Friday 20 November 2015

Year of Consecrated Life: The Congregation of St. Basil

Fr. Joseph Lapierre, CSB,
first Superior General.
This month we are highlighting The Congregation of St. Basil, one of the first religious orders to come to Toronto. Their origin can be traced back to the end of the 18th century in France, where political turmoil made being a Catholic priest and teacher dangerous; however a priest named Fr. Joseph Lapierre secretly operated a school in the small mountain village of St-Symphorien-de-Mahun.

A few years later when it was safe, Fr. Lapierre, with the help of a few other priests, began operating a school in the nearby town of Annonay. On November 21, 1822, 10 priest-teachers formed an association to ensure the continuation of education in the Annonay area and for life in common.

Collège du Sacré-Coeur, Annonay
One of their former students was named Bishop of Toronto: Armand-Francois-Marie de Charbonnel. The Bishop knew that he would need help establishing schools and staffing parishes in his new See. He approached his former teachers for help, and in 1850 he arrived in Toronto with Patrick Molony, who was a native of Ireland.

Molony described his arrival in Toronto with Bishop Charbonnel thus:

"We went up the magnificent St. Lawrence as far as Kingston, which is a bishopric. From there we continued our journey over Lake Ontario for one beautiful night in the clear moonlight, and at 7 o'clock on the morning of September 21, I caught sight of Toronto. Monseigneur gathered around him on the bridge of the ship and there we recited in choir the Litany of the Saints and the Salve Regina. It was known in the city that we were due to arrive, and consequently our fine people, poor children of Erin, made much ado. They gave us no time to disembark but crowded about us, pressing close to see and throwing themselves down before the Bishop. The quays, and all the streets were blocked with people. We were conducted in procession to the Cathedral. The Bishop of Montreal and several priests from that city were with us. We were received like true apostles. The following day Monseigneur took solemn possession of his See. He officiated at Vespers preaching in English to a congregation of 3,000 persons, Catholics and Protestants." 

Captain Elmsley
Fr. Molony was soon joined by four other Basilians, and they established what eventually became St. Michael's College. By 1856, with the support of John Elmsley, the college moved to its present location on Clover Hill (near the intersection of the present day Bay and Wellesley Streets). St. Basil's Parish was also established. The school operated as a high school, a college and a minor seminary. In 1950 the high school moved to its current location at Bathurst and St. Clair Streets. The Basilians went on to staff other city high schools such as Michael Power, and parishes such as Holy Rosary.

As the Basilian Congregation in Toronto grew, members spread to the Windsor area, into Michigan and New York State, and eventually down to Texas, Mexico and Colombia. They have administered and staffed many high schools, colleges and parishes across North and South America while maintaining a small presence in Annonay. Five Basilians have been bishops, including Vancouver's current Archbishop Miller, London's current Bishop Fabbro, Toronto's Archbishop O'Connor, Bishop Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and George Bernard Cardinal Flahiff, who was Archbishop of Winnipeg. 

The Basilian Fathers have been integral to the Archdiocese of Toronto since their arrival. Their influence can be seen in the thousands who have been educated at their schools. They continue to teach, but are also beginning to run workshops for Catholic teachers to ensure that the philosophy behind their motto, "Teach Me Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge," spreads even further.  

An unidentified 19th Century Basilian
An unidentified 19th Century Basilian

"A few of the '28 '29 Novices"
Basilian Novitiate, near Bathurst and St. Clair Streets
Novices circa 1930
Basilians on Strawberry Island (Lake Simcoe), 1936. The Basilians used the island as a vacation and retreat centre from the mid-1920s until the mid-2000s. They played hosts to Pope John Paul II when he was in the area for World Youth Day in 2002.  
The newly built shrine on the Island.
August, 1936
Cardinal McGuigan tours Strawberry Island with Father McCorkell
Sports have always been an important part of Basilian Education. The St. Michael's Majors hockey team won the Memorial Cup four times. One of their players, David Bauer (left), went on to become ordained as a Basilian. As a priest, he coached Canada's Olympic hockey team in the 1960s, and was awarded an honorary Olympic medal for sportsmanship. He was inducted into the Order of Canada in  1967 and into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1989. 
Sports were also an important part of student recreation.
St. Michael's College, 1946-1947.

All images courtesy of the General Archives of the Basilian Fathers.

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