School of Social Work Plays Integral Role in the History of King’s

In the late 1960s, the future of King’s (then King’s College) looked dismal. Many quality faculty was departing, there was agitation among the student body, and low enrolment had put the College in a perilous state. In October 1967, then-Principal Father Eugene LaRocque was told King’s College would be closed. Several scenarios about the future of King’s were discussed but none seemed promising.

After Fr. LaRocque was asked to resign, Dr. Owen Carrigan was appointed as the third Principal on February 5, 1968.  Born in Nova Scotia, Carrigan had moved to Ontario and was teaching at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (now Martin Luther University College). With a PhD in History, Dr. Carrigan would be a full professor in King’s History department. Little did he know, he would make history.

“I don’t think that there is anything intrinsic about the aims and objectives of Catholic education that necessarily are incompatible with having a first-class academic institution,” Dr. Carrigan said in 1968.

He began to develop a multiple-part plan to deal with the range of problems facing King’s. He understood King’s would need to increase enrollment were it to survive.

“It was important to the recruitment of students that King’s remain part of Western,” says Dr. Carrigan. He believed maintaining tight ties to the university would provide more stability for King’s.

He saw that Western had not Social Work degree program. “I saw that as an opportunity to have a Social Work program and have it based at King’s,” says Dr. Carrigan.

King’s had been teaching a Philosophy of Social Work course since 1962 and had a strong selection of courses related to the profession, including Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. One of the priests at the college had long held a lecture series on social issues. Social Work was also aligned to the value of social justice, a strong theme to the Catholic faith.

In April 1968, while still Principal-designate, Dr. Carrigan began to undertake the formalities of developing a Social Work program at King’s. He first brought the proposal to the King’s Board of Directors. Once the Board of Directors had passed it, there were a number of hearings at Western’s University Senate.

Dr. Carrigan says that not everyone within the University Senate was in favour of King’s having the School of Social Work but “we forged ahead.”

In March 1969, Dr. Carrigan was given approval to establish a School of Social Work at King’s.  In September 1970, the program officially opened under the leadership of Dr. Arden Melzer. There were 19 full-time students and 275 other students enrolled in options within the program.

“I wanted to serve the community,” says Dr. Carrigan. To this end, he met with local social workers to negotiate study places for Social Work students who would improve their education in the field while working in the community.

In launching the School of Social Work, Dr. Carrigan had also laid the groundwork to make King’s co-educational. Initially, King’s had been intended as an all-male institution, with Brescia to accommodate the Catholic female students.

The enrolment of female students into the School of Social Work would put King’s in direct competition with Brescia. For Dr. Carrigan, not bound to a promise made by Fr. LaRocque that King’s would not become co-educational, considered the time for single-sex education to have passed.

Initially, a promise was made that King’s would not accept direct transfers from Brescia to King’s. It was amended that Brescia students would need to transfer to Western and then to King’s. However, by January 1970, that was further amended to allow students to directly transfer from Brescia to King’s. In fact, Julie-Ann McCarthy, the first female graduate of King’s, was a transfer from Brescia.

The efforts of Dr. Carrigan and others at King’s worked. The School of Social Work succeeded in increasing enrolment at King’s.

“The quality of the program was first-class, equal to similar programs at other universities,” says Dr. Carrigan. He saw his insistence on hiring professors with PhDs as giving King’s a better quality faculty than other universities could provide.

Having the School of Social Work as a “star academic program now open at King’s and Western” made the job of recruitment easier. In the early days of his time as King’s Principal, Dr. Carrigan was also a recruiter. He created an audio-visual presentation that included photographs both of King’s and Western’s campus which was “one of the nicest in the province.”

In reflecting on the 50-year history of the School of Social Work, Dr. Carrigan says “it is a sign of the success of the program that we are celebrating it 50 years later. It has served King’s well in terms of the school’s academic reputation.”

Dr. Carrigan says the development of the School of Social Work “was one of the things I am quite proud of in my career.”

For more on Dr. Carrigan’s impact on King’s, please visit