Henry Carr, C.S.B. (1880–1963)

Backgrounder

A priest of the Congregation of St. Basil and a leading figure in the history of higher education in Canada, Father Carr promoted the creation of Catholic colleges at secular universities in Canada. In the early 1900s, he played a key role in modernizing the curriculum of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, turning a small Catholic institution focused on preparation for the priesthood into a noted arts college, fully federated 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 co-founding in 1929 what became the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, a world-renowned research institute located on the grounds of St. Michael’s College. A champion of this model, Father Carr went on to head similar Catholic institutions 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. In the summer of 1897, he learned of a teaching opportunity at St. Michael’s College, a Roman Catholic college in downtown Toronto run by the Congregation of St. Basil: in return for teaching duties at the high school level, Carr was offered room and board at St. Michael’s, as well as enrolment 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, received his Honours B.A. in Classics in 1903, and was ordained in 1905, when he returned to St. Michael’s College. 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-language Roman Catholic colleges in Canada 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—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. The institute was granted pontifical status in 1939. Father Carr served as superior general of the Congregation of St. Basil from 1930 to 1942. Later, he was the superior and principal at St. Thomas More College (1942–1949) in Saskatchewan, and at St. Mark’s College at the University of British Columbia (1956–-1961). 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 he 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.

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