When Gerald Michel was attending Collège du Sacré-Coeur on Notre Dame Avenue in Sudbury in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the institution was already about 40 years old.
Fast forward to 2013, and Michel, now the chancellor of the school's successor, the University of Sudbury, is one of many alumni who will be helping the university celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The University of Sudbury is the oldest existing post-secondary institution in Northern Ontario.
Michel, who attended an Aug. 27 press conference kicking off the anniversary celebrations, said he has many happy memories of his time at Sacré-Coeur, where he studied general arts.
“It was the greatest institution that you could imagine for discipline and quality of education,” he said.
Michel eventually went on to law school, and worked for many years as a provincial court judge, occasionally even lecturing on law at the University of Sudbury.
He didn't know it at the time, but when he was at Sacré-Coeur, he was starting something of a family tradition.
One of Michel's sons attended the University of Sudbury, and his granddaughter is due to begin studying nursing at Laurentian University next week.
University of Sudbury president Pierre Zundel said it was Jesuits – a Roman Catholic order devoted to teaching – that started Collège du Sacré-Coeur 100 years ago.
He said the Jesuits have been operating in Northern Ontario for about 400 years, and have been in Sudbury since the train tracks arrived in the 1800s.
Zundel said this gives him an incredible sense of history.
“I thought 'Here I am. I'm on the tail end of four centuries of activity in this region,'” he said. “It's amazing. It's kind of humbling to think about it.”
Sacré-Coeur offered French-language education at a time when there was a movement in Ontario to ban Francophone instruction, Zundel said.
It operated as a solely Francophone school until the late 1950s, when it became a bilingual institution and changed its name to the University of Sudbury.
When Laurentian University was created in 1960, the University of Sudbury became one of the institution's federated partners, along with Huntington University and later Thorneloe University.
The University of Sudbury moved to its current building on the Laurentian University campus in 1966.
As it was in the beginning, Zundel said the university continues to devote its energy to Liberal arts courses.
He sees the establishment of the University of Sudbury's Native studies program back in 1974 as one of its biggest accomplishments. At the time, it wasn't a popular move.
“It's a different world today,” Zundel said. “Racism was much, much stronger.”
But the program proved to be successful, with many leaders in Northern Ontario's Aboriginal community counting themselves as University of Sudbury alumni.
Because universities constantly have to reinvent themselves to serve the community, the University of Sudbury has recently completed a visioning process.
As a result, it's now reaching out to remote Northern Ontario Aboriginal communities to provide education in various areas of interest, including Aboriginal history, the justice system and health delivery.
The courses will be provided through a mix of in-person and online classes.
In many ways, the initiative continues the work of the Jesuits, Zundel said.
“One hundred years ago, it was difficult to get it in the north, and (the Jesuits) came here,” he said.
“Now it's difficult to get it in the extreme north in Moosenee and other places like that. Part of our mission is to reach out to those places and try to find efficient ways to deliver university programming to them that works.”
Zundel said the university has also decided to boost support for those struggling in school because they don't have the necessary academic background and to encourage students to volunteer more in the community.
During the press conference, Mayor Marianne Matichuk presented University of Sudbury leaders with a certificate of congratulations.
“The University of Sudbury is a link to our region's past like no other,” she said.
“So many of our community's leaders have passed through these halls and have been inspired by the Jesuit philosophy of education, which is the formation of the whole person in service to community.
“So many of the issues our community have faced over the past 100 years, and so many challenges we have overcome are the result of the University of Sudbury's leadership and its commitment to community engagement and service to others.”
Celebrating a centuryThe University of Sudbury has planned a number of events to celebrate its anniversary. These include:
Sept. 21 – City-wide scavenger hunt
Sept. 25 – Franco-Ontarian Flag Day
Sept. 29 – Mass
Oct. 10 – Louise Charron Conference
Oct. 26-27 and 31 – Haunted House
Nov. 14 – Awards Ceremony
Nov. 16 – Santa Claus Parade
Feb. 2 – Showshoe Baseball
March 20 – Leadership Awards Ceremony
April 22 – Earth Day
May 3 - Gala
To learn more, visit www.usudbury.ca or phone 705-673-5661.