Our Stories | St. Michael’s Magazine: Dr. Emőke J.E. Szathmáry

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A Legacy of Rationality, A Legitimacy to Faith

This was a good thing, because only in the first year of my studies did I take more than one course at St Mike’s itself. I was enamoured of Anthropology – biological anthropology in particular – and the relevant subjects were offered only at the constituent university, in my case at the St. George campus of the University of Toronto.

There are many things I remember about St Mike’s, among them some instructors and the content of several courses, but I won’t bore you with these memories of my late teen years. All that needs to be said is that St Mike’s made an impression on me. Though I knew that my Catholic college could not provide me with the specific secular knowledge I craved, it did provide me with subject matter of another kind of significance, one that was important to my character and the formation of my identity. To begin with, identity that involved deeper layers of the self. For me there are three legs to identity – one’s sex, one’s ethnicity, and one’s religiosity, and the latter encompasses both a formal body of belief and elements of emotive significance that transcend its boundaries. It included thinking about the notion of God, one’s relationship to God, and one’s relationship and obligations to other human beings. St Mike’s opened the door to a more complex set of intellectually meaningful delights: questioning the sources of religious literature; learning to look at biblical texts as secular explanations of phenomena, with their attendant questions that, past societies had no means of answering; and the sheer pleasure of reading the liturgy in its “traditional” English-language rendition, and hearing its music.

After graduation, like many of my generation, I wandered for many years away from my church. Yet, I never abandoned the identity of being Catholic. When pressed to identify my belief system, I said I was Catholic, albeit a bad one, seeking resolution of matters that for years seemed unresolvable. And so, I did what Father John Kelly had taught us to do: I read; read deeply of texts, some difficult, some not, by authors such as Thomas Merton, Hans Kung, Monika Hellwig among others, and even a book of biographical sketches of famous Catholic theologians!

Would my identity have become what it is had I not been exposed to higher education in a Catholic college even so minimally as I was exposed for the first four years of university life? Personally, I think not. So I remain convinced to this day that one role played by a Catholic college is really what John Henry Cardinal Newman said about the purpose of university education. Such education helps bring a young one to intellectual maturity so that one learns to judge for oneself rather than to accept other people’s judgments, and simultaneously, such education develops one’s character.

*Excerpted from a paper entitled, “Canadian Catholic Education from the Perspective of a Provincial University President,” given at the annual meeting of the Association for Catholic Colleges and Universities, St. Thomas More College, Saskatoon, June, 2003.

Dr. Emőke J.E. Szathmáry, CM , Ph.D , LL.D , FRSC is a graduate of St Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. Currently, she is the 10th President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manitoba. She has held this position since 1996. Prior to this she served as Provost and Vice-President (Academic) at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Szathmáry was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2003. In 2004, she was named one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women by the Women’s Executive Network and the Richard Ivey School of Business. In 2005, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Szathmáry sits on the board of directors of the Power Corporation.