Shining a Local Light on Catholic Social Teaching

By Catherine Mulroney

Catholic Social Teaching is often labelled the Church’s best kept secret.  The faithful, it seems, are sometimes surprised to discover the extraordinary wealth of instruction the Church has to offer on what it means to be human, including an elaboration of our individual rights, as well as of our responsibilities to ourselves and others.

A new exhibit at the John M. Kelly Library, however, demonstrates that Catholic Social Teaching has long resided at the heart of the academic and social life at the University of St. Michael’s College.

The exhibit, entitled Love Your Neighbour as Yourself: Catholic Social Teaching in Toronto, is jointly sponsored by the library and the Faculty of Theology, with contributions from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto, the Loretto Sisters, the Basilian Fathers, and the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Love Your Neighbour opens on Thursday, March 22, 2018 with a free lecture by Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec, a talk entitled Echo Chamber or Megaphone? The Church in Canada and the Prophetic Voice of Pope Francis. The talk is generously sponsored by the Royackers Lecture Series of Regis College. A reception will follow in the library, allowing guests time to visit the display.

The idea for the exhibit, which will be open to the public until June 8, originated with Chief Librarian Sheril Hook, who had been reading on the topic and wanted to learn more, explains Theology Dean Dr. James Ginther, who was quick to support the idea.

Rather than approaching the exhibit from strictly a historical view, however, the Dean and the Chief Librarian were keen to demonstrate that Catholic Social Teaching is a living, evolving tradition.

“We wanted to have this display reveal what is means to truly live out Catholic Social Teaching,” he says.

Kelly Library Archivist James Roussain, who is curating the exhibition, has been delighted to work with St. Mike’s founding communities in telling the story of how Catholic Social Teaching has been woven through their lives, and how they, in turn, have integrated it into life on campus as well as the broader world.

“We’ve chosen to illustrate the seven themes (of Catholic Social Teaching) through examples, with the communities telling their own stories,” he explains.

These stories are supported by some of the riches from the John M. Kelly Library Special Collections, including early editions of Rerum Novarum, the 1891 encyclical written by Pope Leo XIII on the rights of workers. While Catholic Social Teaching has its roots in Scripture, Rerum Novarum is the document identified as the first of the modern encyclicals and letters explaining what Catholic Social Teaching is all about.

“Catholic Social Teaching existed long before Rerum Novarum, but this document crystalizes thinking on labour and lays the groundwork for future encyclicals,” Dean Ginther explains.

The exhibit also includes Henri Nouwen’s handwritten draft for L’Arche and the World, an early copy of the the charter for the community of L’Arche, the international network of homes for people with disabilities, as well as a 1976 letter from Cesar Chavez, American civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers to Sr. Mary Alban Bouchard, CSJ, offering encouragement in her non-violent protests.

Also on display are numerous other photographs and items illustrating the St. Michael’s community’s commitment to justice and dignity for all.

“This is by no means an exhaustive exhibit.  I did not set out to create a time capsule, but wanted to reflect the strong sense of community, built on shared values, that informs life at St. Mike’s, “ Roussain says.

In keeping with the theme of the exhibit, cash donations will be accepted at the reception for The Daily Bread Food Bank, whose first Executive Director was Sr. Marie Tremblay, CSJ.


Love Your Neighbour as Yourself: Catholic Social Teaching in Toronto opens March 22 and runs through to June 8, 2018. It is located on the ground floor of the John M. Kelly Library, 113 St. Joseph St., Toronto. 

To RSVP for Archbishop Durocher’s lecture, which takes place on Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m. in Rm. 100 in Alumni Hall,   please click here