Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy is faithfully Catholic, offers a strong liberal arts curriculum, and is surprisingly affordable for American students who take advantage of its one-, two- or three-year programs and go on to receive their degree at one of the partnering Newman Guide colleges.
The Academy, which grew out of a dream of homeschooling families for faithful and affordable Catholic higher education in Ontario, hopes soon to offer a four-year degree. But the Canadian government has stringent rules for postsecondary institutions, and OLSWA is at least a few years away from final approval.
The Academy has three academic and administrative buildings, located immediately adjacent to St. Hedwig’s Parish, which overlooks a scenic lake. It also uses parish space for dining and for an extra classroom. Students live together in small households in three purpose-built residences and in other leased residences in the local community.
With current enrollment at 78 students, the Academy’s goal is to have as many as 200 students. More than one-third of the students have been homeschooled, and about 10 percent are American.
Students can earn a Basic Certificate after one year of study, and an Associate Certificate after two years. At the end of three years, students may earn a General Certificate of Christian Humanities or one with a concentration in any of five areas.
A 13-member board of directors governs the Academy, assisted by an academic senate. The episcopal advisory board includes Thomas Cardinal Collins of Toronto, Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., of Vancouver, and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., of Ottawa. Dr. Keith Cassidy, the president, is an historian who has taught at several Canadian universities and has written on several aspects of American history, most notably about the pro-life movement. .
The very low cost is appealing. Tuition, room and board in 2012-13 cost students C$10,950, or about $11,170 USD as of September 2012. That can be further reduced by scholarships, “bursaries” (grants), and work-study opportunities.
In the first year, students take courses in Christian doctrine, Scripture, Western civilization, philosophy, essay writing, Latin and chorus. Second-year courses include Scripture and philosophy, including Introduction to St. Thomas, and Survey of Literature.
Students may concentrate in any of five areas: literature, history, philosophy, theology and Church music. They may take electives in these areas as well as in Natural Sciences, Mathematics, Social Sciences and Arts.
The Academy has expanded its music offerings under Maestro Uwe Liefländer, founder of Canada’s Sacred Music Society. In addition to directing the choir, he teaches a wide variety of music courses and offers individual music lessons.
Catholic novelist and artist Michael D. O’Brien and his wife Sheila helped found OLSWA and is its artist- and writer-in-residence.
The Academy has had its credits accepted by Christendom College, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ave Maria University, the College of St. Mary Magdalen, and Campion College in Australia. OLSWA credits have also been accepted by colleges not in The Newman Guide, including Holy Cross College in Indiana, Redeemer University College in Hamilton, Ontario, and Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto. The latter two are nondenominational Christian colleges.
All full-time and part-time faculty members are faithful Catholics.
The spiritual life revolves around St. Hedwig’s Parish. Most students attend one of the two normally-scheduled daily Masses there. A weekly formal Academy Mass is celebrated by the OLSWA chaplains, with music provided by the Academy choir. There also are two Sunday Masses, one Saturday Vigil Mass, and twice-weekly confessions at the parish. The Extraordinary form is also provided whenever possible based on the availability of celebrants.
Students are active in parish life, serving as readers, altar servers, members of the choir, and participants in Eucharistic Adoration.
Students are invited to join in a daily Rosary with faculty and staff. An annual Consecration to Mary is made every fall at the campus grotto. There is a men’s and a women’s retreat each year, two pilgrimages, a Christian formation speaker series, and an annual Day of Recollection held early in the fall semester for the entire OLSWA community.
The Academy’s chaplain is Fr. Paul Burchat, a member of the nearby Madonna House lay community, who is assisted by Fr. Joseph Hattie, O.M.I. Students have the opportunity to meet with these priests throughout the week for spiritual direction, counseling and confession.
On-campus students live in single-sex residence houses. Each house has eight to 12 students along with one residence assistant and a proctor, who are older students. Meals are provided at St. Hedwig’s parish hall.
The households are an important part of the student life program. The houses have monthly house nights and regular prayer time interwoven into their daily lives.
Chastity is fostered, and there are clear guidelines regarding times for opposite-sex visitations in the houses. Intervisitation in the bedrooms is always forbidden. “Modest” dress is always expected on campus, and a professional dress code applies for classes.
All students are assigned regular chores for three to four hours a week. These include helping with the dinner dishes, sweeping the floors, and cleaning classrooms and common areas.
St. Francis Memorial Hospital is located in the town. There are no significant airports nearby; Americans are likely to use Ottawa International Airport, a two and one-half-hour drive away, or Toronto Pearson International Airport, which is four hours away. Route 17, known as the Trans-Canada Highway, is an hour’s drive from the town.
Campus clubs include the Don Bosco Drama Club, the Frassati Outdoors Club, the Evangelization Club, and the Paul Sanders and Janine Lieu Pro-Life Club, named in memory of two students.
Every year a large number of musically talented students come to campus. There are frequent informal musical events, as well as organized activities such as Schola, which includes members of the wider community.
Students elect a Student Activities Council every year to plan monthly social events such as the Winter Formal and other dances, movie nights, and field trips. New organizations form each year based on interest, and many informal social activities are student-initiated.
Most days there are spontaneous sporting activities. Every week there is a regular sports night at a local gym (which includes soccer, volleyball, basketball, badminton, and weight lifting), followed by a hockey game at the local arena.
The Bottom Line
Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy is an affordable yet high-quality option for faithful Catholics. This small institution, committed to its motto of Veritas vos Liberabit (“The Truth will set you free”), provides a wonderful curriculum at a very low cost.
The Academy can help students get acclimated to college life and strengthen their faith before moving on to another solid Catholic college to finish their studies, but we hope the Academy is soon recognized as a full college, able to award bachelor’s degrees. The promise of this institution is enhanced by the beauty of studying in the scenic Ontario valley. It’s an option worth serious consideration.