Jesuits move offices closer to University of Toronto

By 
  • January 17, 2008

Jesuits are always on the move, but the next move for the Jesuit Fathers of English Canada will concentrate the order's brain trust on the eastern edge of Queen's Park Circle, on the main campus of the University of Toronto.

The Jesuits have struck a deal for two 99-year leases on historic properties which the university owns. Christie Mansion, on the corner of Wellesley Street and Queen's Park Circle will become the new home of Regis College, and 43 Queen's Park Circle, two doors north of Christie Mansion, will house the Jesuit administrative offices, or curia.

The Jesuits sold their old curia at 1325 Bay Street, north of the city's financial district, to a developer in 2006 for $4 million. Regis College, just off Yonge Street and south of Bloor on St. Mary Street, has gone to another developer for an undisclosed sum in a deal that closes in August.

For Regis, the Jesuit graduate faculty of theology and one of the seven colleges which make up the Toronto School of Theology, the move places the college closer to the heart of the university and opens the opportunity to modernize its library and classrooms. For the curia the move forestalls the probability the religious order would eventually be working under the shadow of looming luxury condos, some of which are now under construction.

“The very best thing about it is it puts us in the middle of the U of T campus, and very close to our sister colleges in TST,” said Regis College president Fr. Joseph Schner. “It really takes us from the fringe. We were a little bit off the map on St. Mary Street.”

Regis is consulting with Larkin Architect Ltd. on renovations to the interior of the old Christie Mansion and parts of Fontbonne Hall next door on Wellesley Street. The Jesuits will have classroom space in the basement of Fontbonne Hall and take over the Catholic modernist chapel on the main floor.

“That's going to be really nice, to have a chapel that's dedicated. I think the Sisters are happy – because it's a really beautiful chapel – that it will continue to be used as a chapel,” Schner said.

Fontbonne Hall and Christie Mansion were two of three properties that the Sisters of St. Joseph formerly owned along Wellesley between Bay Street and Queen's Park Circle. The other was St. Joseph's College, an all-girls high school which the Sisters sold to the Toronto Catholic District School Board in 2007.

It was the Sisters of St. Joseph who urged the University of Toronto to lease Christie Mansion and Fontebonne Hall to the Jesuits, said the university's vice president of business affairs.

“The Sisters were interested in the idea of maintaining a Catholic presence on that site,” Cathy Rigall told The Catholic Register. “The Jesuits and Regis College have had a connection to the university through the Toronto School of Theology for many years, so there was certainly no objection from our point of view.”

Regis will share Fontbonne Hall with the graduate Faculty of Music, the Faculty of Information Technology and the University of Toronto Law School.

In addition to being more central to the university, Regis is looking forward to developing contacts with the major hospitals and the Ontario Ministry of Health which surround the new location. Working with the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute at St. Michael's College, the Jesuit theologians at Regis hope to fashion a program of seminars and consulting services that concentrate on the spirituality of Catholic health care, Schner said.

“It's more the spirituality of health care that we see as a real need, not just for the chaplains but for the physicians and the nursing staff,” he said. “We're hoping that bit by bit we will be able to establish some contacts like that and a program.”

There have also been discussions between Regis faculty and the Faculty of Music about presenting concerts at the Fontbonne Hall chapel.

Chirstie Mansion will be the fourth home for Regis College since it first opened as the Jesuit seminary, Collegium Christi Regis, on Wellington Street in 1930. In 1961 the college moved to Bathurst Street in North York and in 1976 moved into its St. Mary Street quarters. With renovations scheduled to begin as soon as possible, Regis plans to be in its new diggs by September 2009.

The Jesuit curia will be in its new offices in August of this year.

“This whole area (Bay Street north of Bloor) is in the process of being developed,” said Jesuit Fr. Len Altilia, the acting provincial superior of the Jesuits in English Canada.

Though the Jesuits have only been at their Bay Street address since 2000, they jumped at the chance to make a deal for the property. If they had held on they might eventually have found their little sliver of real estate would eventually become unsaleable once the area came to be dominated by large condos, Altilia said.

“There's no profit in holding onto the building and finding ourselves overwhelmed by giant condos,” he said.

Always with an eye to the future, a portion of the funds from the sale of the curia has been set aside in a trust to ensure the Jesuits have money to buy another property once the lease with the University of Toronto runs out in the 22nd century. It is unusual for religious orders to lease rather than own their headquarters, but the Jesuits aren't in the real estate business, said Altilia.

“It's all about the mission,” he said.

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