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Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse
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Dates of existence
The third Mother House for the Sisters of St. Joseph in London was in the former Hellmuth Ladies’ College, built by Bishop Isaac Hellmuth. This ladies’ college had 140 pupils with 100 of them boarders, including Charlotte Johnson, sister of poet Pauline Johnson. It was formally opened on Sept. 23, 1869 by HRH Prince Arthur, third son of Queen Victoria who became 10th Governor General of Canada. Hellmuth Ladies’ College stood like a stately home of England in a park with the city in the distance and country all around. There were Venetian glass doors, chandeliers, polished floors, wide corridors and a broad staircase. Ann Mills was the first principal of Hellmuth College from 1869-1872, and a chapel built in 1877 named St. Anne’s chapel in her honor stood on a summit to the left of the driveway.
Sadly, Hellmuth Ladies’ College went bankrupt and the Sisters purchased the property on June 10, 1899, opening their residence, novitiate and orphanage and renaming it Mount St. Joseph The formal opening took place on April 29, 1900. A procession several miles long including school children, clergy and church members made their way to the grounds from the Bishop’s palace and church for this grand occasion. Mount St. Joseph was both a convent and home for school-aged orphans until the Sisters moved to Sacred Heart Convent in 1914. After this, the building was used solely as an orphanage, with infants and pre-school children also cared for. The orphanage eventually stopped taking infants who were moved to St. Joseph’s Hospital Children’s Dept. Orphan children over two years of age were moved to Fontbonne Hall on Queens Avenue in 1953, and in 1967 Madame Vanier Services took over the care of the children. St. Anne’s chapel was torn down in 1925, and its bricks used to make repairs on the main building after a fire in 1925. A new chapel, also named St. Anne’s chapel, was built by the Sisters in 1909 and later demolished in 1976.
The need for a new Mother House for the Sisters living at Sacred Heart Convent was apparent by 1940, when a building committee was formed, presided over by Reverend Mother Constance Dunn. Eventually, a new building was designed and planned by Reverend Mother Margaret Coughlin. The sod turning took place on October 15, 1950, and construction began on October 21, 1951, with the building of a new chapel, Immaculate Conception chapel, beginning on January 3, 1953. The professed sisters moved to the old Hellmuth Ladies’ College building from Sacred Heart Convent on September 23, 1953, and the Generalate and Novitiate moved to the completed wings of the new building on November 3, 1953. The formal opening was on June 20, 1954, attended by Bishop John C. Cody and 5,000 members of the public. The new Mother House was also named Mount St. Joseph.
Mount St. Joseph overlooks the Thames River. It is constructed of limestone with wood-trim in a grey-green shade. The central tower with its simple cross can be seen for miles, and extending from this tower are the wings of the building. It took two years and eight months to build. The architects were Watt and Tillman of London, and the General Contractor was Anglin-Norcross Ontario Ltd. The marble for the Immaculate Conception Chapel was supplied by T. Carli-Petrucci Ltd. Of Montreal, the woodwork by Globe Furniture Co. of Waterloo, and the marble and terrazzo in the main entrance on first floor main corridors by V. D’Ambrosio & Co. Ltd., Toronto.
The building had reception parlours with crystal chandeliers from the old Mount St. Joseph (Hellmuth Ladies’ College) building, a library, a reception hall with marble pillars, floor and walls. The mosaic ceiling of the chapel was designed by Count Alexander Svobodo, a member of the Conn Arts Studio in Toronto. The floor, walls and columns are of marble, as is the altar which is a solid piece of green St. Denis marble weighing 4,600 pounds. The kneelers and statues are also of marble. The stained-glass windows in the nave and sanctuary were made in Florence Italy and designed by Rodolfo Fanfani of the firm Guido Polloni. The organ is a Casavant two-manual organ, first installed at Sacred Heart Convent. It was rebuilt and slightly enlarged upon installation in the new chapel in 1953.
The grounds, landscaped by Gordon Culham, contain many beautiful trees and shrubs and a rose garden, as well as a playing field and four tennis courts. The grotto on the south end of the grounds is a replica of the grotto at Lourdes. It was built in 1954 by parishioners of Kingsbridge led by their pastor, Fr Henri Van Vynckt. It has a reproduction of the statue of Our Lady based on the original at Lourdes, and a statue of the kneeling figure of St. Bernadette. It contains stones from each of grottoes of the world in its stonework (Lourdes, Fatima, La Salette). Separated from the grotto by a small bridge, was Medaille House which opened in 1969, and was used for retreats.
The former Mount St. Joseph (Hellmuth Ladies’ College) building served several purposes after the orphanage was moved. A Kindergarten and pre-kindergarten ran from 1954 to 1975 for ages 4-6 years in the basement of its chapel for children who lived outside London. The building was renamed Fatima Hall High School and Aspirancy in 1957. This initiative was started by Mother Margaret Coughlin in London and at Edmonton Regional House. The Aspirancy provided spiritual and academic education for girls interested in religious life in grades 9-12 - ran from 1957 to 1967. The building also housed laundry and maintenance facilities.
In 1955, the second, third and fourth floors were added to the Novitiate wing. From 1958 to 1959, a new Academy wing and the east wing of the Juniorate were added. In 1961, there were fourth floor additions to the southeast and northeast wings. In 1968, Ignatia Hall wing was opened as an infirmary and residence for the senior sisters. It also housed Generalate offices and the Medaille Program Centre, which was located on the ground floor.
A music school had started at Sacred Heart Convent in the early 1920s. With the move to the new Mount St. Joseph, this music school fell under the principalship of Sr. Callistus Arnsby, and was renamed St. Joseph’s School of Music. Three music studios were set up in the old Mount St. Joseph (Hellmuth Ladies’ College) building and later moved to the new building. The music school taught to the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music exam requirements and gave piano, violin, singing and music theory lessons. It amalgamated with the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music on the university campus in 1982.
The girls’ school which had been at Sacred Heart Convent moved to Mount St. Joseph in 1953, and to its own new wing in 1958. The school was both a boarding and day school. Known as Mount St. Joseph Academy, it provided education to over 3,000 young women until it closed in 1985.
In 1975, patients and their relatives from the transplant program at University Hospital were given accommodation at Mount St. Joseph. After the Academy closed, the third and fourth floor of its wing became known as the Guest Wing, accommodating up to 75 guests who could take meals in the Sisters’ dining room. The wing also was used for St. Joseph’s Health Care Centre. The Guest Wing program closed in 2005.
On April 20 1976, the old Mount St. Joseph (Hellmuth Ladies’ College) building demolition began. Ellis Don Construction completed work on a new laundry, maintenance facilities and pool on Feb. 22, 1977. The pool was used by the Ursulines, Seminarians, Sisters, Academy students, and patients from St. Mary’s Hospital.
On December 8, 2005, the property was sold to Ivest Properties and London Property Corporation and leased to Retirement Residences Real Estate Trust (REIT).
London, Ontario 1953-2007
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is the owner of
Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse
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Dates of creation, revision and deletion
November 16, 2018