Henry Carr

In 2012 Father Henry Carr was designated as a person of national historic significance by the government of Canada. A press release (no longer available at the government of Canada website) gave the following backgrounder:


A pioneering figure in the history of Catholic higher education in Canada, Father Carr played a key role in the evolution of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, from its origins as a small Catholic college focused on preparation for the priesthood, to a full arts college federated in 1910 with the University of Toronto. While at St. Michael’s, he promoted excellence in Catholic higher education, bringing well known Catholic scholars to the college and founding the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (1929), a world-renowned research institute located on the grounds of St. Michael’s College. Father Carr went on to be an advocate for the creation of Catholic colleges within secular universities, bringing the St. Michael’s model of federation to other universities and heading Catholic colleges at the Universities of Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

Henry Carr was born in Oshawa, Ontario, in 1880, the eldest of nine children in an Irish-immigrant family. He was educated first in the local separate school run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, and then at the Oshawa Collegiate Institute, graduating in 1897 with the gold medal for the top student. In the summer of 1897, while working in a Toronto lithographing shop, Carr learned of a teaching opportunity at St. Michael’s College, a Roman Catholic college in downtown Toronto run by the Basilian Fathers: in return for teaching beginner German at the high school level, Carr would be offered room and board at St. Michael’s, as well as enrollment in the college’s post-secondary classical course. Following a successful first year of teaching, Carr was given responsibility for teaching the “Varsity Class”, a small group of boys preparing for the university entrance examination. In 1899, while continuing his teaching duties, he enrolled in an honours course in Classics at the University of Toronto.

Carr entered St. Basil’s Novitiate in 1900. He was permitted to continue his university studies, and received his Honours B. A. in Classics in 1903. From 1903 until December 1904 he attended Assumption College in Windsor before returning to St. Michael’s College in 1905, when he was ordained. Father Carr played a critical role in the college’s federation with the University of Toronto in 1910 and was a central figure in its subsequent evolution, acting as superior and president from 1915 to 1925. Federation broke the long period of isolation from the mainstream of Canadian university life, and made St. Michael’s College one of the earliest English-Canadian Roman Catholic colleges to provide higher education in partnership with a secular institution. Father Carr attracted outstanding scholars to St. Michael’s and was instrumental in the establishment in 1929 of the Institute of Mediaeval Studies as a centre for scholarly research and publication. The Institute became an international centre of Thomistic studies, that is, the study of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. It attracted graduate students and scholars from around the world, including the prominent Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain. Father Carr served as superior general of the Basilian Congregation from 1930 to 1942. Later, he was the superior and principal at St. Thomas More College (1942-49) in Saskatchewan and at St. Mark’s College at the University of British Columbia (1956-61). At each of these institutions, he was directly involved in their federation with the university, viewing federation as the best solution for Catholic colleges in an age of increasing secularization, and never advocated for the stand-alone Catholic university, which was the dominant model in the United States. Father Carr retired in 1961 and died in 1963.

The government backgrounder does not mention Carr’s tremendous influence on athletics at St Michael’s and, indeed, nationally.  St. Michael’s College: 100 Years of Pucks and Prayers describes how:

In 1906, Father Henry Carr initiated a hockey program at [St Mike’s]. (…) It did not take long for the school to attain championship success, claiming the Allan Cup senior hockey title in 1910. Under the guidance of Father Carr and later Father David Bauer, the institution evolved into the top breeding ground for junior hockey players in preparation for the National Hockey League. On four occasions between 1934 and 1961, St. Michael’s captured four Memorial Cup titles as the nation’s best team in junior hockey.

Carr was equally successful in football:

after its inaugural season in 1897, Fr. Henry Carr, C.S.B. led the [football] team in 1909 to a Canadian [Junior Football League, CJFL] Championship. Coach Carr (…) introduced both hockey and football to St. Michael’s as a way to integrate the Irish Catholic College and community into the fabric of the city. Luckily, Carr found two willing partners for his unique brand of ecumenism in the principals of Upper Canada College and St. Andrew’s College. Thus two new rivalries on the ice and field were born. Carr strongly believed that athletics were an excellent way to instill discipline and knowledge into young men, and he hoped to create a reputation for athletic excellence that would establish St. Michael’s name across the country. Carr’s exploits as a coach were legendary and beyond leading teams to  championships, he was a true football innovator, with many crediting Carr and other Basilian coaches for introducing the forward pass into the Canadian game in the 1920’s. (St Mike Blue Banner, 2009, p 22-23)

In philosophy, however, Carr was of international, not only national, importance.  He was able to attract Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson to St Michael’s Mediaeval Institute at a time when Maritain was arguably the most influential Catholic intellectual in the world and when Gilson had been offered a chair at Harvard.

At the heart of Carr’s vision was the determination that neither Catholics nor Canadians needed to fear competition from any quarter. Instead, their calling was to immerse themselves in the widest possible world of their contemporaries — but without giving up their identity as Catholics or Canadians or, indeed, as Catholic Canadians.  This was exactly the position described by McLuhan as one Catholic Canadian in the year before he came to St Michael’s:

My increasing awareness has been of the ease with which Catholics can penetrate and dominate secular concerns — thanks to an emotional and spiritual economy denied to the confused secular mind. But this cannot be done by any Catholic group, nor by Catholic individuals, trained in the vocabularies and attitudes which make our [usual] education the feeble simulacrum of the world which it is. It seems obvious that we must confront the secular in its most confident manifestations, and, with its own terms and postulates, to shock it into awareness of its confusion, its illiteracy, and the terrifying drift of its logic. There is no need to mention Christianity. It is enough that it be known that the operator is a Christian. This job must be conducted on every front — every phase of the press, book-rackets, music, cinema, education, economics. Of course, points of reference must always be made. That is, the examples of real art and prudence must be seized, when available, as paradigms of future effort. (…) These can serve to educate a huge public, both Catholic and non-Catholic, to resist that swift obliteration of the person which is going on [today]. (McLuhan to Clement McNaspy, SJ, Christmas 1945, Letters 180)