December 6, 1921

From the University of St. Michael’s College Yearbook, 1922:

St. Joseph’s Debating Society

On December 6th, the principal debate of the year was held. Hitherto Lillian Massey Hall was used for such purposes, but this time St. Joseph’s had the honour of welcoming McMaster girls to their own Auditorium where a lively debate took place. Miss
Margaret Uren, President of the Women’s Intercollegiate Debating Union, occupied the chair. “Resolve that appeals from Canadian Courts to the Privy Council Should be Abolished,” was the subject discussed, the visiting representatives successfully upholding the affirmative.

Great applause was given Miss Blanche LaRochelle, medalist of Ottawa Collegiate and freshette of St. Joseph’s, whose ability in public speaking is indeed remarkable.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was Federal Election Day, the large hall was filled with enthusiastic students.

The yearbook page, including photo of the St. Joseph’s debating team, may be found here. Blanche LaRochelle is in the front row, at the right.

Blance LaRochelle was my great-aunt. Her classmates from St. Joseph in the Class of 1925 (this being 1921) are shown here, with Blanche LaRochelle being in the back row, second from right. A class of twenty women. A second class, the Loretto class, had eighteen women.

At a time when many did not complete high school and few women went to university, what motivated these women to pursue a post-secondary education? What happened to them afterwards?

I know what happened to Blanche LaRochelle. The medalist from Ottawa Collegiate in Ottawa, now known as Lisgar Collegiate Institute (legislatively established as a public “collegiate institute”, with preparatory courses for university education), joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in Toronto. She adopted the religous name of Sister Marie-Thérèse. Under the auspices of the church, she obtained a doctorate in French from the University of St. Michael’s College, where her thesis was a study of François Fénelon. I’ve not yet read her dissertation, and didn’t even know who Fénelon was, until quite recently.

My great-aunt Blanche was a professor of French and German at St. Michael’s College for over forty years. She completed a doctorate at a time when it was rare for most people, male or female, to attend university at all.

I attended St. Michael’s college from 1970 to 1973, the only member of my extended family to do so, graduating with a degree in General Arts. Aunt Blanche accomplished in four months of university attendance so much more than I did in three years. Three years of less than honourable performance, from the grand-nephew of whom she wanted to be so proud. Yet she always introduced me with a smile, to others anticipating much more than I delivered. After all, I was the grand-nephew of Sr. Marie-Thérèse.

On December 6, 1921, the federal election resulted in the election of a Liberal majority government, commencing William Lyon MacKenzie King’s first period as Prime Minister. It was also an election where the Progressive Party was the Official Opposition, and the Conservative Party the third party; where the beginnings of the Progressive Conservative party are first found.

An equally important event occurred on December 6, 1921. An eighteen year-old young woman from Ottawa, barely four months into her first year of university, elicited great applause from a her fellow students for her debating skills.

She could have become a lawyer. Instead, she became a nun. No uncertainty in the debate.

I dedicated my doctoral dissertation to her.
Postscript, May 27, 2011: If you go to page 18 of this issue of St. Michael’s Alumni Magazine, from November of 2005, you will see that she was a “Sister-Professor” in the Department of French at St. Joseph’s College (part of St. Michael’s College), for over forty years, from 1929 to 1971. Also in this issue is an important portrait of Fr. Gardner, a most important Father to the history of St. Michael’s College, on pp. 12 -15. There is also an acknowledgement that St. Joseph’s College, the academic home of my great-aunt, will cease to exist, as of 2006.


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One Response to December 6, 1921

  1. Sister Mechtilde O’Mara, CSJ comments as follows (reproduced with permission):

    From: []
    Sent: January 7, 2011 12:06 PM
    To: Bruce La Rochelle
    Subject: SMT

    Hi Bruce,

    Your note to Linda Wicks was forwarded to me only recently and I read it with delight. I lived with Sister Marie Therese at St Joseph’s College until she moved to Morrow Park and I have been interested in the history of the congregation. I even taught for three years a course entitled ‘Women, Religion, and the Frontier’ to undergraduates at St Michael’s College. The course concerned the impact of religious women on the history of education, health care, and social services in Canada.

    I knew your great-aunt well and loved her dearly. Her skill at debating was legendary. I remember hearing that she always won any debate in which she participated. As a Sister, she did not engage in arguments, though her preference was often easy to guess. I think that her awareness of her skill in debate kept her from exercising it on her sisters in the community.

    I recognize a couple of others in her class of 1925. Kathleen McNally was later Sister St Armand, principal of St Joseph’s College School in Toronto and a gifted teacher of Physics, Chemistry, and Ancient Greek and Roman History at St Joseph’s High School in St Catharines, Ontario, when I was a student there in the early 1950’s. Three of the Kehoes also entered our congregation, so at least one of those pictured was among them.

    My field of study is Classical Greek and Latin. Although I am officially retired from St Michael’s College, where I was a professor of classics for more than 30 years, I continue to teach Ecclesiastical Latin at the Toronto School of Theology, under the auspices of St Augustine’s Seminary.

    Best wishes for a happy new year.

    Sister Mechtilde O’Mara, CSJ

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