Our History

Click on the following for a brief history of:


A Brief History of the Newman Centre Residence

The Newman Centre residence, located at the corner of Hoskins and St. George Streets, across the street from the Robarts Library on the University of Toronto campus, was built in 1890/1891. The original two and one-half storey home is constructed of red clay, terra cotta bricks, plum coloured Credit Valley sandstone and pressed terra cotta decorative elements.

In the late 1800's, St. George Street was considered one of the wealthiest boulevards in the city and was home to many of the city's influential political and business leaders. The residence at 89 St. George Street was built by businessman Wilmot D. Matthews and remained his personal home until his death in 1919. The residence is still referred to in historical circles as "the Matthews House".

Wilmot D. Matthews was born in Burford, Ontario in 1850. Mr. Matthews' family fortune resulted from the grain trading business. Their business was so large that, in fact, his father was once known as the Barley King of Canada. Wilmot joined his father's business in 1866 and, following his father's death, in 1890, he and a partner formed the Canada Malting Company, which continues operations today. Wilmot was a very successful businessman, serving as Director in a number of major corporations including Canadian Pacific Railway, Dominion Bank, and Toronto Street Railway.

The property, including a coach house located on the current site of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, was purchased by the Newman Club (now the Newman Foundation) in 1922 for the sum of $100,000. This purchase could not have been made without the assistance of a major benefactor, Senator Frank O'Connor, founder of the Laura Secord Chocolate Company. Senator O'Connor's portrait, along with that of Cardinal John Henry Newman, remains on display today above the first floor stairwell.

A number of renovations have been made to the home over the years, including the addition of a one-storey ballroom in 1899, specifically for the wedding of Mr. Matthews' eldest daughter, a kitchen expansion in 1900, and later expansions of the upper floor and basement for additional usable living space.

The house remains one of Toronto's best examples of Romansque Revival architecture, similar in style to the Gooderham Residence, located at the northeast corner of Bloor and St. George Streets and currently home of the York Club. It was one of the first buildings in Toronto to receive heritage status from the Ontario Heritage Foundation in 1977 and continues to be one of the few buildings to have been granted heritage status for the interior, as well as the exterior, of the building. Most of the first floor, including the stairway, and a portion of the second floor were given heritage status in recognition of the outstanding craftsmanship in the use of woodwork, plaster, stained glass and decorative metals. The interior is one of the finest examples of late nineteenth century design in the City of Toronto.

Today, the residence is home to the Pastor and Executive Director of the Newman Centre and a small number of University of Toronto students who are serving as Student Campus Ministers, living the values of their Catholic faith while at University. The building also houses the offices of the Newman Centre and the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas Church. The basement of the building is also home to the Archdiocese of Toronto's Office of Catholic Youth.

Consistent with the vision of the original members of the Newman Club in 1922, the house continues to be a vibrant and active site, serving as a Centre for Catholic students on the University of Toronto campus with a variety of meetings and social events. It also serves the needs of the parish community, hosting many very personal events including weddings, anniversary celebrations, baptisms, and funeral receptions. It may serve as the site of events associated with the University of Toronto or other organizations affiliated with the Church and, from time to time, it is also the site of movie and television filming.

As is the case with most historical properties, the cost associated with preserving the property is immense. If you would like to contribute toward maintaining this part of Toronto's heritage for future generations, please contact Fr. Peter Turrone, Pastor and Executive Director of the Centre. Your support would be most welcome.

A Brief History of St. Thomas Aquinas Church

St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, located at 50 Hoskin Avenue -- adjacent to the Newman Centre -- on the campus of the University of Toronto, was built in 1926/27. What stood on the property prior to the church being erected was a coach house which served the needs of the Matthews House, now known as the Newman Centre.

The Newman Club purchased the Newman Centre, originally known as the Matthews House, in 1922. Mass was held in the famous Oak Room of the Newman Centre prior to the church being established. As numbers increased, it soon became apparent that the Newman Centre needed to build a chapel.
Thus, the coach house next to it was demolished and a chapel erected in1926/1927. With limited space, it clearly presented architectural challenges. The solution was to build a church rectangular in plan with its long elevations perpendicular to the street. The resulting one-storey limestone structure was designed in the style of 15th century Gothic architecture. The exterior walls were composed of coursed broken face Credit Valley limestone and ashlar Indiana limestone, topped by a roof composed of gray slate and copper. The church design features a nave and aisle plan with deep sanctuary and sacristy. The interior of the church is quite beautiful with arch braced trusses and an exposed roof made of dark stained British Columbia fir. The design originally featured white and yellow leaded glass Gothic windows with diamond panes to allow natural light to pour into the interior and two traditional stained glass windows near the entrance of the church honouring St. Thomas Aquinas and Cardinal Newman.

The church was blessed by Archbishop Neil McNeil and dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas on March 27, 1927. At various points since 1927, the church has been administered by the Paulist Fathers, the Basilian Fathers, and the Archdiocese of Toronto (it is currently under the direction of the Archdiocese of Toronto). In June, 1995, it was officially named a parish of the Archdiocese of Toronto, and no longer simply a chapel.

The interior furnishings have been rearranged from time to time to reflect liturgical changes; however, the building has not been significantly altered. It was one of the first buildings listed in the Toronto Historical Board's inventory of historical buildings for architectural and contextual importance in 1973. 

The changing sanctuary configurations in the church over the years


As part of the Great Jubilee Celebrations, for the Year 2000, the parish community undertook a special project to select and commemorate significant Christian heroes and heroines of the last century by erecting nine new stained glass windows in the west wall of the church. These windows honor the following saints: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Brother André Bessette, C.S.C., Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, O.F.S., George & Pauline Vanier, St. Pope John XXIII, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Blessed Fr. Jerzey Popiełuszko, and Blessed Archbishop Óscar Romero.

As a parting gift to Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. who served as Pastor and Executive Director of the Newman Centre from 1994 - June 2000, the parish community replaced the remaining window on the west wall of the church with new stained glass images honoring three additional heroes and heroines of the past century: St. Pope John XXIII, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and Blessed Fr. Jerzey Popiełuszko.

The celebration of the Eucharist is held in St. Thomas Aquinas Church, at 12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday, and at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays. The Sunday Liturgy of the Eucharist is held at 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. These two Masses tend to attract many from the University area, both students and faculty, persons living nearby, and visitors to Toronto and the University.

The beautiful church is the site of many weddings, lectures, concerts, and other events held throughout the year. An occasional movie or documentary has also been filmed on site. During the day the church is open for quiet prayer. Many people come to pray and to find solace in the peaceful environment.

All are welcome.


History of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman 

JOHN HENRY NEWMAN was born on February 21, 1801 in London. At Ealing School he underwent a spiritual conversion which set him on the road to perfection. After undergraduate study at Trinity College, Oxford, he was elected Fellow of Oriel College. Ordained in the Church of England, he became Vicar of St. Mary's Oxford, where his spiritual influence on his parishioners and the undergraduates was enormous. After 1833, he became leader of the spiritual renewal known as the Oxford Movement. His studies of the Fathers of the Church led him to the conclusion that the Roman Catholic Church was the "One Fold of Christ." After a long interior struggle he was received into the Catholic Church on October 9, 1845 by Blessed Dominic Barberi at Littlemore, where he had retired to live a semi-monastic life.

Ostracized by relatives and friends he was ordained a priest in Rome and returned to England to found, in Birmingham, the first Oratorian Congregation in England. This was followed by a second Oratorian House in London. In 1864, he published his Apologia pro Vita Sua, in which he vindicated his honesty in the Church of England and defended the Church of Rome. He worked tirelessly for the poor of his parish, and carried on an enormous correspondence, helping countless persons both Catholic and non-Catholic with their religious difficulties. He suffered much from the misunderstandings, suspicions and opposition of some ecclesiastical authorities.

In 1879 Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal to the joy of all of England. At his death in 1890, it was said that he more than any other person had changed the attitude of non-Catholics to Catholics. From 15,000 to 20,000 persons lined the streets as his body was borne to Rednal, eight miles away, for peaceful burial. The Cork Examiner affirmed, "Cardinal Newman goes to his grave with the singular honour of being by all creeds and classes acknowledged as the just man made perfect." Pope John Paul declared him Venerable on January 22, 1991.  Pope Benedict XVI declared him Blessed on September 19, 2010.

Official prayer for the votive mass of Blessed John Henry Newman

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church; graciously grant that, through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fullness of your truth.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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