Taking Good Care of “a Gift from Heaven”

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Sometimes the greatest gifts are the ones we don’t expect, like a surprise visit from a friend or an unexpected letter in the mail.

And sometimes those surprise gifts are, well, much bigger: like Ernescliff College!

Although you might not know it, the now decades-old residence was just that kind of surprise gift…

The 1990s

Although a fixture at the University of Toronto now, Ernecliff was not always part of the picture.

In Toronto, the 1990’s started with a single house: Ullerston Study Centre.

In 1992, a smaller house a block away was purchased as an annex, called Euclid. A highlight of our time there was Mass on May 17, 1992, to commemorate the beatification of St. Josemaria. The weather was glorious and an outdoor reception at Ullerston capped a joyful day.

A New Plan

Despite high hopes for Euclid allowing us to increase the number of students living in the dual location ‘centre’ and coming to activities, it proved to be logistically too difficult. A new project was hatched in 1993 to purchase a single large building that could house 15-20 people. Word quickly got out. Within a few weeks, Peter Rebello, an Opus Dei member, and great supporter of Ullerston, was working out at a gym run by his physician as he had recently had a heart procedure. His doctor came over and said his son, a real estate broker, had the perfect place for a student residence.

A Gift from Heaven

Within a few weeks, a visit was arranged to 156 St. George Street. It turned out to be a gift from Heaven. Located on the campus of the University of Toronto and a two-minute walk from the St. George subway station – it was ideally located. At that time, it was a women’s residence run by the Presbyterian Church of Canada called Ewart College. It could easily house dozens of students on its three floors.

And so began a year of bidding, negotiations, and eventual purchase on June 30, 1994. A new chapter opened with Ernescliff College. A year of renovations followed, particularly the oratory, which already existed as part of the original building but needed a major redesign and upgrade. We packed all our belongings from the previous houses into the gym and massive living room. Then the dust rained down. Walls came down, new ones came up and changes took place throughout the house.

Changes and Challenges

A major change from previous centres was the inclusion of a centre of women of Opus Dei, Lyncroft, occupying a third of the house. Its mission is to provide professional hospitality services to Ernescliff while also running a hospitality school.

The first years of Ernescliff certainly had their challenges, the main one being to find residents who understood and were committed to living in the family environment we offer. Most university residences tend towards the impersonal, with limited opportunities to get to know others. Ernescliff has a different approach. Creating bonds of friendship and solidarity are central to life at Ernescliff. It is also open to people of all faiths, offering an opportunity to learn about or grow in the Catholic faith through the Roman Catholic chaplaincy offered by Opus Dei – but not requiring such involvement from anybody. Over the years, we have had residents of pretty much all – or no faiths. Many of them have been the biggest fans of the Ernescliff experience.

With time, promotion, and word of mouth, Ernescliff has steadily filled. In recent years, we have been full and had to turn applicants away. Certainly COVID-19 has kept many new and previous residents away, but we hope for a return to a full house in fall 2021.

Taking Good Care of the Gift

The dream, following a return to more normal times, is that a more functional Ernescliff College will rise on our current location. This will support our mission to be a home away from home for university students who can become leaders to make a positive contribution to our world.

We hope to achieve the dream by taking good care of the gift we have received.

And for this, we need your help!

Wellspring Cultural Foundation has started a campaign to pay off the remainder of the debt.

Please also pray for the success of this project.

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