Brescia Beginning – Mother Clare Gaukler

September 5th, 2012

Transcript of the 2012 Foundress Day Address

Truth, wisdom, justice, compassion, confident hope – these are some of the core values of the Ursuline Sisters. We believe in the transformative power of education! We believe in the power of women!

At the beginning of the 1900’s, new, exciting advancements in education were opening in Ontario. Some dreamed of a women’s university for and by women!

If women could be educated and take an equal place in society in whatever career, vocation, situation they entered, our world would be a more equitable and richer place. Many women just did not know their potential or their rights as full members of society. Many had been programmed to see themselves as subordinate and not worthy to speak in the public forum. It would be another decade before women were declared persons with the right to vote and hold elected office!

On Aug. 22, 1919 the Board of Governors of The University of Western Ontario granted the request of Bishop Fallon that Assumption College for men in Windsor and a yet-to-be-established catholic college for women in London be given degree-granting power through affiliation with UWO.

By this time the Ursuline Sisters of Chatham had established several schools for girls and were recognized as exemplary educators. Mother Clare Gaukler, General Leader of the Ursuline Sisters, was asked to establish an affiliated university level college for young women.

Within a month on Sept. 8 the Ursuline Sisters purchased a 40 acre farm right here on this hill where Brescia University College now stands. Then on Oct. 8 Mother Clare Gaukler entered into an agreement with UWO to open a College of Arts, affiliated on an equal standing with the Arts Department of UWO.

Of course although, the Ursuline Sisters had purchased this property, it would take time and money to build a college, so they offered the first year of university education to seven young women at their high school “The Pines” in Chatham, confident that in a few years they would have an edifice worthy of a university education – a college that would reflect a hunger for truth, justice, goodness and beauty of creation. For now the students and professors had a home in Chatham and university education was not only enriching their knowledge but also increasing their awareness of how they might contribute to a more just society.

Immediately some Sisters went to colleges and universities to obtain higher degrees, others looked for temporary facilities in London so the students could benefit both from an Ursuline education and all the facilities at UWO. Others worked with architects, builders and planters of trees to design the present Tudor Gothic structure known as Ursuline Hall.

By year 2, the Ursuline Sisters had purchased and renovated a 3 storey house on the corner of Wellington and Wolfe Streets in London. This was the residence and classrooms for the next few years. Brescia Hall was chosen as the name for the college because the Ursuline Community was first founded in Brescia Italy, but that is a story for another day, let us get back to Brescia University College in London Ontario, This move to central London brought the students closer to UWO and widened the availability of courses, lectures, library, culture, sports and discussions with other university students, but it was not sufficient for the vision Mother Clare and the Ursulines had for a university level education for many women.

Each year the number of students grew and each year the young women grew in both self and social awareness. Academic excellence, maturing and studying with other women attracted students both locally and from other countries. Through drama, participation in sports and clubs, service and leadership roles in the college and university, these young women – growing in confidence and ability – began to take their rightful place in all aspects of society.

Josephine Gaukler, the mother of Mother Clare, died and bequeathed the $228,000 needed to pay for the building of Ursuline Hall. On Sept. 9, 1926 the official opening of Brescia College took place.

In 1929 women were declared persons with the right to vote and stand for elected office. More and more women sought a university level education. Many were choosing Brescia, the only catholic women’s college in the province of Ontario affiliated directly with a non-sectarian university.

Over the years new courses and new buildings have been added, new students have come, society has changed, the number of Sisters have declined, other dedicated educators have joined the faculty, and through it all the enduring Ursuline values of truth, wisdom, justice, compassion and confident hope have permeated Brescia University College.

For over 90 years many young women just like yourselves have studied at Brescia University College, experienced joys and struggles, knowledge and understanding of self and others, made friends and matured. These next few years of integrating this university experience, learning to appreciate women of different cultures and world views, your growth into fuller adulthood, a deepening of how your talents and gifts can serve society can help transform you into an even more beautiful person than you are today.

My prayers and best wishes are with you now and for years to come. .

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For more information please contact Colleen Aguilar, Communications, Marketing & External Relations Officer, at 519.432.8353, ext. 28280

Brescia University College, Canada’s premier women’s university college, is affiliated with Western University. The 1,275 women registered as either full or part-time students at Brescia study a wide variety of subjects in Arts, Social Sciences, and Foods & Nutrition in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred, and invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic College welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity. For more current and archived news, a listing of faculty experts, and photos please visit our Online Media Room at