All across Canada, musicians owe a huge debt of gratitude to the army of Sisters of St. Joseph who saw music instruction as vital to our cerebral development. They provided solid music instruction wherever there was a void. We’ve all heard stories of these nuns from the ’40s and ’50’s, both good and not so good memories of early music lessons. Nonetheless, from these beginnings we have evolved to a culture that recognizes the intrinsic value of an early, musical education. The Avila Music School was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1967. They sent in their very best teachers with the much beloved and respected, Sr. Immaculata , as its principal. The school flourished in the Lakehead University Avila Centre and became the Lakehead University Community Music School, acting as a feeder school for the L.U. Music program. That ended when the building was changed into offices and a residence. The teachers, students, pianos, myriad resources moved into temporary accommodations eventually arriving at 440 Balmoral St., Thunder Bay, Ontario, its current home.
Dr. Irene Morrow SSJ was the last of the exceptional sisters remaining with the school until her recent retirement. And what a legacy she has left us! Her spark, spirit, sense of humour, compassion, empathy and love have permeated the whole school environment. She is a natural teacher with degrees in piano, violin and pedagogy, a published author of a book on a new approach to teaching piano. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Laurentian University in recognition of her contribution to music education in Sudbury and the north. Although we are no longer affiliated with the Sisters of St. Joseph, we are the benefactors of their legacy of excellence in teaching, as most of our piano teachers are former students of these remarkable women. We also have inherited their pianos, and their vast library of music, theory, history encyclopedia and other resource books and materials. The Avila Music School has undergone extensive reorganization and restructuring that has allowed us to introduce a wider range of instruments and the development of a music library.