Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy

Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada
www.seatofwisdom.org

Overview
It may seem unusual to include a small Canadian college in this guide, but the arguments to do so are compelling. First, it is another example of the establishment of a faithful liberal arts college on this continent, emphasizing that there are “born from the crisis” institutions springing up north of the border. Second, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy has developed a solid curriculum that allows Catholics to get a good three-year education before transferring to another college. It has a transfer history with Franciscan University of Steubenville and Redeemer University College, a Christian university in Ontario. Surprisingly, such benefits are delivered at a very, very modest cost. The academy grew out of a dream of homeschooling mothers for affordable Catholic higher education in this area of Ontario, a little more than two hours north of Ottawa in the Madawaska Valley. This college was started so that area young people could receive an education without having to travel thousands of miles or spending large sums of money for higher education. It opened as a small study center for postsecondary learning in 1999. The following year, it began offering a one-year program of courses, in which a certificate was awarded. The academy later added two- and three-year certificate programs.

quick facts
Founded: 2000 Type of institution: Micro three-year academy Setting: Small, rural town Undergraduate enrollment: 47 full-time, 8 parttime (2006–07 academic year) Undergraduate cost: $7,850 Canadian (tuition, room and board for 2007–08; that is, U.S. $7,431 as of August 31, 2007) Undergraduate majors: Five concentrations

five key Points
1. An example of a solidly Catholic liberal arts institution. 2. Awaiting Canadian accreditation, but has a good transfer history with other colleges. 3. It delivers a quality product at a very low cost. 4. The institution was designed to appeal to homeschooling families. 5. The spiritual life is rich and is celebrated in a strongly Catholic community.

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The vision of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy is to award a four-year bachelor’s degree. The academy is actively preparing for accreditation and hopes to receive it within a few years. But for now, up to three years of credits can be transferred to other colleges. Due to Canadian state control of higher education, the OLSWA is not allowed to call itself a college until is granted government accreditation. According to the academy’s former executive director, John Paul Meenan, “Our vision is to be a locally based Canadian college, not ‘Steubenville North,’ but at the same time, we welcome students from the United States and elsewhere.” There are no limits on the number of Americans, either from the academy or the Canadian government; currently, about 10 percent are Americans. A number of faculty members are Americans. The academy is located in a former convent on the grounds of St. Hedwig’s Parish in Barry’s Bay. It also uses parish space for additional classroom and dining facilities, and leases a number of local residences where students live together in small households. For the 2007–08 academic year, the academy enrolled 65 full-time and five part-time students. They seem to grow about 15 students per year, and their ultimate goal is to have a student body of between 120 and 300. About half of the students have been homeschooled. These students pursue various certificates. They can receive a basic certificate after one year of study, an associate certificate after two years and a certificate of Christian humanities after three years. One may receive either a general certificate or one with a concentration in any of five areas.

Governance
A nine-member lay board of directors, mostly from the area, governs the academy. They are assisted by an academic senate, which shares the vision of a liberal arts education faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. There also is a 16-member advisory board, which includes six priests as well as the noted Catholic novelist and artist Michael O’Brien. The academy’s executive director—it is the equivalent position of a college president— implements the mission of the academy. Until recently, the executive director was John Paul Meenan, 39, who majored in neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario and then studied at Toronto’s Oratory of St. Philip Neri. His position came about as a result of a retreat he made to the Barry’s Bay area in 1999. We note that he admires the views of Cardinal Newman regarding a university. Mr. Meenan left his administrative position in July 2007, but will continue to teach at the academy. The interim executive director for the 2007–08 academic year is Dr. Christine Schintgen, who is chairman of the literature department and has a D.Phil. degree from Oxford University. A search for a permanent replacement is underway. Mr. Meenan told us, “We are eager to and do have our diocesan bishop’s support and approval.” In fact, in the academy’s promotional material, former Bishop Richard Smith of the Diocese of Pembroke writes, “I am delighted to have Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy present and operating in the Diocese of Pembroke. The devotion and fidelity of students and faculty to the Church and Her teachings is impressive and inspiring.” A new bishop was named in July 2007.

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Public Identity
The academy’s vision statement notes, “Under the mantle of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, we will provide a vibrant Catholic liberal arts education that integrates faith and reason in all of its disciplines, embraces Divine Revelation and is rooted in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” This commitment was reinforced in interviews with representatives of the institution. Former executive director Meenan said that the academy “seeks to provide a truly Catholic, liberal education, one which sets the mind ‘free’ from the shackles of ignorance, so that our students can integrate the truths of both Faith and reason in seamless harmony.” Dr. Schintgen added emphatically, “Our Catholic identity is absolutely essential and is our reason for existing. Nothing else is more important.” Perhaps not surprising given this faithfulness, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, celebrated the 2006 graduation Mass and delivered the keynote speech at the graduation luncheon.

gious communities to direct day-long, oncampus retreats on Saturdays. There are two pilgrimages each year, which have included one in the fall to St. Mary’s Church and Grotto, which is a two and one-half mile walk away in Wilno, Ontario, where the first Polish-Catholic settlers lived; and in the spring to The Martyr’s Shrine in Midland, Ontario. The academy is situated in a flourishing Catholic area of Ontario, where three towns with a strong Catholic presence are within a half-hour from Barry’s Bay. “This pocket of Catholicism,” according to one faculty member, “draws people from all parts of Canada.” One significant factor in this Catholic enclave is Madonna House in Combermere, about 20 minutes from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy. This is a lay community (with priests) whose members take promises of poverty, chastity and obedience while carrying out an apostolate of service to those in material and spiritual need. Madonna House, which draws visitors from Canada and abroad, was founded by Catherine Doherty, a 20th-century Russian-born aristocrat who aided the poor both in the United States and Canada. A priest from Madonna House serves as the academy’s chaplain. He celebrates a Mass every other Monday at 5 p.m. at the campus. On alternate Mondays, Mass is offered by a priest of the Companions of the Cross order.

Spiritual Life
The spiritual life revolves around St. Hedwig’s Parish across the street from the school building. Most of the students are reported to attend the 7:30 a.m. daily Mass there. There also are two Sunday Masses offered. Students are active in parish life, serving as readers, altar servers, members of the choir, participants in Wednesday evening adoration and twice-weekly confessions. There also is the nearby parish of St. Lawrence O’Toole. All reports underscore a very vibrant prayer life on campus. The academy arranges a couple of retreats each year, and it has invited nuns from reli-

Catholicism in the Classroom
OLSWA trains students to think and learn in the Catholic intellectual tradition and to be able to transport their knowledge and credits to other colleges to successfully complete their work.

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All nine full-time faculty members are Catholics, and none is a dissenter. One faculty member said, “We have small classes, and students have so many opportunities to learn from their professors by asking questions, speaking with them after class, at lunch, etc.” Michael O’Brien, the novelist and artist whose living room was the venue of the academy’s first organizational meeting, has written of the faculty’s commitment on his website. He said, “One of the significant aspects of it [OLSWA] is the spiritual principle of sacrifice. Our full-time professors, as well as associate and adjunct professors, all receive a pittance of a salary. Most have taught here for several years at about 25 percent the salary a professor would receive at any other college or university.”

Successfully completing three years of academic work, taking 96 credits, qualifies the student for a Certificate of Christian Humanities. Students have transferred to Franciscan University of Steubenville and Ave Maria College when it was in Michigan. In 2007 four students who had attended OLSWA graduated from Redeemer University College, about 250 miles away in Ancaster, Ontario. One instructor said, “I’ve never heard any student say they thought their years here were wasted, even though they may need to transfer to another school to receive a fouryear degree.” In the first year, students take year-long courses in “Christian Doctrine,” “Church History,” “Introduction to Philosophy,” “Freshman Writing,” Latin and either chorus or “Liturgy for the Laity.” In the second year, courses include two more in Scripture and two more in philosophy, including “Thomistic Thought.” Among other courses is intermediate Latin. Students can take electives and concentrate in five areas: liberal arts, literature, history, philosophy and theology. Among the courses that seem to be popular are “Thomistic Thought” and “Magisterial Thought.” In the course on the Magisterium, students read key Church documents. 140

Residential Life
Most students live in seven single-sex residence houses. Female students reside at the Edith Stein, Little Flower, Rose and Siena houses. Males are in the St. Francis and Ignatius houses. The seventh house, which is for women, is not yet named. Each household has six to eight students along with one residence assistant, who is an older student. Meals, formerly provided in the school dining room, moved to St. Hedwig’s parish in the fall of 2007. Chastity is encouraged through these households, as is a “moderate” dress code and an encouragement that students hold off on dating during the first year of school. There also are women’s nights and men’s nights, where students gather with others of their gender to discuss topics of interest and also to enjoy each other’s company. The idea, we are told, is for them to grow and mature in their femininity and masculinity in healthy ways. The Newman Guide

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All students have chores assigned on a weekly basis. These include such duties as helping with the dinner dishes, sweeping the floors of the classrooms and shoveling snow. Students spend approximately three or four hours a week in this service.

The area is lovely, scenic and clean. The main industries are lumber and tourism, but agriculture also plays an important role. Among local points of interest are the Algonquin Provincial Park, which offers many outdoor activities, and a park dedicated to Janusz Zurakowski, a Canadian aviator and hero. St. Francis Memorial Hospital is located in the town. There are no significant airports nearby; Americans flying to Barry’s Bay are likely to use Ottawa International Airport, a two and one-half-hour drive away, or Toronto Pearson International Airport—Canada’s most important airport—four hours away. Route 17, known as the Trans-Canada Highway, is located not far from the town.

Student Activities
There are few student organizations at this small academy. One is the Don Bosco Drama Club, which has produced several plays including A Man for All Seasons, about the life of Saint Thomas More. They hope to establish a pro-life club, which would complement their participation in the annual Canadian March for Life in Ottawa each May. Social activities are mostly student initiated. They include things like going to sports events such as a hockey game, swimming, canoeing, hiking, movies or planning a party at one of the households. One instructor said, “Because we are so small, we are like a family,” and many of the activities reflect that.

The Bottom Line
We are pleased to recommend Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy as an option for faithful Catholics. This small institution, committed to its motto of Veritas vos Liberabit (“The Truth will set you free”), provides a wonderful curriculum at a breathtakingly low cost. This academy can help students get acclimated to college life, strengthen their faith formation and then move on to another solid Catholic college to finish their studies. The opportunity to grow in such an intellectual and spiritual environment is enhanced by the beauty of studying in this rich Ontario valley. This is an educational institution that should not be overlooked.

The Community
Barry’s Bay is known as the “Polish Capital of Canada.” Kashubian people from northcentral Poland founded the town in the mid19th century, and their descendents and other ethnic Catholics make up a majority of the 1,200 residents.

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