Paul W Bennett Reviews an Analysis and Exploration of a Hallowed Institution in a Secular World
Caught in a Changing Society
Island Studies Press
School institutions with church origins still dot the landscape, but most live only in the memories of graduates, former teachers and their families. PEI’s St. Dunstan’s College and University has made a reappearance in Leonard Cusack’s historical memoir, Caught in a Changing Society, recounting the final years from 1950 to its 1969 closure in the merger that created the University of Prince Edward Island.
Authored by a former St. Dunstan’s student, Caught is reverential, spinning the struggles of a school for boys, founded in 1855, as it evolved into a small Catholic university offering degrees in partnership with Laval University. Much like Quebec’s Catholic colleges, it offered a classical education weighted to history, language and the arts.
When Cusack attended, the school enrolled 200 students, drawn mostly from Charlottetown and vicinity. In Cusack’s retelling, the college’s “Golden Age” was from 1950 to 1963, when “the university reached the apex of its history as an independent Catholic institution.”
Cusack seeks to put a fresh gloss on the college, with research from Lori Mayne, drawing on Edward MacDonald’s definitive history to 1956 and updating the story. The college was paternalistic, dependent upon subservient women from the flock doing “domestic chores.” When St. Dunstan’s fundraising and finances improved in the 1950s, a Science Building and program enabled it to achieve PEI university status.
It all ended when Liberal Premier Alex Campbell merged St. Dunstan’s with its Protestant counterpart, Prince of Wales College, creating UPEI.
Today the shuttered college lives in downtown Charlottetown in a restored building with a sign proclaiming “SDU.” What was once a notable Catholic boys’ school and university college, occupying several buildings, is now an ornate museum facility offering a modest number of UPEI religious studies courses. Cusack’s history will ensure the glory days are remembered.