Our Stories | St. Michael’s Magazine: Dr. James Ginther, Dean of the Faculty of Theology

Add thumb

Category: St. Michael’s Magazine, Spring 2015

Author: By Catherine Mulroney 8T2

Dr. James Ginther aims to foster a sense of how the Catholic tradition and identity can have an impact on society

James Ginther, the incoming Dean for the Faculty of Theology, is a mediaeval historian who describes himself as “interested in how theological issues related to the on-the-ground experience” of the people of the Middle Ages. Fast-forward a few centuries and it is easy to see how Dr. Ginther will use the same approach today in his new role.

One of the responsibilities of a divinity school in an increasingly secular era is to “ask the hard questions,” he says. “I want to foster a sense of how our Catholic tradition and identity can have an impact on society as a whole. To do that, I’m going to start by exploring what questions are burning in the hearts of the faculty.

“I’m an academic who likes administration because in doing so, I can help my colleagues in the Faculty find the time and flexibility they need to be successful—to teach, to research, to write,” he explains. But Dr. Ginther, who taught first at the University of Leeds before taking a position at Saint Louis University, where he served as Chair of the Department of Theological Studies, also loves to teach. Describing himself as someone who likes “to lead from the front,” Dr. Ginther has taught courses on mediaeval Bible exegesis, theology as science and Anselm of Canterbury. His special area of interest is 13th-century theologian and philosopher Robert Grosseteste.

A self-professed “sci-fi geek,” Dr. Ginther has applied his computer-programming skills to ensure Grosseteste—and other ancient writers—remain accessible to modern scholars. Projects he’s been involved with include work on The Electronic Grosseteste, a website with digitized versions of the mediaeval polymath’s work, and T-PEN (Transcription for Editorial and Paleographical Notation), software that allows users to transcribe digitized manuscripts directly on the computer screen rather than having to switch back and forth from computer to notepad.

T-PEN stems from another of Dr. Ginther’s passions, paleography, the study of ancient handwriting. He labels it a critical diagnostic tool for delving into historical manuscripts. “Texts are fluid, and often ideas are lost when captured on the printed page,” he says in explaining the importance of being able to access original documents. “By creating the tools I needed to do my work, others can use them as well. There are thousands of resources that have barely been read.” A fascination with Grosseteste grew while Dr. Ginther was doing graduate studies at U of T’s Centre for Medieval Studies, where he earned an M.A. in 1990 and his Ph.D. in 1995, with a doctoral thesis entitled “The Super Psalterium of Robert Grosseteste (ca. 1170-1253): A Scholastic Psalms Commentary as a Source for Mediaeval Ecclesiology.”

“I have fond memories of studying on the third and fourth floors of Kelly Library,” he recalls. “I had many happy times in the common room at PIMS [The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, located at St. Mike’s] and have friends to this day that I met there. You always knew you would find the book you needed at PIMS,” he jokes about its non-circulating collection.

It was during his studies in 1992 that Dr. Ginther was received into the Church at St. Basil’s under the guidance of PIMS professor Fr. Walter Principe CSB, a man he credits as having a profound influence on both his career and personal life. In 2005, Dr. Ginther served as a co-editor of Essays in Medieval Philosophy and Theology in Memory of Walter H. Principe, CSB: Fortresses and Launching Pads, published by Ashgate Press.

Born in Scarborough, Dr. Ginther describes himself as “full of emotion over returning to a city I love. I missed Canadian society quite a bit when I was away. Living elsewhere gave me a whole new appreciation for my home.”

As he settles in to the Dean’s office, Dr. Ginther has two particular constituencies in mind: USMC alumni and teachers. Educating teachers is a significant aspect of the faculty, he says, with the Master of Religious Education (MRE) degree a vital offering. A “generational shift” in catechetical knowledge and the ability to think theologically has made the MRE particularly important in ensuring there are catechists able to lead and inspire, he stresses. As for the alumni, Dr. Ginther plans to consult with them to hear their vision of how the faculty can best serve the Church and the broader community.

“There’s lots to celebrate here. We don’t want to hide our light under a bushel,” he says of his new workplace, adding that he has set his sights on ensuring that St. Mike’s, with its impressive history in theological education, is seen as the place to do a doctorate in theology.

When asked what people should know about him, Dr. Ginther immediately says that family—wife Diana and daughters Katya, 15, and Nicola, 12—is “very important.” Then, for the sake of his new colleagues, students and the broader St. Mike’s community, he adds, “I like to laugh every day, and I am passionate about what I do. I am very privileged to get to do what I love.”


Staff and Faculty of the USMC Department of Theology. Back row L-R: Darren Dias O.P., Dennis O’Hara, John L. McLaughlin, Catherine Mulroney, Mario O. D’Souza C.S.B., Emil Iruthayathas. Front row L-R: Michael Attridge, Colleen Shantz, Cicily Tang.

Photos: Sandro Pehar, Spring 2015 St. Michael’s

“I want to foster a sense of how our Catholic tradition and identity can have an impact on society as a whole. To do that, I’m going to start by exploring what questions are burning in the hearts of the faculty.”