History of St-Leonard’s Society

 

Our History


Unless our society can redeem those who go astray, we can hardly call ourselves civilized; and, anyone doing the work being undertaken in St. Leonard’s halfway houses deserves the support of all who believe in human dignity.” 
Stanley Knowles, M.P.


Little is known for certain of St. Leonard’s history, as his early “life,” written in the eleventh century, has no historical value whatsoever. So let’s begin with the legend that recounts a sixth century French monk named Leonard who saved the lives of both the Queen and her newborn daughter, Bertoara.


A grateful King Clovis granted Leonard a huge tract of land where he built a monastery christened Noblac. The King permitted Leonard to take prisoners under his care at Noblac, and then release them when they had proved themselves ready. St. Leonard became the patron saint of prisoners; his icon is generally represented holding broken chains in his hands.





In 1962, the first St. Leonard’s half-way home in Canada opened its doors right here in Windsor, to welcome men who had spent time behind bars and needed a safe haven to make a clean start.


A practical and determined Anglican priest named Thomas Neil Libby and his supporters shared a vision to help offenders rehabilitate in a social climate where ex-offenders were regarded as unfit and undeserving of any support.


Neil Libby (left) pioneered the halfway house movement in Canada; today there are sixteen Society homes and affiliates across the country. Yet, when the first St. Leonard’s House was proposed in Windsor, it was greeted with extraordinary resistance. Neighborhoods and local politicians rallied against the idea of housing “ex-cons.”


They waved fists in town meetings, screamed telephone threats to Board members and wrote angry letters to newspaper editors describing the dangers and risks to their wives and children, property values and business income.


All this, however, only strengthened the resolve of the founding members and convinced them of the importance of their mission.


Over 40 years later, St. Leonard’s has earned this community’s support. Situated in a modest, split-level building on Victoria Avenue in downtown Windsor, St. Leonard’s Society has intentionally kept a low profile to prevent residents from being singled out as they quietly re-build their lives.


And yet, St. Leonard’s is much more than the bricks and mortar of a building. A United Way supported agency since 1968, the society’s services are designed to give back to the community that supports its work with ex-offenders.

St. Leonard’s provides a place to live for those who have been in trouble with the law, and an opportunity to remove the stigma of being an ex-con through guidance, counseling, and understanding. St. Leonard’s also advocates reforms to the social justice system, to ensure that those who leave prison do not return to the community less able to live crime-free than when they left it.


The Society has steadily grown and responded to the changing needs of subgroups such as probationers, young men and women in conflict with the law, and those dependent on alcohol and drugs. Programs have been expanded to include life skills and job placement training, intermittent
programs, and Lifeline, which helps those who have received long-term sentences to readjust to “life on the outside.”


St. Leonard’s Society continues to be active in Correctional Services and frequently makes presentations to parliament and other provincial government groups on issues that concern the incarcerated and released offender. They also organize seminars for the public, and develop position papers on the judicial system.


The strength and heart of the society’s work rests on building genuine one-on-one friendships with the people they serve in a setting of support – a place where they are challenged to value themselves and to actively find meaning in their lives through education, employment and relationships within the community.


The St. Leonard’s Society of Canada continues its work in response to the changing social justice environment in Canada.



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