Sister Callistus speaks about the School of Music [Part One]

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Sister Callistus speaks about the School of Music [Part One]


St. Joseph's School of Music; Music; Education; Sister Callistus Arnsby


Sister Callistus was the long-time Principal of St Joseph's School of Music which was amalgamated with the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music on the University of Western Ontario campus.

In this tape, Sister Callistus recalls the history of the School of Music as well as her own music education which she began as a child in London, England. When she came to Canada, at the age of 10, she was taught music by the Sisters of St Joseph at the Sacred Heart Convent. In 1927, her mother died suddenly and her father moved back to England. Kathleen (as she was known before she took her vows) was allowed to stay in Canada if the community would accept her at once. She was only 14, so this required a great deal of negotiation, but she was accepted into the Sisters of St Joseph on Easter Sunday, 1927 and took the name Sister Callistus.

Sister Callistus received her Associate Diploma in Piano from the Toronto Conservatory of Music in June 1927. She won the gold medal, though it was presented to the other graduate because having taken her vows, she was "supposed to be dead to the world."

During her Novitiate year, she completed her high school education which was interrupted when her mother died. She also began studying the organ with Cesar Borré, the organist and choirmaster at St Peter's Cathedral. Mr Borré became interested in the music in the convent chapel and taught the Sisters Gregorian Chant. He also drew up specifications for a Casavant organ which was installed in the Sacred Heart Convent Chapel in 1930. Sister Callistus earned her Associate Diploma in Organ around this time.

The School of Music, originally the Sacred Heart School of Music, began organically, with various Sisters teaching private students and helping out in the local schools. Sister Immaculata Brophy taught violin and was herself a very accomplished violinist, travelling to Toronto every month for lessons. Sr Immaculata had a number of talented students, and Sr Callistus accompanied these students at their lessons and examinations. From the beginning, Sr Immaculata encouraged string ensembles and formed a small orchestra. Players quickly advanced, and wind and brass were added, creating a small symphony.

The Sacred Heart Concert Orchestra was very popular in the 1940s, and they played at many important civic and religious events as well as giving independent concerts. However, in the late 1940s, at the orchestra's peak, the school realized that it could not continue to operate an orchestra of such a calibre, especially since many of the members were also members of the Musicians' Union. So, reluctantly, the orchestra was disbanded.

The School of Music followed the curriculum of the Toronto Conservatory of Music until the Western Ontario Conservatory was established in 1935 with Harvey Robb as principal. Mr Robb was also Sr Callistus' piano teacher and thought that she would be an excellent candidate for the new Licentiate in Music diploma at the Conservatory. He arranged for her to have the recital, and Sister Callistus became the first Licentiate of Music graduate of the Western Ontario Conservatory of Music.
The following year, she was named Community Music Supervisor. The Reverend Mother was unclear what could be expected from the role, but understood that the various schools needed consistency. The Sisters of St. Joseph operated music schools all over western Ontario as well as one in Edmonton, Alberta. Sister Callistus became Principal of the School of Music, succeeding Sr Immaculata.

In 1953, with the opening of the new Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse, the School of Music was officially named the St. Joseph School of Music. The new facility had six studios and a recital hall called after St. Cecila, the Patron Saint of Music. Three studios remained at Sacred Heart Convent for the convenience of students living downtown or studying at Catholic Central High School. Sr Callistus continued to teach at Sacred Heart Convent because she had several senior students downtown.

In September 1955, Sr Callistus was sent to the Pius XII School of Fine Arts to continue studying music, particularly piano and composition. During this time, Sister Victoria took over as Principal.

In the Mount St. Joseph Motherhouse, a library was set up to house the large collection of books and music that Sr Immaculata had accumulated over the years. After the Ignatia Wing was built, the library was moved to a larger room and remained there until the School of Music closed in 1982. Several retired sisters worked in the library to get it ready for the beginning of term in October, 1974, and Sr Eileen Arnsby (Sr Callistus' sister) served as the librarian for five years.


Sr Callistus Arnsby


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Sr Callistus Arnsby, “Sister Callistus speaks about the School of Music [Part One],” Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada Archives, accessed May 24, 2024,