Change, says Fr. Jack Lynch, is a sign of God’s will.
Fr. Lynch is General Superior of the Scarboro Missions, a religious community increasingly familiar with change as it deals with the reality that, after 100 years of ministering both locally and internationally, an aging community with declining membership requires turning to others to help carry their work forward.
The University of St. Michael’s College is privileged to have been entrusted to do just that.
We find ourselves at the frontier of letting go,” the organization says on its website. “In a profound spirit of openness and acceptance as we diminish, we look to others to bear the flame and grow into new stewards of God’s mission.”
St. Mike’s will be among those new stewards, with the Faculty of Theology receiving a donation from the Scarboro Missions of $800,000 over three years to fund a diploma in interfaith dialogue. Programming will begin this coming autumn.
St. Mike’s envisions Catholic schoolteachers and lay leaders as two key constituencies for the diploma but all involved recognize that the benefits will not rest only with those enrolled but will extend to the broader community, a way of St. Mike’s doing outreach to our multicultural, multi-faith world.
The proposal the Faculty put before the Scarboro Missions had great appeal because it carries on the community’s mission of empowering the laity, notes Fr. Lynch. (As of 1974, for example, lay people were invited to join Scarboro priests in their various missions around the world.) That it also speaks to the community’s long commitment to interfaith dialogue just makes it that much more appealing.
The diploma program “honours our organizations’ shared commitment to educating men and women in interfaith dialogue as an extension of our commitment to life and the dignity of all humanity,” Faculty Dean James Ginther wrote in the proposal put before the Scarboro Mission’s General Council.
Today, the dean points to the work of Dr. Mara Brecht, who recently taught at the faculty as the Patrick and Barbara Keenan Visiting Chair in Religious Education, to further his point. Dr. Brecht’s ongoing research argues strongly that when teachers understand the students they teach they have a much greater understanding of their own faith.
The Scarboro Missions donation is particularly important as it comes at a time when St. Mike’s is redoubling its efforts to serve Catholic school boards across the province, says University of St. Michael’s College President Dr. David Sylvester. As part of that renewal, former university principal Dr. Mark McGowan, a historian who has written extensively on Catholic education, has been named recently as Senior Advisor to the President, USMC (Catholic Education), with a mandate to survey stakeholders to find out what they need to deliver Catholic education effectively.
Helping teachers and administrators understand the diverse classrooms in front of them via interfaith education is crucial to that service, Dr. Sylvester says.
“We are extremely grateful for the leadership of the Scarboro Missions and for their willingness to entrust us with the opportunity to extend their mission,” he says. “Personally and professionally I’ve known their work for years and it was delightful to sit down with Fr. Jack. It was a meeting of the minds, a reminder that St. Mike’s has always played a significant role in teaching the importance of encounter with the other. Dialogue brings a richer understanding of who we are.”
The interfaith diploma will be a 10-course program, with each unit involving about 12 hours of class time. As currently envisioned, students will take between one and three units per semester. Students will select courses from three categories: the faith communities of Toronto and the world; key issues such as peace and justice or women and religion; and capstone experiential units.
Applications will begin being accepted April 1, 2019, and fees will be $175 a course, thanks to the generous support from the Scarboro Missions which will lower the fee from its actual total cost of $350.
After completing the diploma, students will be able to speak to other religions’ texts and traditions, discuss the intersection of religion and culture, and engage meaningfully with people of other religions.
“We continue to live out our mission,” says Fr. Lynch of the community members’ future, noting, for example, that a few men remain in the locations such as the Dominican Republic and Brazil, and that the society continues its membership with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the office in Rome that oversees missionary work.
Today, Toronto community members are settling in to their new home at Presentation Manor, a retirement residence in east-end Toronto shared by several religious communities. The Scarboro Mission’s former home, located next to St. Augustine’s Seminary, has been sold to the Toronto District Catholic School Board to redevelop Cardinal Newman high school.
“We chose (to donate to) St. Mike’s because it’s close to home, and many of our members have a connection there. We knew lay people could benefit from this kind of education,” he says, citing Pope Francis’s assertion that lay people “are the front line of the life of the Church.”
Dr. Sylvester agrees. “Dialogue brings a richer understanding of who we are. This is a tremendous opportunity. This is an investment in the Faculty of Theology, but it’s also an investment in the city.”
Keep checking our site as we get closer to April 1, 2019 for more updates.