This History of Saint Louis College by Andrew Winstanley, SLC ’65, is as it first appeared in the 100th Anniversary yearbook of 1964
During the primitive days of the late fifties and early sixties, Vancouver Island was the site of many beginnings. In the year 1858, St. Ann’s Academy opened for its first pupils. Two years before; the first House of Assembly had met with its seven member’s, and in the same year the village of Victoria was planned and began to organize itself. In the swirl of commercial excitement the Church was busy in promoting religious and educational interests. In 1857, Bishop Demers brought from Quebec the Clerics of St. Viateur, who established Victoria’s first school for boys. However, in the following year, owing to their lack of English-speaking teachers, they were forced to abandon their charges. Father Louis Herbomez of the Order of the Oblates of Mary the Immaculate, took over the little school. In 1858, with the Bishop’s blessing, he planted the seeds of Catholic education for boys in Victoria, naming it after his patron saint, Louis IX, King of France.
The first school was nothing more than a single room in the Bishop’s Palace on Collinson Street. Later, with the crowding of these quarters, the students moved into a then modern one-room wooden structure situation on the north-east corner of the present St. Joseph’s Hospital grounds. Some thirty boys, whose ages ranged from six to fifteen, were housed in this commodious room of about 40 ft. by 30 ft. Most of them came from New Westminster and Kamloops; these boarded at the Bishop’s Palace. Some of them were newcomers from California, whose parents were drawn there by the gold rush of ‘49 and ten years later had been lured northward by the same story. Indeed here was proof that a good education could be obtained at St. Louis College, for the facilities were the best that could be found at the time.
The teachers of this first school were of the very best, being university-trained and cultured gentlemen. Its principal was Father Beaudre, a scholarly French Canadian. His two able assistants were Brothers Allen and McStay, both trained in Dublin and American universities. The fourth member of the staff, the Oblate brother, Brother McGuckin, was later ordained at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. Under these men and those that followed them, the discipline and strong school spirit, so characteristic of the future St. Louis College, were first developed.
Six years of education passed quickly for the pioneer school, and as the one room on Collinson Street began to overflow, Bishop Demers decided that Victoria needed a new boy’s school. The first public mention of this came from the pages of the Victoria Daily Colonist. on August 22, 1863: Roman Catholic Collegiate institution We learn that a new brick building will be commenced this day on Pandora Street to be used for Collegiate purposes by the members of the Order of Oblates. This building will measure thirty feet by forty-five feet, and will be two and a half stories high, provision being made for future extension.
In the year 1864 on January 17th, the five-thousand dollar school was opened to the youth of Victoria. Thus began a new era in the history of Catholic education in British Columbia. Rev. Father Beaudre was again principal, ably assisted by Rev. Father McGuckin, who later was principal himself, and Brother Allen.
Only a few short years had elapsed before the Oblates were withdrawn from the Island to concentrate their forces in various fields on the mainland. Bishop Demers found himself obliged to sell the diocesan farm to raise the ten thousand dollars needed to purchase the school from its founders, a move which was to cripple the parish for many years to come. Thus it came to pass that the clergy of the dioceses had to devote itself to this arduous task of teaching youth besides doing the regular work of the ministry, wrote the Orphan’s Friend in later years.
During the years that followed, there was constant shifting of faculty. Among those to remain here the longest in educating the pupils of St. Louis College were: Rev. Fathers J.J. Jonkau, A.J. Brabant, A.J. Van Nevel, and J. Leterme. Rev. Father Leterme and Rev. Father Van Nevel were early principals of the school, the former holding that position for sixteen years.
Several times during the existence of St. Louis College the assistance of lay teachers to supplement the clergy, when they were not able to undertake the task of educating the pupils by themselves, has been needed.
Among the men to come to St. Louis to assist the priests were Messrs. Thornton, MacDonald, M.McKinnon, A. MacDonald, G. Rabbit and D. Gallant.
Under the administration of Archbishop Orth (1900-1908) who succeeded the martyred Bishop Seghers, the school was for two years under the care of the Marist Fathers. Following the Marist tenancy, the Sisters of St. Ann lent generous assistance. Girls were included among the pupils of St. Louis College during the brief stay of the Sisters.
After their departure, Dr. J.J. Murtagh was appointed principal at the suggestion of his predecessor, Rev. Father Caine. Rev. Fathers Leterme and Gillis gave most valuable and appreciated services during this critical period. In 1908 Bishop MacDonald secured the services of Mr. L.J. Shanahan, a native of Nova Scotia, and his two assistants, Miss Edna McHugh and Mrs. Barbara Sullivan. At this time the College had been struggling along for nearly half a century.
During these years many negotiations had been made by successive Bishops of Victoria to establish St. Louis on Collegiate lines under the jurisdiction of one order. Among the orders to investigate the proposition were the Clerics of St. Viateur, the De La Salle Brothers, and the Jesuits.
In spite of these many setbacks, Bishop MacDonald in May, 1912, took up with the Christian Brothers of Ireland the question of taking over the management of the struggling little school. The outcome of his imitative was a visit of inspection by Brother Hennessy, then assistant to the Superior General. However it seemed that once again St. Louis was to lose out, for Brother Hennessy declared to the Bishop that nothing could be done for three years. When in 1914, the school was threatened with closure, Brother Hennessy made no further delay; St. Louis College would get its teachers.
In 1914 the final arrangements were completed and the following year, Brothers E. Ryan and S.C. Muurphy from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and H. Fitzgerald from Ireland became the first community. The September 11 Edition of the Victoria Daily Times had this to say: Old Saint Louis College, one of the pioneer schools of Victoria is to have a new lease of life. The institution opened its doors this week under entirely new direction, that of the Christian Brothers of Ireland.
For the next two years the school grew in age, wisdom, and grace under the leadership of Brother Ryan. The fifty-seven pupils who had presented themselves on the opening day of September 7, 1015, rose to over a hundred in 1917. The Brothers meanwhile were living at the Bishop’s palace while their house, which then occupied 855 Cormorant Street, was being made ready. These two years were marred by the loss of Brother Ryan, who on account of his health left Victoria during 1916,for his old home in Newfoundland.
In the beginning of the 1918 school term, Rev. Brother Curtis arrived to take over the struggling little school. During his principalship, the Brothers moved to the Juverna House at 1050 Southgate Street. Also the tradition of school picnics was established with Cadboro Bay bearing the brunt of the boys’ antics. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of these years was the beginning of the annual concerts for public entertainment, which took place on January 11, 1920 in St. Ann’s Auditorium. The Colonist summed up the reaction of the populace in these words: “Evidence of the excellent training imparted at St. Louis College for boys’ was tendered to an interested audience, which filled the auditorium at St. Ann’s Academy last night. Every item received well merited applause, the general excellence reflecting much credit on Principal Brother Curtis and the teaching staff of the College.
Between the years 1920-1926, during the principalship of Rev. Brother Grangel, the choir of St. Louis College came in to prominence. Under the director of Rev. Brother J.C. Keogh, the St. Louis Boys’ choir won the Wilkinson Shield for Junior Boy’s Choirs three years in succession, bringing much credit upon their school. In this period, the Catholic Women’s League was founded to help the boys of St. Louis College. In the latter half of Brother Grangel’s term the Brothers moved once again, this time to 1425 Ferwood Road.
In 1925 the necessity for increased classrooms made it advisable to take over the building just across the street for the high school students. These two building constituted St. Louis College for several years; however they were soon to be destined for superannuation, so many were the handicaps and inconveniences that harassed the staff in their work as the buildings increased in seniority.
In January of 1931, Bishop Murray, who had succeeded Bishop O’Donnell in 1929, announced that a concert would be held on St. Patrick’s night, the proceeds of which would be devoted to a fund for the erection of a new St. Louis College. Townley and Matheson, architects, were requested to submit plans for a suitable, up-to-date school building for boys. It was decided to accept the tender of Luney Brothers, local contractors, for the construction of the building. The contractors promised that the school would be ready for occupation by the fifteenth of August, which duly occurred.
On May 16th, 1931, Bishop Murray precided over the transference of the cornerstone from the old St. Louis College to the foundation of the new school. In the presence of former and present day pupils, as well as many friends, the stone was presented by a much loved former principal, Rt. Rev. Monsignor Leterme, to Brother Lawless, the school’s principal at that time. This act typified the transmission of the spirit and best traditions of the old College, which were thereby incorporated in the new.
The post depression years saw the arrival and departure of two successive principals. The first one was Rev. Brother Perry. Under his brief leadership the Holy Hour for students was established and a large Sacred Heart statue was erected in the school. This statue is now on the second floor. Another accomplishment of his term of office was the commencing of the Apostleship of Prayer. After a year of teaching at St. Louis College, Brother Perry was succeeded by Rev. Brother S. Ward. Under his three years of wise direction, dancing classes were formed, which brought prizes to the school. In October of 1933, Brother Ward introduced basketball to the school for the first time. For the next two years, the school prospered under this energetic principal.
In 1936, the students returned to school in September to find Rev. Brother E.B. Walsh as principal. To begin his term, he had the newly-arrived Bishop Cody dedicate the school chapel. The school’s chaplain, Rev. Father Gaukers, said that first Mass. Two years later in August of 1938 the new Scout Troop had their first summer camp. The same year, a new hand ball court was erected and an outdoor asphalt court for basketball and tennis was built. The Brothers, meanwhile, had set up temporary accommodations in the school as their personal contribution to the financing of the new school, which was then operating at one-third capacity.
On January 17, 1939, while World War II was in its fifth month on the European continent, the school under the direction of Rev. Brother A. English, celebrated its seventy-fifth birthday. On the 25th, Archbishop Duke of Vancouver said Pontifical High Mass in St. Andrew’s Cathedral, followed by a sermon given by Bishop Murray then of Saskatoon, and Benediction by Bishop Cody. The next day a Jubilee Concert was presented by the boys of the College. After the concert, Bishop Murray and Cody attended a Reunion Banquet for nearly three-hundred past pupils and friends.
During the remaining four years of Brother English’s term, little was accomplished because of the war. There were two notable exceptions, however; first, the formation of two Canadian football teams in October of 1940, which brought the Victoria High School Alumni Cup to the College for two years in succession; and second, the hoisting of a six foot statue of the school’s patron saint, high up into a niche in the front facade of the school; where it remains to this day. Following this the school was sought by the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precaution) and from there on was used as a first-aid post until the end of the war.
The Centenary of the founding of the Christian Brothers of Ireland was duly commemorated by the Brothers, under Brother English in 1944. A Pontifical Mass was celebrated by his Excellency Bishop Cody with Father A. Leonard, an alumnus of St. Louis College preaching the sermon.
The later forties were slow years for St. Louis College, ones devoted to building up the high caliber of achievement that was enjoyed before the war. In 1946, the school social was commenced becoming so popular that it began to be a bi-weekly affair. This year saw the loss of principal and Bishop, as Rev. Brother Power was succeeded by Rev. Brother F C. Carroll, and Bishop Cody was succeeded by Bishop Hill. In 1948, the students wrote public examinations for the first time. During this year the Kiwanis Safety Patrol was organized. In 1951, Brother Carroll began casting for ideas for a new building to house the Brothers and relieve the crowded condition of the College. Plans for securing a prefabricated army hut fell through. The possibility of a penthouse on top of the building was investigated and rejected. Then began the rounds of the real estate companies. Brother Carroll’s health began to suffer, and a new principal, Rev. Brother Lyons, took office in October, 1951. Brother Lyons completed arrangements for the purchase of a house at 959 Balmoral Road within forty yards of the school. The Brothers now reside in this building.
For the next six years the school enjoyed the fine leadership of Brother Lyons. A notable accomplishment of his term was the founding of the Alumni Association in April of 1952. On April 17th, 1955, the Brothers celebrated the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the Christian Brothers in Victoria to teach at historic St. Louis College. Them in 1958, Brother Lyons was succeeded by Rev. Brother J.B. O’Keefe. Nothing needs to be said about the achievements of Brother O’Keefe. The school as it is today says all there is to say about the sacrifices of this man in producing good Catholics and Canadians.
Today the staff is headed by Rev. Brother J.B. Clarkson, the College’s first native-born principal. The school is under the patronage of Bishop Remi de Roo, who succeeded the late Bishop Hill. There are about 385 students in regular attendance at the school, the high school register containing 160 names.
Now the school is a century old. One hundred years many institutions, organizations, and individuals have reached this venerable age, but few can look back with more pride of good accomplished and service rendered than St. Louis College. In glancing back over these years, the most striking fact about St. Louis College is the sum of the sacrifices that have gone into its maintenance and success; the sacrifice of the Bishops and Clergy, the teachers and Brothers, and the sacrifices of the people.
In 1939, Bishop Murray said of the school: This was an institution erected because conscience dictated its erection. Here was an institution maintained because conscience dictated its maintenance, so that Catholic boys, in each succeeding generation, might receive a complete Christian education.
It would be interesting to know what St. Louis College has cost, not so much in money, as in worry, in self-denial, in hard work to priests, teachers, and the Catholic people. St. Louis was built on Sacrifice. Sacrifice has made possible its continued existence and success.
The record of St. Louis College will forever be in the souls of men it created and in the souls of their children. They will tell their children what is required of them when they take their places because the old school is bound to live, function, and flourish, as long as there are Catholic homes in Victoria, as long as in those homes there are boys to be molded into loyal citizens and fervent Catholics
In these few simple words, Bishop Murray, has expressed the spirit of St. Louis College as it was yesterday, as it is today, and as it will be tomorrow. Nothing I can write could add to this for that will be the job of some student one-hundred years from now, as he sits at a desk in the new St. Louis College. Then he will tell the story of two-hundred years of molding boys into sterling Catholics, Victorians, and Canadians. He alone will be able to count the number of happy homes founded by its boys, he alone will be able to pay tribute to the alumni that have consecrated themselves to God in the sanctuary. When he shows with noble-sounding words the goodness, the charity, the justice, and the co-operation that St. Louis has inspired through its long existence, then the success of the school will be known and the true story of the school written.