“Monsignor Ronan had a dream, a dream that inspired us as boys.” Robert Carney (Class of 1939) reflects on the influence of the Choir School on his life toward the end of his conversation with Director Stephen Handrigan. It is a brilliant fall day, the last day of October, and Steve is sitting with Bob and Denise, his wife of 65 years, sharing their fond memories of the school, and of their lives together.
Bob Carney is our oldest living alumnus. He was born in Toronto on January 1st, 1929, into the desperate times of the Great Depression. His parents sent him to the local Catholic school, St. Vincent De Paul, where he was selected during the screening process as a candidate for the newly-formed St. Michael’s Choir School. Bob chuckled with delight and surprise when Steve informed him that hopeful choristers today go through exactly the same screening process established by Monsignor Ronan 80 years ago. On completing his studies at the Choir School, Bob continued at De La Salle, first on Bond Street, and then at its new Oaklands campus.
Bob was amongst the first graduates of the then new St. Michael’s Choir School. He has affectionate memories of several of the teachers and staff: his first piano teacher, Miss Clap, Miss Mann, who was a young girl at the time, and Miss Hopperton, one of his favourite teachers. He warmly recalls that Fr. Barrett “was a real pal to us.” Bob loved to sing (he still does) and was thrilled when Fr. Ronan selected him for special assignments. He could often be found singing at the noon mass at the Cathedral, and he loved the choir tours – a highlight of his time at the school. And he vividly remembers the 4 Lads and the Crew Cuts. The Choir School has a special place in his heart, and even today he enjoys watching the latest generations sing at the SMCS, including the current MacLean family.
Denise remembers, after returning from an early Sunday mass at their local church, that her mother would turn on the radio to hear the mass broadcast from the Cathedral. Denise confesses that initially she was not really much interested in listening to a second mass, but the soloist’s voice captivated her. She was listening to Bob singing mass on the radio, never dreaming that the soloist whose voice she so admired was destined to be her future husband.
Bob and Denise, were married in 1951 by Fr. Pearce Lacey. They went on to have a full household of five boys and two girls, seven children in all. Bob was a genuine entrepreneur and began his very successful career in sales. He later founded a mechanical company that was purchased by the Japanese company Tsubaki. After the sale, Bob continued to work for the company, over the years making many trips to Japan with Denise.
In another remarkable twist of fate, Bob’s brother married someone from Colgan, Ontario, just north of Toronto near the Hockley Valley, and Monsignor Ronan’s hometown. As a consequence, Bob and Denise got to know many of the Ronans who still lived in that area, further enriching their connection with the broader community of the school.
Bob fulfilled many of Monsignor Ronan’s dreams. He not only continued to sing to the glory of God his whole life, but also helped Fr. Pearce Lacey select the site and build the Church of the Transfiguration in the relatively undeveloped west end of Etobicoke. Bob then went on for many years to conduct the choir and inspire the love of music and the love of the liturgy, just as he had learned it under Monsignor Ronan.
Sitting in the soft autumn light and trying to sum up what the Choir School has meant to him, Bob turns to Steve and says, “I have so many great memories from that wonderful time in my life. Monsignor Ronan had a dream that inspired us as boys and we never forgot what he taught us.”