From College to University: The Basilian Fathers and Assumption, 1950-1963

By Meehan, Peter M. | Historical Studies, Annual 1998 | Go to article overview

From College to University: The Basilian Fathers and Assumption, 1950-1963


Meehan, Peter M., Historical Studies


"The University of Windsor is a False Assumption." These words, emblazoned on a banner, greeted returning students to the University of Windsor in 1964. Perplexing to some, this sentiment held deep significance to the Basilian Fathers and their supporters as it bitterly expressed their failed effort to maintain a truly independent Catholic university. From 1950 to 1963, Assumption College and then Assumption University was in the midst of a monumental transformation. Assumption began this period as an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario, claimed autonomous status as a college with university powers, and finally achieved its much anticipated status as Assumption University of Windsor. The goal once achieved proved unsustainable. As one of its future presidents would remark, "partly by choice and partly by circumstance, a metamorphosis saw Assumption change from a self sufficient institution to a `Catholic College on Campus.' " (1)

Assumption College was originally a Jesuit creation on the grounds of Assumption Church, the first Catholic mission in Upper Canada. (2) After opening its doors to students on 10 February 1857, the Jesuits decided in August of that year that they would be unable to continue staffing the college. (3) On the advice of his counterpart in Toronto, Bishop Pierre-Adolph Pinsoneault of London turned to the Basilian Fathers, a French order strictly dedicated to pre-formation and scholastic instruction, for help. (4) Beginning with the Superiorship of Fr. Denis O'Connor (the future Archbishop of Toronto) in 1870, the Basilians began to entrench and consolidate their purposes in Windsor. With increased demand for a Catholic college for lay students, the Basilian school expanded from a minor seminary, offering lay undergraduate instruction as an affiliate of Western University, later the University of Western Ontario. By a 1919 affiliation agreement, the college became a member of the larger university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and began to concentrate on molding "as many students as possible into integral human beings, oriented to God and to a right conception of society." (5) Assumption College thrived in this environment, and enjoyed all of the benefits of connection with a larger and more established university.

The administrative years of Assumption College President Fr. J.H. O'Loane and his First Councilor, Dean and Vice President Fr. E.C. LeBel began a period of unrest for Assumption in its affiliation with Western, starting in 1946. (6) Of particular concern to Fr. O'Loane were returning veterans to the Windsor area at this time, who were causing an intolerable lack of space at Assumption. Fr. LeBel was set the task of investigating the potential for new growth potential in the near future. His report, "Brief Facts of Civic Importance Pertaining to Assumption College," (7) outlined the realities that would face Assumption in the midst of a burgeoning Windsor. His estimates for 1947 foresaw an additional 1,200 men and women per year that would come to depend on Assumption for their educational needs, well beyond the capacity enrollment of 1,250. He considered these needs to have been "far too great, far too sudden and far too violent to be met gradually in the normal manner." (8) LeBel began to make his case for at least an expanded version of the college to accommodate the expected post-war demand.

As Assumption entered the period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, it became evident that spatial problems were only the "tip of the iceberg" with regard to its difficulties. Fearful of the increasingly defensive position Western's affiliate colleges were forced into upon G. Edward Hall's presidency, the Basilians began to take stock of Assumption's long standing affiliation with the larger university. (9) Surely independence and autonomy in a university setting would be desired; Assumption had thrived as an independent institution under Basilian control for almost fifty years before affiliation with Western. …

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