History of St. Peter's Seminary
Founded in 1912 by Bishop Michael Francis Fallon, St. Peter’s Seminary is the major seminary of the Roman Catholic Diocese of London, Ontario.
The outbreak of World War I postponed the original plans for the construction of the seminary and for the first 13 years of its existence, the theology faculty was housed in the Bishop’s Residence (the Rectory of St. Peter’s Basilica at that time).
In 1923, with the cooperation of the University of Western Ontario, the Seminary added a faculty of Philosophy and Arts, to offer its’ students a broader range of undergraduate courses.
Before the Seminary building was erected in 1926 these arts students lived in a separate building from those studying theology in a building on Queen’s Avenue. It has since been torn down.
When St. Peter’s Seminary was built, the property was called “Sunshine Park”, where many a carnival was held on the banks of the Thames River. There were a few houses in the vicinity whose owners were reluctant to sell them to the Diocese/Bishop Fallon. So, they remained for a number of years. The only one house that still remains on our property is the one at the entrance to the driveway.
The 25-acre riverside site on which the Seminary stands was donated by Sir Philip Pocock, a member of a prominent London Catholic family. The cornerstone of the present building was laid by Bishop Fallon on May 31, 1925, and the official opening of the new facility was solemnly celebrated on September 29, 1926 (the Feast of St. Michael, St. Raphael and St. Gabriel.)
Built of Credit Valley stone, and designed by the firm of McGinnis & Walsh, St. Peter’s was built at a cost of almost $800,000 by the Piggott & Healy Construction Company, in the same Collegiate style as that used for Brescia College and many of the older university buildings. It includes three floors of residences for up to 115 students and faculty members, classrooms, a gymnasium, dining facilities, two chapels and administration offices. The resident seminarians are divided into small living groups of 10-12 students, each under the direction of one of the priests on the faculty. Another group is formed by the non- resident lay students, who meet regularly for spiritual formation, and to explore dimensions of their unique ministry within the Church.
Originally, there were 46 acres with beautiful gardens (now we have 18 acres.) In the 1930’s there were four times as many shrubs as we have now with a sunken grotto made with hedges, a silent, beautiful place to pray. There were 23 species of lilac bushes on the property and there used to be an annual “smelling tour” held in the spring.
As the seminary grew, its needs began to change. In 1957, a new wing was added, which incorporated an auditorium and modern recreation facilities. Major renovations took place in 1968 to reflect the direction of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). In 1983, the open-air cloister was covered and renovated to provide adequate library facilities for the seminary’s holdings, which now number close to 60,000 books and periodicals.
The former St. Thomas Scholasticate adjoining the Seminary was purchased from the Congregation of the Resurrection in 1982, and the interior was thoroughly rebuilt and modernized throughout 1990-1991, through the generous contributions of parishioners to the “Pentecost 2000" campaign. It was re-dedicated by Bishop John Michael Sherlock in 1991 as Aquinas House, and now serves as a residence for guests and the Permanent Diaconate program.
St. Peter’s Seminary continues its’ founder’s vision that the formation of diocesan priests should be primarily the work of diocesan priests, although the faculty has expanded to include lay and religious members in its teaching mission.
Today, Huron University College (Anglican) and St. Peter’s Seminary jointly form the theology faculty of UWO, and the Seminary continues to offer a solid Catholic academic foundation to seminarians from across North America, as well as to serve as a resource for many full and part-time lay students from the local community.
THE SEMINARY CHAPEL
Perhaps the most striking architectural feature of St. Peter’s is the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, with a nave measuring 125 feet long.
The Chapel was built four years after the Seminary in 1930. Designed in the late English Gothic style, the chapel follows closely the model of European monasteries of the late 1300's. The Chapel’s fan-vaulted ceiling is characteristic of this style, as is the stone tracery of the 15 stained-glass windows set high into the walls, and the Corinthian columns which support the roof.
The intricate woodwork throughout the chapel was hand-crafted in dark oak by a team of Bavarian carvers, brought to Canada by the Globe Furniture Company of Waterloo. Their work is particularly noticeable in the carving of the wooden choir stalls, in the angels along the walls and in the five alcoves surrounding the Sanctuary, which originally held side altars in honour of various saints. The angels are carved in various poses – in rapture – they are swooning with their love of God. The pews were built facing one another in monastic style, used to pray in the psalms by antiphonating. The reason for this was to physically slow down your breathing, getting into a rhythm and to think more. This style of building churches has a 2000 year history.
The tableaux in pale wood portray scenes from the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite nun who was canonized in 1925.
The marble work, the original altar, statues and the holy water font were designed to Bishop Fallon’s specifications by the DeCitta Statuary Company of Carrara, Italy.
The original high altar was massive, with a baldachino (canopy) over it. On the baldachino was a bird representing the Holy Spirit, hovering over the altar. Symbolically it was quite a sight to see.
The Sanctuary was re-designed and a new altar installed in 1969 to reflect changes in the Liturgy made at the second Vatican Council. When the altar was redesigned many good elements were kept. The Blessed Sacrament was kept on the main axis. The Blessed Sacrament is always present. The public is welcome to come to venerate the Blessed Sacrament. The new altar represents a crypt with symbols of the crucifixion on it.
Mass is said here daily during the school year. The public is invited to share in our Open Masses. Dates and time are on our website: www.stpetersseminary.ca
The original pipe organ, designed and built by Casavant Frères of St. Hyacinthe, Québec, continues in use today.
The English clerestory windows which surround the Chapel illustrate scenes from the Gospels, as well as 26 Doctors of the Church, and a number of missionary saints. The combination of wood, marble and stone creates an acoustic quality which is recognized as one of the best in South-western Ontario. Two of the three women doctors, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Teresa of Lisieux are in in the alcove windows, something which Bishop Fallon could not have predicted in 1930 when there were no women doctors of the Church.
Although physically weakened, Bishop Fallon attended the dedication mass for the new chapel, which was celebrated by the Apostolic Delegate to Canada on June 18, 1930. It proved to be one of Fallon’s last public appearances. He died in February 1931, and was buried in the crypt beneath the Sanctuary; his gravestone can be seen in the floor in front of the tabernacle.
The Seminary’s crest and motto appear directly over the doors to the Chapel framed by the Latin inscription “Invenerunt eum in Templo, sedentem in medio doctorum” “(They came upon Him in the Temple, seated in the midst of the teachers)”, which recalls the central importance of the House of God in Christ’s own life, and particularly in the daily community life of the seminary.
Below the Sanctuary is a crypt with the remains of four Bishops:
Bishop Michael Fallon – 5th Bishop of London
Bishop John Kidd – 6th Bishop of London
Bishop Ralph Dignan – 2nd Bishop of Sault Ste. Marie
Bishop John Cody – 7th Bishop of London
The Rotunda is approximately one third (1/3) the height of the one at Brescia University College, which is the last all female college left in Canada.
Bishop Fallon wanted to outdo the Ursuline's and build the Seminary's rotunda higher, but funds ran out so head to scale down his original plans.
The marble statue of the Archangel Michael, carved in Rome was a gift from Bishop Fallon on the occasion of the Seminary’s opening in 1926, and illustrates the final victory of God over evil, as depicted in Revelation 12:7-12. The smaller statues in the wall niches portray the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary (Principle Patroness of the Diocese), St. Patrick (Secondary Patron of the Diocese) and St. Peter.
The carved bust is of St. Thomas Aquinas (for whom the Chapel is named), a renowned Catholic thinker and teacher of the thirteenth century, and the Patron Saint of Students. The sunburst in the bust of St. Thomas Aquinas represents wisdom.
Plaques around the doorways recognize the generosity of parishioners, religious congregations and priests who established burses and scholarships for the education of future priests. Many of their donations continue to support diocesan seminarians today.
The Crucifix is the original from the Chapel’s high altar installed in 1930. The “new” altar inside the Chapel was turned around in 1969 after Vatican II.
CANADIAN SAINTS AND BLESSED
At the back of Room 102 are a series of framed portraits, depicting the many Canadian women and men who have been officially recognized by the Church in this century as examples of Christian faith and virtue, and as instruments of God’s healing. They include pioneers in the fields of hospital care and education, the foundresses of Canadian religious orders (such as the Sisters of Charity and the Ursulines), and the founders of major Canadian religious shrines.