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October 17th, 2017
The Renaissance Masterpiece St. Augustine's Seminary

The Renaissance Masterpiece St. Augustine's Seminary



Just east of Midland Avenue, St. Augustine's Seminary for training Roman Catholic priests stands out as a major landmark atop the Bluffs, as it has done for 100 years. Eugene O'Keefe, a wealthy Irish-Canadian brewer and philanthropist, funded the construction of the seminary, although he died just months before its dedication in 1913. Given the seminary's role preparing young men for the priesthood, it's fitting that O'Keefe's mansion on Gould Street is now a student residence of Ryerson University.

The seminary was designed by architect Arthur W. Holmes, whose name is associated with many local Catholic churches, including Holy Name on the Danforth and St. Ann's on Gerrard. Atop the Beaux-Arts building he placed a striking copper dome modelled on Il Duomo, Filippo Brunelleschi's Renaissance masterpiece in Florence.

A Gem of a Chapel

Not obvious to passersby, the neo-classical chapel within the building is the spiritual centre of the institution preparing young men for the priesthood. Holmes was an Englishman and a converted Anglican who believed that the Eucharist was the focus of worship. So he designed a relatively simple, light filled chapel that helps to focus ones attention on the altar.

The interior of the 220-seat chapel has been filled with artwork rich in religious meaning. The ceiling is covered with paintings of the Apostles, completed in 1933 by Guido Nincheri. A large Italian marble crucifix and marble furnishings provide familiar links to church traditions of Europe for a congregation that has included waves of European immigrants over the last century.

A Landmark Under Renovation

If you pass St Augustine's today you will see it covered in scaffolding. After 100 years it was suffering from major decay, which will require a $5 million makeover.

Although it looks like it is built of marble or limestone, the entablature running around the entire building is made of a cast concrete product called "Roman stone." Parts of this stone have crumbled and fallen, making the repair work both crucial and challenging. It must be replaced and reinforced while still providing structural support for the roof.

Work is also required on the interior to replace concrete, taking care to give the appearance of matching the parts that are real limestone. At the same time, the copper dome will be replaced. The repairs are scheduled to be completed in summer 2014.

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