The Circle Herstory

Our Story – Weaving the Circle Tapestry

In 1990, an original “woman-foursome” envisioned a place where women could join together to explore and celebrate the sacred in their lives, where they could articulate a spirituality expressive of their yearnings and hopes, a sprituality that enlivens the personal and the political, and that honours all religious denominations, yet goes beyond the boundaries of any one.

One of the first strands needed for the weaving of this new tapestry was a place to gather. Being an Ursuline Sister herself, Patricia McLean immediately thought of Brescia University College. Founded by the Ursulines in 1919, Brescia has been a woman-led university since it’s inception (and it is the only women’s university left in Canada today!). Patty’s proposal to Brescia’s administration was accepted within hours and the beginning of a mutually empowering and supportive relationship had begun.

The next thread(s) was the gathering of women. The weaving began on 2 May 1990 when Patricia McLean, osu, Madeleine Hart, Margie O’Connor and Tammy Denomme met to share their hopes and let their imaginations run wild. The name “The Circle” surfaced from that sharing.

They began to ask themselves “Can The Circle, in true feminist style, ‘dismantle the illusion of separateness?’ And, in the uncovering of the sacred in the lives of women- through a variety of programs and events- confront the dualism of the academic versus the popular and bridge the gap between youth and maturity?”

After that initial gathering, each of the foursome invited another woman to join. Every invitation that was extended was accepted. What a confirmation! The expanded collective included Margaret Simpson, Shelly Siskind, Laurie Hazzard, Louise Peters, Barbara Anne Snyder and Krysal Kewayosh. These are our founding mothers, the “grand” mothers of our centre. In that first year, they put their focus into words and created The Circle’s first mission statement. This statement continues to be a solid framework for the many other women who have since lent their energy and creativity to the “Planning Circle” (The Circle’s governing board).

Since those beginning threads, many new strands have been added to our tapestry: Open Circles, The Circle Newsletter, The Circle Library, the Ritual of Re-Membering, commemorating the Montreal Massacre, the Brighid Festival, countless workshops and series and so much more. However, what continues to give our tapestry colour, richness and texture is the hundreds and hundreds of women since that have been a part of our membership and whose hopes, dreams and support have allowed The Circle to grow, spiral and flourish.

Key Dates in our Herstory

Click on links for pictures, images or posters!

  • May 1990 – The Circle was founded and granted space at Brescia University College.
  • December 1990 – Our first public event was A Service to Re-Member, commemorating the first anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.
  • Spring 1991 – The first edition of The Circle Newsletter is published.
  • October 1991 – we host our first monthly Open Circle. The topic was “What Rosemary Ruether Says” facilitated by Jan Pennycook.
  • December 1994 – Celebrations and Blessing of the new Circle Centre.
  • May 1995 – the first Finders Keepers Conference “Divining the Heart of Feminist Spirituality was held, drawing 800+ women from around North America.
  • January 1997 – The Circle hosts Sue Monk Kidd
  • October 1997 – Sketching Social Hope Conference for Women in Hard Times
  • March 1999 – 10th Anniversary Re-Membering Project, Rheta Jeffery commissioned for “15 Candelsticks and a Vase” for use during ensuing rituals. Click here for a picture of the candlesticks.
  • August 1999 – an Administrative Assistant is hired (this is the centre’s first employee). **Patty was the acting director of The Circle since 1990 in a volunteer capacity (wow!  how generous!).
  • May 2000 – The Circle celebrates our 10th anniversary!
  • May 2000 – Second Finders Keepers Conference “Gathering Blossoms Under Fire.” A beautiful quilt, inspired by the theme was created by Dorothy Martin, Bernice Santor and Kathryn Zinger and is still on display at Brescia today.
  • May 2001The Circle Labyrinth was built on the grounds of Brescia.
  • June 2001 Feminist Spirituality Program with artist and mystic Meinrad Craighead.
  • November 2002 – the first MORE Than a Book Sale (titled “Winter Hibernation” Book Sale for that year only).
  • March 2004 – The Circle hosts Monia Mazigh for IWD
  • February 2005 – we host NFB Filmaker Donna Read and premier Signs Out of Time, her new documentary about the life of archaeologis Marija Gimbutas.
  • March 2005 – The Circle hosts Elizabeth May for International Women’ Day.
  • May 2005 – The Circle celebrates 15 years and publishes Full Circle, a journal featuring 15 years of excerpts from The Circle Newsletter.
  • May 2005 – The Circle celebrates the “thresholding” (retirement) of Patricia (Patty) McLean, osu as director of The Circle after 15 years of service and creates a scholarship fund in her name to be awarded to a student in the Feminist Spirituality Course at Brescia.
  • August 2005 – Kim Young Milani becomes the new director of The Circle and an employee of Brescia.
  • September 2005The Sophia Series, a speaker and event series at Brescia is created.
  • March 2006 – The Circle hosts the Honourable Flora MacDonald for IWD.
  • February 2007 – The first Brighid event is hosted: Keeper of the Flame, Exploring Brighid of Ireland.
  • April 2006 – A new agreement is signed between The Circle and Brescia University College making us an official program of the university while maintaining our independent governance and operations.
  • March 2007 – The Circle hosts Severn Cullis-Suzuki for IWD.
  • May 2007 – The Circle hosts Jane Urquhart for the Jeanne Adamson Memorial Event (JAME).
  • February 2008 – The first 3-day Brighid Festival (Forging Courage, Midwifing Wisdom) with Irish scholar Mary Condren is held
  • February 2008 – The Circle hosts Michele Landsberg for IWD.
  • June 2008 – First Red Tent Ritual: Celebrating Maiden, Mother & Crone.
  • October 2009 – Circle founder Patty McLean receives a Person’s Day Award from the Women’s Events Committee of London for her contribution to the betterment of women’s lives through spirituality and activism over the years.
  • March 2010 – The Circle hosts Stephanie Nolen for IWD.
  • September 2010 – The Circle host our 20th Anniversary celebration – Ordinary Miracle.
  • May 2011 – The Circle hosts Emma Donoghue for JAME.
  • March 2012 – The Circle hosts the Food Network’s “Spice Goddess” Bal Arneson for IWD.
  • March 2012 – The Circle marks Earth Hour with candlelit labyrinth walk.
  • May 2012 – The Circle hosts The Birth House author Ami McKay for JAME.