How was your U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, dear readers? Lady Gaga was fantastic on Saturday night — why, thank you for asking, Monsters! She’s my final treat before buckling down for exams, and it was absolutely worth it!
Can you tell me briefly about the history of the college, and where the name came from?
St. Mike’s was founded in 1852 by a group of French priests known as the Congregation of St Basil. Since then, things have changed a lot. We’ve grown tremendously to become one of the largest colleges at U of T, and our teaching and administrative staff are now regular lay people, not priests and nuns — except for a few notable exceptions among our senior scholars and administrators. What hasn’t changed is our mission (helping those in need through education), our identity (we’re the Catholic college at U of T), and our spirit (we’re hard-working and fun).
Our name comes from St. Michael, the Archangel, who is also the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Toronto. He’s often depicted with a sword since he’s considered the leader of the armies of heaven. So, he’s a leader and a warrior, and in general he’s the defender of all those who need defending. Not a bad choice for a patron.
What’s unique about your college?
Many things! We have a rich history whose roots go right back to the foundation of the first universities in Europe, during the middle ages. But for us, that’s not just a part of our past; it’s a living heritage that shapes who we are and what we do today. Our commitment to excellence in humanities scholarship comes out of that, as well as our specialized academic programs, like Theology, Medieval Studies, Christianity and Culture, and Book and Media Studies.
Our campus is special because, instead of one big building, we have many smaller buildings, which gives St. Mike’s the feel of a little village right in the heart of the city. And the people you meet walking around this little village are quite amazing. For example, you’ll be bumping into scholars who read, write and edit medieval manuscripts. These are people who can look at these scrawl-like texts, which are written in a kind of compressed code that’s a little bit like the abbreviations people type on IM clients, and they can understand and decipher them, and then publish them for everyone else to read. Or there’s another professor you might bump into in the quad who is fluent in Phoenician. Marshall McLuhan used to work here, and there are always visiting poets and writers on campus as part of the Celtic Studies program.
Another thing that sets us apart is that we have a huge sporting tradition at St Mike’s. Basically, we love sports. U of T tells us that our students are among the most involved in intramural sports at the university, and this year alone we’ve won the Mulock Cup (for intramural rugby), as well as the championships for volleyball, flag football, soccer and hockey. I know Hart House is only a few steps away, but we also have our own cardio room and a weight room for residents who want to squeeze in a workout between classes.
And, as I’ve said, we have a huge commitment to social justice, to helping those in need. This is supported by many student clubs and the work of our excellent Campus Ministry team. Just as an example, every week, St Mike’s runs a location of the “Out of the Cold Project,” which is a place where people can come in, warm up, get some company and food.
Last but not least, St. Mike’s is fun. We have a very active students’ union and a great social life — in fact, we have the reputation for throwing the best parties on campus! One of those is Winterfest, a week of festivities that we started years ago with our neighbours at Victoria College.
Do you have any mentorship programs at the college?
Right now, our mentorship opportunities are primarily associated with our academic programs. For example, one of the special programs we run at St Mike’s is Intercordia, which combines a winter course, mentoring and a placement abroad during the summer. The aim of the placement is to expose students to a very different cultural environment and it’s been a very transformative experience for those that participate. For example, this past year, one of those students was working at an AIDS clinic in Swaziland. The Campus Ministry is open to everyone at St Mike’s and offers a range of programming and discussion groups, as well as individual counselling. From there, many mentoring relationships can be established.
How does the selection process to the college work?
All you need to do is make St. Mike’s your first choice of Arts and Science college, and you’ll be admitted! If you want to be here, then we’ll welcome you.
What are some of the common stereotypes of your college, and what do you think about them?
A stereotype that’s common is that, since we’re the Catholic college at U of T we’re just for Catholics, and that all the staff are priests and nuns. Is St. Mike’s just for Catholics? Absolutely not! Are all the staff priests and nuns? Maybe 150 years ago, when there were only 50 students and five staff — but we’ve changed a lot since. Although we’re a Catholic college, we’re very open and diverse, culturally and religiously. St. Mike’s was founded to provide a place for higher education in an environment that recognizes the importance of the spiritual dimension of human life, and the importance of having a good moral and ethical foundation. As it turns out, that actually makes us very attractive to many people who have a very different faith tradition, because they know that although their beliefs differ, they will be respected here. And others who don’t have a faith tradition, and aren’t interested in religion, choose us because of the other great things we offer.
What are some of the clubs that are unique to your college?
The Medieval Martial Arts Club. (I know, everyone’s a little nervous about this one — after all, people with swords! But we’re giving it a try.) We have all kinds of other clubs too — some focused on cultural groups (like the U of T Italian club, whose home is here), some related to our programs, many focused on volunteering and charitable work, and of course, plenty of intramural sports teams.
What resources are available for commuting students?
For commuting students, and really anybody else, the ground floor of Brennan Hall has a huge lounge that is open all day. There’s a large-screen TV, internet access and a pool table. The offices of the SMC Student Union (SMCSU), and student newspaper (The Mike), are also there, along with other club space. SMCSU also has a commission in charge of commuter life and they’ve sponsored a lot of very popular events on campus during the day, including free food events.
Down the street from Brennan Hall, the Kelly Library is a huge study hub, with a café on the ground floor and an enormous computing facility on the first and second floors, with scanners and laser printing.
What about scholarships and bursaries at the college?
All SMC students qualify for U of T entrance scholarships, but we don’t actually invest our own resources in trying to attract people with big entrance scholarships of our own. Instead we want to encourage you and reward hard work all the way through your studies with “in-course” scholarships. So, after your second and third year (or 10 and 15th credit), if you have a 3.7-3.9 annual GPA, we automatically give you $1,500; if you have a 4.0, you’ll get $2,500.
What’s available to eat at the college?
The Canada Room is the residence dining hall and our main cafeteria on campus. It offers all-you-can-eat dining, all day, for residents on a five-day or seven-day per week meal plan. You can also buy meals individually at the door, or get a commuter plan. We have lots of options for students with special dietary needs: vegetarian, halal, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, etc. We have a big salad bar, sandwich bar, and a stir-fry station. But of all our offerings, my personal favourite is Perogy Day!
What are the residences like?
We actually have two residences at St Mike’s. One is Loretto College, and it provides accommodation for women only. The other residence we simply call the SMC Student Residence, and it offers accommodation for men and women, in all-male or all-female floors spanning a number of buildings. Some people ask me if it wouldn’t be better to mix it up and make everything completely co-ed. Certainly there’s a lot of residences at U of T which already offer that. But when I ask prospective students why they are thinking co-ed might be the better choice for them, they often say, “Well I want to have my boyfriend or girlfriend over whenever I want.” That’s fair enough, but then I ask them, “How would you feel if your roommate had his or her girlfriend or boyfriend over all the time?” Most of them haven’t thought about that part of the deal and aren’t too keen on it when they do. The fact is, sometimes you want your guests (or your roommate’s guests) to go home, and when you’re living in a double room during your first year, it’s better to have that structure in place to help negotiate that give-and-take. It also has other benefits, but the main point is that in fact, our rules are very well received. We have a 90 per cent return application rate, and that usually that means we can’t have as many people back as we’d like to.
The SMC Student Residence offers a lot of variety as far as housing style goes. We have one building that’s modelled on the quad-style collegiate buildings of Oxford and Cambridge, and two others that are modelled on the “long corridor” dorm buildings you’ll see at most universities. But in addition to these we’ve also got these fantastic Victorian homes which were completely renovated a year ago and hold 15–30 people each. They are real architectural jewels. So there’s lots of choice in housing style.
Why should students choose your college?
Lots of reasons! We’re one of the oldest colleges at U of T; we have a beautiful campus and a vibrant community life. We have a fantastic tradition of excellence in the humanities, and amazing resources for scholarship. We’re committed to helping those in need, to social justice and to making the world a better place. If that’s what you care about, come to St Mike’s. If you like sports, if you like parties, if you want a small community feel where people care about you, then come here.
Can we close off with a fun fact?
Tim Horton lived at St. Mike’s!
My photographically annotated ramblings
I have to say that, of all the colleges, St. Mike’s is the only one I have never set foot in throughout my three years at U of T. It’s in the most southeastern part of campus (not counting the stuff on College Street), and I’ve had no need to venture that far. So I was very excited to do this interview, simply because there was everything to learn.
I think Kevin’s description of St. Mike’s as a little village is very apt. It’s surrounded by a gate, and as I explored the area, I felt I’d entered a completely different part of the university*.
*Technically, I did.
As with New College, it’s a bit hard to find your way around St. Mike’s. In fact, it took me 10 minutes to find the registrar’s office! It’s funny how a contractor finally pointed me in the direction of Alumni Hall. None of the students I asked knew where it was.
When I entered Alumni Hall, I saw one of those ubiquitous hand sanitizer stations. But something was different about this one… No, not the fact that the photo on the sanitizer container is creepy and the hand looks like it’s reaching out for you, but the fact that it wasn’t filled with Purell! So they don’t have a monopoly after all! I’d never seen “deb” before (I just went on the website. Creepy hands are a theme.)
The registrar’s office is also similar to New’s in that it has a separate entrance and exit. But the inside is completely different.
The office is huge. I haven’t seen Woodsworth’s yet, but it’s bigger than all the others. In fact, I’d wager that SMC’s office is bigger than UC’s and Trin’s combined, excluding the administrative office. The waiting area is bigger than my doctor’s! And from what I’ve seen, the wait time is infinitely shorter.
There were many other different buildings that I wanted to explore, but time was tight and I had to go and meet Kevin for the interview at Kelly Cafe. So I headed down to the Kelly Library. Once there, what did I spy with my little eye? A press machine for newspapers from back in the day!
And also, the Rare Book Room. Oh-em-gee, the Restricted Section, anybody?
I made my way over to the cafe. Every night of the previous week, I’d had about as many hours of sleep as the number of territories Canada has had in its history*. My uncaffeinated state must have been scary, because Kevin treated me to tea before starting our interview.
*From one to three.
After the interview, Kevin took me to tour the dining hall. It’s a comfortable little space, but it’s very well equipped. In fact, check out the lemonade machine! Kevin said the only other like it in Toronto, that he knew of, was at Holt’s! How’s that for fancy?
I really have to eat here one day, because it’s among the food places I’ve been to at U of T that aren’t operated by Sodexo or Aramark, and isn’t named 89 Chestnut. Can any readers comment on the comparative quality of Chartwells? Because check out that hamburger station!
Looking at these pictures again is making me hungry, so I’m going to run and grab some food. I hope you enjoyed the tour, dear readers, and I will be back next week with our final installment in the heptadic saga, Woodsworth College! This is my penultimate post for TCOTUOTSG-AEHS. Can you believe how fast time flies?