Chapel services have been central to community life at St. Andrew's College since its founding in 1899. Founded by Presbyterian clergy and laymen, St. Andrew’s is dedicated to offering a solid education “in a manly spirit of Christianity” developing “the complete man, the well-rounded citizen” by “encouraging a healthy balance in mind, body, heart, and spirit.”
When the Rev. D. Bruce Macdonald became Principal (later Headmaster) in 1900, he began to build the School with the philosophy of the Thomas Arnold of Rugby School, that character development was the objective of all education. Accordingly, his idea of education consisted of the study of the classics, along with sport, the Prefectorial system, and “religion, to provide an ethical system for life as a muscular Christian.”
Dr. Macdonald carried the pastoral responsibilities of Chaplain himself. He conducted morning services with readings from Scripture and prayers. “Evening prayers took place after the evening meal. He conducted a Bible Class on Sunday afternoons. All the boarders were expected to attend the church of the denomination to which their parents belonged.” There was a Sunday Chapel service at night where Dr. Macdonald preached.
Over the decades, religious life at St. Andrew's has changed. There has been a succession of Chaplains of various denominations, and the services have become more responsive to changes in society, becoming less formal and including debates, discussions, concerts, and student sermons.
Today, as the student body has become more religiously diverse, elements from other faiths, prayers, and readings have been added. Efforts have been made to make the time more inclusive of the whole community, by encouraging involvement by both students and teachers.
Throughout the history of St. Andrew’s, Chapel services have been conducted in a variety of venues, including the billiards room of the original Chestnut Hall in Toronto. When the move from Rosedale to Aurora was being planned, the construction of a Chapel was included in the original plans. However, the Memorial Chapel was not completed until 1931, five years after the School opened. Services were held for five years in a section of the library, which was set up like a meeting hall.
Sir Joseph Flavelle, then Chairman of the Board, contributed $70,000 toward the building of the Chapel. It was designed by E. H. Paisley, formally of Marani and Paisley, the School's original architects. It is in the Georgian style and modelled on the churches of Sir Christopher Wren with a twisted red brick steeple, 94-feet in height. A portico with heavy stone pillars stands at the west front. The entrance is framed in plain stone with the Jesuit motto, "Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam" ("To the greater glory of God") above the door. It seats approximately 300 people. The interior is simple and dignified, with large windows providing an abundance of light. The chancel is panelled with walnut and gum-wood. It is called the Memorial Chapel in memory of the 106 Andreans who gave their lives in the First World War – 104 Old Boys and two Masters. A commemorative tablet bearing their names was originally placed in the chancel close to the communion table.
The foundations of the Chapel were laid in March 1930, and it was consecrated on Sunday, May 10, 1931, before it was completely finished. Canon Henry John Cody took the first service and dedicated the Chapel. Master Percy Robinson read the names of those who had died. The Headmaster, the Rev. D. Bruce Macdonald, preached about common responsibilities to which the ideals of the Chapel point.
Following the Second World War, another commemorative tablet was added to the Chapel with the names of the 45 Andreans who died in that war. The First World War tablet was moved from the chancel so that the two tablets were on either side of the chancel. Later, during the tenure of Headmaster Tom Hockin, a large fabric hanging, which included stylized figures reaching up to God and the decussate cross of St. Andrew's in the background, was hung over the communion table.
Excerpts taken from “Not an Ordinary Place,” the historical account of St. Andrew’s College (1999).
At the back of the Chapel are flags representing the various countries from which Andreans have come from over the years. In the corner is the flag of the #142 St. Andrew’s College Highland Cadet Corps. Throughout the Chapel are plaques memorializing people who have contributed significantly to the Andrean community, along with memorabilia from the First World War.