Think clearly. Speak your Mind.

St. Mary’s College and the Gesù

The Gésù has served for over 100 years (1865-1969) as the Chapel and the Auditorium of St. Mary’s College, founded in 1848 by Fr. Félix Martin, S.J. The College was intended to be a modern Montreal version of the famous Jesuit College, founded in Quebec City in 1635, which had introduced the renowned cours classique (Classical Studies) to New France.

The Ratio Studiorum, the Jesuit educational system, goes back to the days of Saint Ignatius Loyola. It aimed to educate the whole person: not only mind but also the integrity and good health of both body and soul–all this to help the student live his life “for the greater glory of God.”

This Jesuit curriculum relied on the classical literature of ancient Greece and Rome as well as on the pedagogical practices arising out of the Christian humanism of the Renaissance. In 1840, the Ratio was up-dated for the 19th century just before the return of the Jesuits to Canada in 1842.

The Ratio imposed quality time devoted to team sports and to the development of public speaking—as much, in fact, as to religious practice. By the early 1860s, the need became obvious both for a larger chapel and a larger academic hall or theatre. The Church of the Gesù was ready for Christmas 1865, and the 300-seat Theatre Auditorium a year later in 1866.

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"A Well-Rounded Mind"

It has been said of St. Mary’s College in Montreal that it was unique—unlike any other institution in the city. It began as a fully bilingual institution (the only one to ever have offered in English the whole eight years prescribed by the Ratio). It became unilingual Latin for a time and, after 1896, unilingual French. The content of the programme also evolved, especially in the 1880s when the study of French classical literature was introduced and, later, when the study of modern languages such as German and Italian were added to the curriculum. Later still, chemistry and physics laboratories were added, as well as an observatory.

During a five year period (1852-57), there was an English-language business course and, for 16 years (1851-67), a Law School. Despite a few minor alterations, the eight year Classical Studies programme remained true to itself.

Thus the St. Mary’s “well rounded mind” was established for generations of students. From the seven who enrolled in 1848, to the 2,700 in 1968, when the Royal Commission chaired by Msgr. Alphonse-Marie Parent recommended fundamental changes to higher education in Quebec. These changes and the founding of the University of Quebec at Montreal brought on the decision by the Jesuits to close the College in 1969 and to have the building demolished in 1975.