History of a Catholic Girls’ Day and Boarding School, 1865-1970. The Religious and Educational Achievement of the Loretto Sisters

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This study revises the existing body of historical research by examining the critical role of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s (IBVM) in the process of establishing convent schooling in Hamilton, Canada West, in 1865. Without the diligent work of women, and in particular that of the Loretto Sisters, the history of higher education of Hamilton girls in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries would have been markedly different. This work adds to our understanding of nineteenth and twentieth-century education by examining the experiences of those students and teachers who participated in the day-to-day life of Loretto Hamilton.


“Dr. Lei’s book chronicles the history of a Loretto school over a century. Through her analysis of primary and secondary sources, Lei creates a finely textured portrait of the teachers, the pupils and curriculum delivered within Loretto Hamilton. Although the school closed in 1970, Lei demonstrates that the influence of the teaching sisters and their pupils across an array of social, political, cultural and religious networks that continues to be felt today.” – Prof. Elizabeth Smyth, University of Toronto

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Elizabeth Smyth
1. Introduction: “When You Educate a Boy You Educate a Man, But When You Educate a Girl, You Educate a Family”
Lorreto Hamilton in Context
Ward’s Initial Plans for Her Institute
Ward’s Second Plan for Her Institute
Ward’s Final Plan
The Problem of Enclosure
Growth of the Institute
The Growth of Ward’s Institute After Her Death
Papal Approbation: The Institute of Mary (1703)
The Establishment of the IBVM in North America
The Loretto Sisters in Hamilton
2. Loretto Hamilton: The Historiographical Context
Historiography of Mary Ward
Literature on the IBVM
Literature on Women Religious in North America
Literature on Convent Schooling in North America
Literature on the History of Loretto Hamilton, 1865-1970
Literature on the History of Irish Catholic Women in Ontario
3. “The Daughters of Mary Ward”
The Lives of Three Loretto Sisters at Loretto Hamilton
Ethnic Origin of the IBVM
Admission to the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Teacher Certification
The IBVM and the Bishops
Life Histories
Life History of Sister Victorine O’Meara
Life History of Sister Evarista Page
Life Histories of Lay Sisters at Loretto Hamilton
4. “...Higher Education Is a Must for Women”: The Loretto Academy Curriculum, 1865-1970
Religious Education
Secular Education
The Arts
Physical Education
Extracurricular Subjects
The Hidden Curriculum
Specialized/Supplementary Classes
Vocational Training
5. You Could Always Pick out the Loretto Girl”: Student Experiences at Loretto Academy, Hamilton, 1915-1970
Reasons for Attending Loretto
Reasons for Leaving Loretto
Socio-Economic Backgrounds of the Students
Boarders’ Experiences at Loretto Hamilton
Day Students’ Experiences at Loretto Hamilton
Converts to Catholicism
Considering Religious Life
Students’ Recollections of Their Most Memorable Teachers
6. “A Sense of Peace”: Material Culture at Loretto Hamilton: 1865-1970
Site and Location
The Second Wing: 1897-1933
The Third Wing: 1933-1970
Internal Structure and Adornments
The Kitchen and Dining Room
Post 1933
Student Memories of the Loretto Hamilton Buildings
7. “Financially Starved Out of Existence After Well Over a Century of Dedicated Service to the Community”: The Closing of Loretto Hamilton, 1970
Learnings from Loretto Hamilton
Learnings from the Loretto Sisters
Appendix One – Letter of Informed Consent: Loretto Hamilton
Appendix Two – Questionnaire: Loretto Hamilton
Appendix Three – Letter of Informed Consent
Appendix Four – List of Interviewees
Selected Bibliography

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