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A talented young musician, John Edward Ronan, happened upon a passage in Pope Pius X's Motu Proprio, Tra Le Sollicitudini, in which the pontiff called for a restoration of the ancient choir schools of the Church. For Ronan, this simple text guided much of his adult life and service to the Church, and laid the ideological foundation for what is now St. Michael's Choir School.
In 1937, after studying at the Pius X School of Sacred Music in New York City, Father John Edward Ronan was appointed as Director of Music at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. In October of that year, St. Michael’s Choir School opened in a single room in the diocesan office building at 67 Bond Street, Toronto, with Fr. Ronan as its head. Through this Cathedral Schola Cantorum, the young Fr. Ronan was now able to realize Pius X’s vision with a student regimen of piano, choral music, theory and Gregorian chant that continues to this day.
Fr. Ronan was recognized by Pope Pius XII for his teaching and promotion of liturgical music and was elevated to Prelate of the Papal Household, with the title of Monsignor in 1947. Shortly thereafter on June 18, 1950, Cardinal McGuigan blessed and officially opened a new school building to accommodate the growing enrolment. In 1955, the School was granted affiliation with the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome — only six other choirs and choir schools in the world share this privilege.
Throughout the 1960s, the School continued to grow and the need for new space became paramount. This resulted in further expansion to 56 Bond Street. The continuous expansion, however, took its toll, and by 1967 financial difficulties were so dire that it was uncertain whether the high school would open for the 1967-68 year. The Choir School, which up until that point had been private, negotiated a partnership with the (then) Metropolitan Separate School Board. Under the partnership the academic program would be overseen by the school board, while the musical training remained privately funded. This arrangement, which continues today, allowed the School to receive provincial funding, yet retain autonomy and flexibility in its musical program — a musical program that is recognized and celebrated throughout the world.
For its 75th anniversary, St. Michael’s Choir School had the honour of performing for the newly elected Pope Francis, as well as at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome: an institution whose legacy and influence over the School has been profound. As the School moves towards its centennial year, Monsignor John Edward Ronan’s dedication to service through sacred music continues to live on. The spirit of innovation, growth and educational excellence that marked the early years is as vital today as it was then, and will continue to characterize St. Michael’s Choir School into the future.
Bis orat qui cantat.
He who sings prays twice.