The sixth century St. Leonard of France is known as the “Patron Saint of Prisoners”. Legend has it that in gratitude for service, a King gave St. Leonard land on which he built a monastery called Noblac, which became known as the first halfway house for prisoners. The King had such admiration for St. Leonard and such trust in his ability to deal firmly but compassionately with offenders that he allowed him to select prisoners, take them under his care at Noblac and then release them when he thought the time was right.
St. Leonard’s monastery was the model which inspired Reverend Neil Libby to establish the first St. Leonard’s House in Canada. This was in Windsor, Ontario. Before that, St. Leonard’s works and compassion also prompted the naming of the first St. Leonard’s House in Chicago in 1954. The motto used in the monastery of Noblac is still used by the St. Leonard’s Society of Canada: “Let all guests be received as Christ”.
The aim of the St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton is to free individuals from the past and support them in facing the future with dignity and new hope. This aim, it is believed, can be achieved through nurturing and compassion, considered the primary ingredients to successful transition during the major stages in life. This then establishes the foundation upon which the Society’s philosophy is built and the steps taken to assist individuals during the crucial time in their lives when they are breaking the chains of the past and establishing the nature of their future.
The St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton was originally incorporated in 1972 under the name “The Astra Society of Hamilton and District”. An eight-bed residence on Strathcona Avenue was purchased and a residential program for male offenders released to community parole began. In 1978 this property was sold and two “century homes” on Emerald Street South were purchased to expand to a thirty bed program. In 1982 the society affiliated with the St. Leonard’s Society of Canada and officially changed its name to the St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton. In 1985 the two houses on Emerald Street South were joined together, creating more office and program space. In 1988 the property on Robert Street was purchase and opened in 1989 to provide an additional 20 beds for adult male offenders on conditional releases. In 2001 the Society began the GreenBYTE program to provide a self sustaining (with a lot of help from our friends) employment services and computer technology program.