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The Life of Sister Callistus Arnsby

Kathleen Arnsby showed a great interest in music from an early age and her musical studies began at age 6 in Trinity College in London, England.  She moved to Canada with her parents at age 10 and in 1924 began studies in Grade 6 at St. Mary’s Catholic School in London, Canada, and studied music at Sacred Heart Convent.  Her music teachers were Sister Lidwina Sparr and Sister St. Gregory Slattery.  She was taught music theory by Sister Immaculata Brophy.  When completing grade eight she received a medal for general proficiency.  While at St. Mary’s School she learned to play the church organ and was asked to play for some of the Masses and for Benediction.  While Kathleen attended St. Angela’s College, her mother became ill and died suddenly and in 1928 her father returned to England to live.  It was at that time that she showed an interest in entering the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Kathleen Arnsby was accepted as a postulant in 1929 and on her reception day, January 3, 1930, was given the name Sister M. Callistus.  She continued to study music, obtaining her associate diploma in piano solo performance with the Royal Conservatory of Music.  In 1933 she attained an associate organ diploma, having studied under the tutelage of Cesar Borre, a fine Belgian organist at St. Peter’s Cathedral in London, Ontario.  Sister Callistus professed first vows on January 4, 1932 and final vows at Sacred Heart Convent, London on August 16, 1935.

While continuing her professional studies she joined the staff at Sacred Heart Convent School of Music and eventually received her licentiate diploma in 1941, which was the first to be given by the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music, London, having studied with Gertrude Huntley Greene and Dr. Harvey Robb.  As the music school expanded, Sister Callistus was appointed music supervisor and in 1953 when the new Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse opened, the music school flourished with new programs and larger facilities.  As supervisor of music for the Community, she encouraged the music teachers in their work and in professional development and she updated music education and programs, gave lectures, held recitals and workshops and began a new teacher training course.  The school also provided for music lessons at St. Michael’s, St. Martin’s and Holy Cross separate schools in London.

In September 1955 Sister Callistus sailed to Italy for a year of professional study in music at Pius XII School of Fine Arts in Florence, where, as a student at the famed Villa Schifanoia, she studied piano with Maestro Paulo Nardi.  While there she traveled to France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, Iceland and England, where she enjoyed several long visits with her father who had returned there in 1928.  In 1956 as Sister Callistus was returning to Canada via New York on the Andrea Doria, the ship sank after colliding with the Swedish vessel, Stockholm, just 45 miles from the New York Harbour on the night of July 25th.  Though 52 passengers died, 1648 were rescued, including Sister Callistus.  The rescue ship, Ile de France, arrived in New York on July 27th and Sister Callistus was given a warm welcome in London several days later.

In 1956 Sister Callistus was named director of the Junior Professed Sisters of the Community, a position she held until 1961.  She had also returned to the St. Joseph’s School of Music at Mount St. Joseph and to teaching and adjudicating at many of the music schools and festivals in Ontario and across Canada.  She was a member of the Board of Directors of the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music, the Board of Studies and Board of Examiners, also the first recipient of a special award from the London branch of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association; a member of the Canadian Festival Adjudicators Association, the London Diocesan Sacred Music Committee and the Canadian Music Competition Incorporated.

Sister Callistus entered into the lives and hearts of teachers and students and was known as an extremely caring and encouraging person, a friend, mentor, educator, clinician, examiner and adjudicator.  When she retired in 1995, the Arnsby family created a scholarship at the Western Conservatory in her name.  The Western Ontario Conservatory of Music honoured Sister Callistus’ long and faithful commitment to the development of music throughout Canada by awarding her an honorary licentiate diploma.