What do spectrums, Kentucky Fried Lizards, sneaky Confiteors, the Punic Wars, pilgrims attacking Indians, Yoda being a Latinist, Euthyphro, late night sledding, hockey, volleyball, caramel-covered potatoes, and forensics all have in common? The life of an OLSW student.
What: Our Lady Seat of Wisdom post-secondary liberal arts school.
Where: Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Canada.
Why: Read on.
A Day in the Life of an OLSW Student
It is a chilly fall day with a bright sun shining in a deep blue sky. As you take the ten-or-less-minute walk from your residence (one of the ten or so scattered throughout the small country town), you joke with your roommate about the latest Mr. Schintgen quote from class. Perhaps you are heading to Mass. The parish, St. Hedwig’s, stands right next door to campus. The beautiful interior and reverently celebrated Mass provide a good start to the day. Afterwards, you head down to St. Clair’s Café, where you grab a coffee and chat with friends before heading up to your first class of the day. As you watch the clock, you decide there’s time for a quick pool game and call for an opponent. Afterwards, class.
I could go through any variety of the ways your day could go. From exaggerated examples of moral choices in Professor Meenan’s Christian Doctrine class, complete with grape-crushing sound effects, to volleyball out by the portable classroom to moonlit walks on the nearby island, there’s no end to the activities and discussions at this small university. Maybe you’ll become the class heretic in Christian Doctrine when you say Christ was a human person (or was he?). At lunch, you have an existential discussion with a friend about the bad choices made in staying up too late to watch Doctor Who. Your history teacher Dr. Shaw may tell you about the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Saus-age.
Before you get too confuzzled with all the random things I’m telling you, let me give you some background information.
In 1999, a group of parents gathered to discuss the possibility of starting a Catholic college in Canada to provide solid, faithful-to-the-Magisterium teaching at a post-secondary level. Mater Ecclesiae school began. The school started with less than 10 students, and classes were held anywhere there was space—living rooms, barn lofts. Students stayed with families in the area. The following year, the name changed to Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, or OLSWA. Now, just fifteen years later, the school stands at about 105 full-time students, ten student residences (3 men’s and 7 women’s), and four office/classroom buildings. The school’s motto is Veritas vos Liberabit: The Truth Will Set you Free (John 8:32).
The school is located just a hundred yards from St. Hedwig’s Church, one of the two Catholic parishes in Barry’s Bay. Mass is held generally twice daily, with three Sunday Masses (one on Saturday) Once a month there is Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form. The young men of the school have the opportunity to serve at all Masses.
Mass for the OLSW community is held once a week. The entire student body gathers together in this celebration of the Mass; the choir at this Mass is made up of the students.
This small university has come a long way in 15 years. Now called simply Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, the school is currently in the process of application for accreditation, and if acquired, will be able to offer a 3-year degree in the liberal arts. Even without degree-granting status, OLSW is proud to boast over 300 alumni, many of whom have gone on to gain their degrees at other universities that accept OLSW’s credits, such as Franciscan University of Steubenville, Christendom College, and Redeemer University College, to name just a few.
So, why should one study at OLSW?
OLSW (fondly called the Academy by those who know it) offers a unique opportunity for growth and nurturing in faith, spirituality, friendship, and community life. It academically and practically challenges you to further your knowledge in many areas; the first year curriculum includes (but is not limited to) study of the Catechism, formal logic, an introduction to philosophy, Classical literature, and Latin. While the classes themselves are enjoyable, they are also challenging and will put your mind to the test.
Even just one year (OLSW offers 1-year, 2-year, and 3-year programs) provides the chance for a good foundation in life. Many students have done just one year and gone on to do something more practical, and been thankful for the nurturing year they had at the Academy.
There are also chances to experience the Canadian countryside and cities. There are hikes, trips to nearby cities such as Pembroke and Ottawa, and visits to sites such as caves in the local area or where Canadian saints Isaac Jogues and Jean de Brebuf were martyred.
Going personal here, since that might the best way for me to describe OSLW, my years at the Academy definitely offered challenges in various ways (before attending full-time and on-campus, I also part-timed for two years prior). My full-time year was my first time living away from home (although, I have to admit, I only live 20 minutes away from the school and two members of my family work there) and with a whole bunch of young adults my age. I was living in the largest women’s residence, a fact which provided its own set of set of difficulties. It’s simply impossible for 12 women to live together without there being some conflict. But aside from whatever conflict there was, there were also many blessings. I met people from completely different backgrounds than me, which gave me a chance to see a glimpse of another world.
I made friends with people from across the globe, literally. I shared with others the sometimes painful experience of studying; in study groups that often just form organically, I had the possibility to take other students’ understanding and knowledge and form my own understanding out of it, as well as offer my own thoughts. In class, I had the opportunity to laugh with my classmates at anecdotes about lemurs in Africa by our Latin teacher, cringe in disgust at the Iliad, and debate about whether or not one can lie to a Nazi.
I played volleyball and broke my foot (when that happened, the school accommodated me so that I could move to a more accessible residence for the duration of my crutch-state). I played hockey and hurt my dignity (I can’t really skate), but also scored some goals. I stayed up late watching Disney movies. I ended up in the school’s production of Our Town.
I made the Consecration to Our Lady. I prayed Vespers and Compline with my friends. I went sledding with my Christian Doctrine professor at 9:30 at night. We somehow used forensics to help us study history.
I feel like I’m just rambling and not actually saying anything. Maybe I’m making it sound too good, or not good at all, or just fun and games. But let me try to summarize my time at OLSW: there was definitely blood, sweat, and tears…literally. There was heartbreak, but there was also joy. Joy in community life, fellowship in my housemates and friends, support in those around me. There was a lot of laughter in and around the tears. There was formation in the faith, and simply in living and studying with others. I was homeschooled for all my life, so the Academy gave me a friendly taste of classroom life; I didn’t have to suddenly jump into a really big (possibly secular) school without any idea of how to interact with teachers or fellow-students.
I find the Academy to be a good stepping-stone for the wider world. It prepares for the life outside without being constrictive or “here’s an ocean, go dive in and have fun.” Through its structured living (there is a curfew, there are chores, and there are certain expectations), OLSW provides a framework for branching out into the wider world.
There is so much more that I haven’t even touched on. This post could go on for much longer, but as it is, I hope it has given a little taste of the essence of OLSW. For more information, visit their website.
Also check out their Facebook page for more pictures!
Pictures used with permission of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom.