Little Sparrow

Have written about my great-aunt before. Then found a history of the Department of French at St. Michael’s College, by Mariel O’Neill Karch, where my great-aunt is remembered as follows:

During the thirties, several new professors joined the staff, though not all of them were to be heard in Teefy Hall, since several were nuns, still segregated in their respective women’s colleges. Two of them taught at St Joseph’s. Sister St. Peter (Marie-Joseph-Ernestine Gravel) had received her BA from St Michael’s and her MA from the University of Toronto, before entering the novitiate of the Sisters of St Joseph of Toronto in July 1928. After a few years in the high school division, Sister St Peter taught for the college French Department.

Sister Marie-Thérèse (Blanche Valérie La Rochelle) was so gentle and self-effacing that generations of students saw her as a little sparrow and affectionately called her “Twit,” all the more surprising when one reads in the 1923 yearbook that when she was a student at St Joseph’s, Blanche La Rochelle had participated in a debate in Trinity Convocation Hall. “St Hilda’s went down to defeat under the powerful arguments of Misses Louise Gibbons of Loretto, and Blanche La Rochelle of St Joseph’s, for the affirmative of ‘Resolved that Canada and the United States should co-operate in opening a passage way for ocean going vessels from the Atlantic to Duluth.’”. Blanche La Rochelle’s strong defence of the proposed St Lawrence Seaway helped the women of St Michael’s College win the Intercollegiate Debating Trophy in 1924. The young “A” student chose, however, to enter St Joseph’s novitiate and was sent to the Ontario College of Education. After a few years at St Joseph’s College School, Sister Marie-Thérèse began teaching in the college division. At the same time she earned her MA and in 1944 her PhD from the University of Toronto, with a thesis entitled “Fénelon as an Educator,” making her the first female professor in the St Michael’s College French Department to hold a doctoral degree in French. The University of Toronto Sesquicentennial Long-Service Award, which she received in 1977, states that “many students still remember Sister Marie-Thérèse for her photographic memory, her solid grasp of her material, and her constant concern for those she taught.” These qualities fitted her well for the roles she played towards the end of her time at St Michael’s College, first as undergraduate secretary of the combined departments of French and, after her official retirement, as a tireless assistant to the then-chair, Richard B. Donovan.

Some legacies being both large and modest.


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