Saint Michael’s College High School, my alma mater, celebrated 100 years of hockey last Saturday at one of Toronto’s premier venues, the Liberty Grand on the grounds of the Exhibition.
As usual for the new SMC (It went private 20 years ago and costs an arm and a leg to go there now) it was first cabin all the way, beautifully organized with students greeting you at the door and looking after your every need.A grand reception before dinner and then an excellent meal.
And then there was “the royalty”, all those St.Mike’s guys who are in the Hockey Hall of Fame–interviewed on the big screen. For Canadians to whom hockey has a privileged place in our culture, this was the place to be and the autograph hounds were buzzing around their heroes who graciously accomodated them.
There was much ado about a “a Basilian education” and plenty of deserved encomiums to the order. It’s been an interesting century and a half since the order arrived from France to pick the struggling Irish off the streets of a bigoted Tory ice box called Toronto. It’s largely an unknown story about the French nobleman bishop Armand de Charbonnel who quickly read the lay of the land in the city in 1850 and immediately screamed help. And help arrived-the Basilians, the Christian Brothers, the Loretto Sisters and the St. Joe’s all came within a few years to establish schools.His story is worth encapsulating here before I get to the 100 years of hockey.
Charbonnel had worked with the Montreal Irish from 1840-1847 and like Toronto bishop Michael Power, had fallen ill with typhus. Power never recovered and died in 1837. Charbonnel returned to France to recuperate. By 1850 the Catholic hierarchy implored Pius lX to send him back. He had originally left France to escape being made bishop (how refreshing that is in this age of careerism). Now he could not refuse.
His problems were monumental. In 1855 he laid it all out:
Protestantism reigns supreme in the diocese of Toronto, powerful, rich and zealous; it has at its beck and call, landed property, business and labour…meanwhile the Bishop of Toronto is insulted in the streets of this city, and in several counties here have been different attempts on the lives of missionaries.
The famine Irish were reviled daily.The Globe under George Brown had a field day at their expense: Irish beggars are to be met everywhere and they are ignorant, vicious as they are poor.They are lazy, improvident and unthankful; they fill our poor houses and our prisons and are as brutish in their superstition as the Hindoos… Feb 11, 1858
Charbonnel’s response was an internal migration to a parallel society.
Is there something to be learned by Catholic reactionaries today about the Islamophobia many have adopted after 9/11? More next time.