The Jesuits in Guelph

The Jesuits have a long history in the Guelph area. A year before the city was founded in 1827, a member of the party of John Galt (founder of the city) was married by a Jesuit. German Jesuits first settled in the area in 1852. In the early years, the Jesuits played a role in establishing St. Joseph’s hospital, Catholic schools, the construction of the Church of Our Lady Immaculate, an important landmark and place of worship in the city, and establishing Sacred Heart Parish.

In 1852, Bishop Charbonnel of Toronto appointed Father John Holzer, SJ, to be Pastor of St. Patrick’s parish in Guelph which eventually became Church of Our Lady. This was the same year that the town of Guelph was celebrating its 25th anniversary. The parish would be under the care of the Jesuit Order until 1931.

Fr. Holzer, along with other early Jesuits, established fifty-six mission stations in the area, placing a focus on social and educational issues – as well as religious concerns.

In 1863, Fr. Holzer had attempted to establish a pre-seminary adjacent Church of Our Lady. His efforts met with limited success and the seminary closed in 1864. His vision for a place of worship and prayer for young novices in formation would be realized in a different setting years after his death.

Jesuit Roots

The Guelph Jesuits moved to the land now called the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in 1913. This land was part of the territory first occupied by the Mississauga Natives. In 1792, the British colonial government negotiated a treaty with the Mississaugas, which included all the land of this area.

This group of thirteen thirteen English Jesuits arrived from Sault-au-Recollet to establish an English-speaking novitiate for the training of young Jesuits. They purchased a large tract of land just north of Guelph — now known as the Ignatius Jesuit Centre. Re-designing the original farmhouse, the early Jesuits officially opened The St. Stanislaus Novitiate.

The Novitiate was well received by the Jesuit community in Canada. In response to the growing demand for housing and classrooms, a larger building was constructed in 1933. Expansion resumed again in 1949. In 1958, the novitiate was incorporated and renamed The Ignatius College in honour of the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

The surrounding farmland of the college provided balance in the lives of the novices. Initially maintained solely by the Jesuit Brothers, a farm manager joined the farm.  Since that time, the Ignatius Farm has become a pioneer in organic crop management and beautifully illustrates the viability and benefits of small organic farms.

In response to a cultural malaise in religious discipline during the latter decades of the 20th century, Ignatius College struggled to fulfill its mandate. No longer in scale with the size of the Jesuit community in the region, the College closed.

Today the Ignatius Jesuit Centre is well-known and treasured by Jesuits and their collaborators around the world. The Jesuit Community of Guelph continues on staff as Spiritual Directors at the Centre. The Ignatius land, over 600 acres, is the home and sustenance of their Ecology and Spiritual ministries.

Who are the Jesuits?

The Jesuit order is the largest men’s religious ministry in the Catholic Church. The term Jesuit originated with the founding of “The Society of Jesus” in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola. Today, there are almost 20,000 Jesuits serving the Church in 112 nations on six continents.

Read more on the history of the Jesuits of Canada