Brescia is grateful to the Ursuline Sisters of Chatham, Ontario who had the wisdom, vision and foresight to create a university where women could learn, grow and lead. In recognition of our Centennial year, and a century of women leading, we are honoured to share 100 facts about our foundresses, the Ursuline Sisters.
To learn more about the Ursuline Sisters of Chatham, their mission and ongoing commitment to social justice and their community, visit ursulines.org
1. When the Ursulines were in the process of purchasing Brescia’s 40 acres of land, the original Brescia classes were held at The Pines in Chatham from 1919 – 1920.
2. The original Brescia class was comprised of seven students.
3. Brescia’s first classes had to only pay a tuition fee of $50 per student.
4. Classes were set to move from the Pines to London in 1920, but construction on what is now Ursuline Hall was not yet complete, so the Sisters purchased and taught at a residence on 556 Wellington Street on October 5.
5. The original house on Wellington Street, called Brescia Hall, was purchased for $19,000 and could hold 20 people.
6. There were 19 students registered for the 1920 – 1921 term, which included the original seven students.
7. The woman often credited for “starting it all” in 1919 was Mother Clare Gaukler, who served as Brescia’s Superior General from 1915 – 1933.
8. In 1921, student rules dictated that students were to study between 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. at which time the lights went out – Saturday and Sunday excluded.
9. Brescia’s first formal scholarship was given by Sir Philip Pocock in the 1920’s.
10. In 1921, rules dictated that everyone except seniors had to be in the College by 6 p.m. every night – seniors had until 8:30 p.m. once each week.
11. “Although I never met Mother Saint James in person, I did experience her kindness and love shortly after I entered the Ursulines. The year before I entered, I took my Grade 13 at Corpus Christi High School (now called Brennan) in Windsor. Towards the end of the year, Mother Gerald, our Principal, suggested I apply for a scholarship to Brescia. At the end of the summer, I received a very kind letter from Mother Saint James, who at this time had only a few short months to live. She warmly congratulated me for winning a scholarship and assured me that it would be kept for me for when I would attend Brescia one day.” – Sr. Mary Frances
12. In the early days at Brescia, rules dictated that students had to wear hats when travelling downtown, a gown to lectures and a gown with a white collar to Mass.
13. In 1921, student rules dictated that no gentlemen were allowed to visit student rooms (except parents).
14. Brescia produced its first seven graduates in 1923.
15. In the early years, the Ursulines regularly consulted with Bishop Fallon of London for important institutional decisions.
16. Brescia’s “Preliminary” program originated in 1923, where the Ursulines opened classes in Math, English, Latin and French.
17. In 1923, the Ursulines purchased the 48 acre farm next to their new land from the Pringle Family for $18,000.
18. Mother Clare was a serious and accomplished artist in several media – Mother St. James and several other Sisters followed in these footsteps as well.
19. In the early days of Brescia, the sisters only had 30 minutes of recreation time – other time was spent preparing for classes, marking papers, going to daily Mass, managing the land and of course looking after students.
20. Ursuline Hall was created by architects, Pennington and Boyde of Windsor. They created plans for a $250,000 stone structure – big enough to accommodate at least 70 students.
21. Construction began on Ursuline Hall in 1923, and the University College opened in 1924.
22. Mother St. Anne discovered early in the Ursuline Hall construction days that the steps were too high. The steps had to be taken down and rebuilt.
23. In 1924, the London police received a prank call from someone informing police that a murder had been committed at Brescia’s first location on 556 Wellington Street.
24. In August 1925, five sisters were the first to officially move into Ursuline Hall.
25. On September 21, 1925, construction was nearly finished and 39 students finally registered at Brescia Hall (now known as Ursuline Hall).
26. In 1925, the 39 students were taught by four teaching sisters – Mother St. Anne, Mother St. James Hickey, Mother Marie and Sister Bonaventure.
27. In the 1920’s, students paid $300 to attend and live at Brescia for the year.
28. In 1925, while in Rome in the Holy Year, Mother Clare saw a set of iron antique gates in Venice – which she immediately bought and had shipped to Brescia. These gates are still used in Ursuline Hall.
29. The Ursulines often lived off the land, which included tending to animals, such as managing a chicken coop, called “St. Joseph’s Villa”.
30. In 1925, five Brescia students or past students had become sisters – exemplifying the sense of community that came from Brescia.
31. To feed Brescia’s students and faculty, many acres of Brescia’s land were dedicated to farm production, including: tomatoes, vegetables, fodder crops for pigs and cows, corn and wheat.
32. In 1925, while in Rome in the Holy Year, Mother Clare purchased several replicas of classical oil paintings to adorn Brescia’s walls – some of these still remain in Ursuline Hall to this day.
33. Brescia’s Alumnae Association began in 1927 by Mother St. Anne, Dean of that time.
34. In Brescia’s early days, Mother Clare was particularly concerned that the students have an opportunity to live among things of beauty.
35. Until 1928, the Ursuline Sisters were the only faculty teaching at Brescia.
36. In the 1920’s, the Ursulines installed a regulation which stated, “No student may go automobile-riding with a gentleman.”
37. In April 1928, Euripides “Alkestis” was performed at Brescia as open air theatre.
38. Scholarships were always very important at Brescia. In the very early days of Brescia, Mother Clare would notice when a student’s situation became impossible and would quietly reduce her fees.
39. Although Brescia’s first class was all Catholic, there were no religious requirements to be a Brescia student – with the Ursulines open to women of all faiths.
40. Ursuline Sisters designed their teaching intentions to shape the character of their students as well as to present accurate content on subject matters – stressing general moral and intellectual training.
41. Mother Saint James passionately believed in dramatic training for her students and wrote many plays beginning in the 1920’s.
42. Mother St. Anne Lachance was Brescia’s first Dean from 1920 – 1930.
43. The first international female to graduate from a Canadian University was Rosalina Saez, who graduated from Brescia in 1935.
44. “I remember throughout my time of teaching French Literature how talented some of my students were in acting out scenes from the plays and novels we would be reading at the time. They would have the ‘audience’, that is, the rest of the class and me, just howling with laughter. The students waiting in the hall outside our classroom for the next class just couldn’t wait to come in and see what was making us laugh so much.” – Sr. Mary Frances
45. Attention to environmental beauty is a longstanding tradition with the Ursuline Order, which is why Brescia’s green and lush campus is always lovingly maintained.
46. Brescia Ball began in January 1938 and was chaperoned by the Ursuline Sisters.
47. In the 1930’s, thousands of trees (literally!) were planted on Brescia’s campus.
48. Sister St. Michael Guinan discussed that the College tried to create “a non-threatening atmosphere in which to develop human potential, confidence and the ability to communicate… to keep the good old along with the new.”
49. In 1943, new student rules included a regulation that students must wear stockings and were not allowed to wear slacks, ski pants and bandanas.
50. If students broke any rules between 1921 – 1943 they were met by penalties of “compussing”, i.e. grounded.
51. Starting in 1944, Brescia’s Home Economics students would put on a fashion show at the end of the year.
52. In 1945, students in residence were invited to sign a promise to abstain from drinking any intoxicating drinks during the school year – this only lasted a few years.
53. In the early days, Brescia had pride that their students became “good wives and mothers, and civic and cultural leaders.”
54. In 1945, the once long and winding road from Western Rd to Ursuline Hall was straightened to make the walk easier for students, faculty and staff.
55. Construction commenced on Brescia’s Holy Family Wing on November 17, 1948.
56. Although Brescia has always been Canada’s only women’s university, after WW2 Mother Clare Rosier took on teaching conversational French to several French aviators – who were in London for airport training by NATO.
57. By 1950, in efforts to guide the new generation of students, the College developed a programme of counselling to bring a personal awareness concerning decisions about conduct and character.
58. Due to a spike in enrollment after the Second World War, the Ursulines knew they had to expand the College, so they made plans to build the Holy Family Wing – which became complete in 1950. This wing will hold Brescia’s food labs until September 2019.
59. In the post-war years, the Ursuline Sisters would attend Laval, Notre Dame, Cornell, University of Detroit and elsewhere in efforts to receive their M.A. or Ph.D.
60. Sister St. Michael Guinan founded the Lecture League in 1953, which organized approximately 10 speakers a year to speak to students about important issues. This lecture series lasted 20 years at Brescia.
61. In the 1950’s, Brescia’s designated smoking lounge was called “The Puffin.”
62. In post-war days, the Ursuline Sisters also began teaching at Western, King’s, Huron and at St. Peter’s.
63. Mother St. James Hickey, Dean of Brescia in 1939 – 1945 and 1947 – 1956, wrote and staged dramas frequently at the University.
64. In 1954, the Ursuline sisters of Brescia invited members of the London community at large to form an Advisory Board – now known as the Brescia Board of Trustees.
65. Mother Borgia was an assistant Superior, who managed the budget and was a curfew enforcer – because of this the Western Gazette called her the “Best Bouncer in Town.”
66. In 1954, Brescia Preps came into existence. This was a series of high school girls’ clubs whose members were invited to visit Brescia on special occasions.
67. In September 1955, Brescia’s Dean, Mother St. James Hickey was bestowed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for her long-service as a respected, beloved teacher and loyal servant of her order and college.
68. Antioch Retreat Weekends were organized by two spiritual directors – a Brescia sister & one of the Basilian Chaplains on campus. These were offered to students at the Michaelite Fathers’ place outside of London.
69. While Western cancelled the Preliminary program in 1956, the Ursulines believed in the spirit and mission of the program – and so it continues to this day.
70. “In her rule, Saint Angela, the foundress of the Ursulines, encouraged us to be like mothers to our students. When a student was ill or needed an encouraging word from someone who could replace her mother for a short time, there was always an Ursuline who was ready to fill this role. We always tried to be kind to our students and to love all of them equally without showing preference for one more than for the others.” – Sr. Mary Frances
71. In the 1950’s, students in financial need could get “Help Scholarships” by doing such chores as setting the table, doing dishes and managing the switchboard.
73. In June 1961 the University’s registration numbers were so large that the Ursulines had to purchase Mary Manor to help house some of the students and sisters.
74. Brescia produced much of its own food until 1962 – when Beaver Foods Company was contracted.
75. Brescia changed their name from Brescia Hall to Brescia College in 1963 to clear up confusion the general public had around the University only being a residence and not a learning institution.
76. The Mother St. James Building, named after Mother St. James Hickey, was created to accommodate the growing student population and their needs in 1963.
77. The Oak Room of Ursuline Hall was once the school’s main and only Library until 1963.
78. In 1964, to help raise revenue for scholarships, the Alumnae Association sponsored a puppet show by a travelling group – where guests had to pay $0.25 for admission.
79. In March 1964, His Excellency, Bishop G. Emmett, in his first official act as Bishop of London blessed the St. James Memorial Building at its opening ceremonies.
80. The Brescia and King’s shuttle bus began making trips in 1965.
81. From 1965 – 1969, Brescia and King’s shared a joint Board of Directors.
82. In 1966, the Ursuline sisters took an official “Day Off to Think” about the goals of the College – which then became an annual event.
83. Sister Corona was passionate about puppetry, and in the 1950’s and 1960’s would have students perform farcical Shakespearean plays with puppets.
85. Brescia had a curfew on all students in Residence until 1969.
86. In Brescia’s early history, its students annually joined a Sodality, where they would be encouraged to focus on and model themselves after Mary, Mother of Christ. Every December, students would be formally received into this society, wearing a blue ribbon with a Sodality medal and a white veil. Sodality ended in the ‘60’s.
87. The Marie Rosier Wing, built in 1971, was designed to house 34 students, two dons and three laboratories.
88. Prior to 1972, Brescia’s Principal was called “Dean.”
89. Brescia first accepted male students into its Preliminary Year program in 1972. Today, in 2019, this program has the largest enrollment to date.
90. In the 1970’s, as Brescia’s student population continued to grow, the Ursulines began thinking “how big is too big?”
They wanted to ensure that every student should know she belonged and none should feel all at sea in a large intuition.
91. In 1974, Brescia pioneered a program where persons over 60 years of age could take courses, for credit, towards a degree or for interest, without charge.
92. In 1976, Brescia student Margaret O’Grady became the first woman President of the Western University Student Council.
93. Brescia students were originally not permitted to use the marble staircase – the only exception was for graduation photos and Brescia Ball.
94. When Sr. Maq Marie-Anne Quenneville taught at Brescia, senior people often attended her Religious Studies classes, especially her Senior Course in “Personal dimensions of Religious Experience”.
95. In 1982, after an unexplained absence, the Ursuline Hall 16th century European door knocker was quietly and anonymously returned to campus. The Ursulines asked no questions and reattached it to the front door where it remains today.
96. “Over a period of several years, both in Ursuline Hall and in Clare Hall, the dining hall was the setting for ‘The Supper Club’, which became a ‘family’ time where our resident students and I looked forward to sharing the events of the day. During the supper hour, we would discuss what had happened that day and enjoy a laugh over some of the events, in addition to sharing photos of friends and family and even photos of family pets. This helped everyone to relax and all of us were ready to return to work when supper was over.” – Sr. Mary Frances
97. Brescia’s labyrinth was created in 2001 and was intended for guests to walk there in retreat and meditation.
98. In 2001, Sr. Theresa Mahoney, Brescia Chaplain at the time, in keeping with the University’s inclusive values, encouraged the College to create a special prayer space for the use of Muslim students.
99. In 1961, Mary Manor became a student house. In 2005, it was converted into faculty offices and finally in 2007 it was transformed into CultureWorks.
100. Brescia’s main building, Ursuline Hall, wasn’t named as so until 2006 – as recommended by the Council of Trustees to honour the work of the Ursuline Sisters.
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