in 1827. He had set aside a central hill for the Catholics in compliment to his friend, Bishop Macdonell, for his advice in the formation of the Canada Company.

In 1852, the Jesuits, led locally by Fr. John Holzer, took over the Catholic Church and missions in Guelph. Holzer, along with his two assistants Fr. J. Frazerini, and Fr. G. Matoga, set out to create, within Guelph, a wide range of educational, welfare, and social institutions.

“St. Ignatius College”, which Holzer intended to found, was created in 1852. It consisted of a large school facility, and an orphanage. However, in 1853, the ‘Separate School Act’ was created, and this changed the original plans for the college.

With taxes now available to educate Catholic children, a separate school was opened beside St. Bartholomew Catholic Church (where Church of Our Lady now stands) on January 14th, 1854. It was called ‘St. Stanislaus’.

In 1855, a convent was being built on Catholic hill. Bishop Farrel of Hamilton invited the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary to set up residence and establish a private girl’s school in Guelph. Thus, on June 10th, 1856, Four sisters of that order traveled from London to Guelph to found ‘Loretto Convent’

Although the convent was not completed, the sisters began ‘Loretto Academy’ by teaching in private homes. In 1857, ‘Loretto Academy’, the only educational institution for ladies west of Toronto, was completed. The Academy ran as a day and boarding school for girls of all ages and denominations. In 1873, the convent had 35 pupils living at the facility, and 45-day pupils. It had an excellent reputation in music and art. Regular certificate courses were being taught by about 1900.

In 1888, St. Stanislaus was rebuilt. It housed the elementary boy’s school and sat on one side of the church, while St. Agnes, also built in 1888, housed the elementary girl’s school on the other side of the church.

The girls were not allowed to walk home past the boy’s school. If they lived on that side of town, they had to walk the long way around.

In the year 1909, a second story was added to St. Agnes, and, in 1914, St. Stanislaus was renovated and given a second story also. In 1932, primary classes of boys joined primary girls at St. Agnes, and senior girls went for the first time to St. Stanislaus. For recess, the playground was divided into two sections for each school.

The boarding school, run by the Loretto Sisters, was discontinued in 1924 to make space for the increasing number of day students. Also, there were a larger number of lay teachers, along with the sisters, teaching at the schools. St. Stanislaus became a co-educational school with the closing of St. Agnes around 1953.

In 1953, Loretto Academy had become co-educational. In the following year of 1954, a co-educational high school called Notre Dame was built at the bottom of the hill at the corner of Cork and Norfolk for Grade 9 and 10 students. It was the only Catholic High School serving the recently created Wellington County Separate School Board.

The two building were joined together in a addition in 1967, and the complex was renamed ‘Bishop Macdonell High School’

Bishop Macdonell, deep in financial difficulties in the 1980‘s due to aging facilities, was unable to discharge its debts in spite of an energetic Heritage Fund Campaign. Rising costs continued to plague the school. In 1991, the catholic school board created the Catholic Education Committee to study the future of B.M. The committee consisted of students, parents, alumni, trustees, and community members who offered a recommendation to close B.M.

Once this was heard, a major campaign was launched to stop the school board from closing Bishop Mac. Letters, protests, presentations, and much more happened with parents, students, alumni, and citizens from larger community pushing to save the school. The school board could save $300,000 by closing B.M., while supporters of keeping it open felt the school presented a inherent advantage as a small school for above standard nurturing of community values, academic excellence, and respect for tradition.

In spite of a very successful letter campaign, threats of pulling tax support, students protesting, and a full page advertisement with 1000 plus names asking for Bishop Mac. to stay open, supporters anticipated a tight vote.

On December 7th, 1991 the trustees of the Catholic School Board made a tough choice. Bishop Macdonell High School was voted, 9-5, to close by June of 1995, with the gradual phasing of classes in starting in 1992 with the elimination of Grade 9. Both St. James and Our Lady of Lourdes High Schools were renovated to accommodate the increased population.

The following day, Principal Jim Rooney broke the news to students. Most students had already heard. There were some tears, anger, and some students boycotting class, but life went on at the school.

There were last minute attempts to save the school from its intended fate. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and on Friday June 17th, 1995, 139 years of history closed its doors on the historic Catholic hill.

In 1994, both the public and catholic boards created the ‘Wellington Centre for Continuing Education’ and located it, in 1995, on the vacant Bishop Macdonell site. St. Peter Catholic School used the site temporally in the fall of 2000 becasue their expanded facility was not completed on time.

After 5 years on the site, the Wellington Centre had to relocate so that the Wellington Catholic District School Board could qualify for funding to build a new Bishop Macdonell on Clair Road, in the south end, by 2003. The buildings and lands were returned to the Diocese of Hamilton and the Sisters of Loretto, who had phased out operations in Guelph in the late 1990‘s.

Now the buildings sit empty, empty of physical material but imprinted with an electrifying echo of a unique past. You can feel it when you walk the halls, touch the walls, sit in a classroom, or simply walk by the site outside. From learning science, to sports, to the arts, and everything else in between, Bishop Macdonell was the last of a distinguished catholic educational line on catholic hill. It was a place of caring commitment by generations of family and friends who passed through its halls.

It is time to look at renewing the reason why these building were built. It is time they serve the community again through educational, welfare, and social services. This site should not become a parking lot, or some major residential or office complex, but a community centre for all people of Guelph - especially youth and surrounding residents. The very successful Shelldale School Community Centre is a great model to work from and expand on for the Bishop Macdonell site.

I hope that citizens of Guelph, along with alumni, city officials, community groups, and the Diocese of Hamilton, come together to renew this site with a new energy, vision and concept that works for the people of Guelph, and continues the legend of the Bishop Macdonell complex.

It will take a lot of work and effort to make this place shine again. The buildings are aging and in need of repair, but I know our community will be up to the challenge to restore this place where excellence, tradition, and history lived and breathed.

A legend never dies. Lets make a new history, together, for the people of this community and our future.


Subject: RE: Church of Our Lady / BM History 
From: Kiki Olsen
Date: Jan 07, 2004 12:00 AM

What was the point of all of that?


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