A title card for an InsightOut blog post by John Sampson

John Sampson is a fourth-year PhD Student at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. He is writing on the life and thought of the Chinese theologian T.C. Chao. John can be found at home most days, writing his thesis and drinking only the finest cups of hand-crafted coffee.


In Search of Christian Unity: A Chinese Christian Perspective

Black and white photograph of T.C. Chao in front of an outdoor altar

“People must be involved in the work of building up the Church,” wrote T.C. Chao (1888–1979), a famous Chinese Christian theologian and one of the first presidents of the World Council of Churches. “[Christians] do not have the authority to divide arbitrarily, because it is the will of Christ to tear down walls of separation, to split open curtains of division, and create in himself one new person,” he said, alluding to Ephesians 2:14–22. What Chao penned in 1946 has ongoing relevance for Christians around the world today, as we come together during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and pray that we may be one “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). T.C. Chao gave expression to a conviction held by many Christians in the Chinese Republican Era (1912–1949), the period of time when Christianity burst on the scene unlike ever before in China. The conviction was that unity and cooperation were essential if Christianity was to survive, if Christianity was to put down roots in China.

A major obstacle to this pursuit of unity, however, came from the fact that North American and European Christians were trenchantly divided, importing this division into China. Throughout the nineteenth century, foreign mission societies refused to work alongside one another. Catholic and Protestant missionaries remained fixated on their own approaches to Christian faith, on their own doctrinal precepts and ecclesiastical teachings. Protestant denominations produced competing Bible translations and promoted their own translation efforts over and against any other. With few exceptions, Western Christians let divisions that brewed in Europe spill into China, and nurtured these divisions without supplying adequate means for letting a Chinese expression of Christianity take root. This was a deep-seated problem. The desire to preserve Christian practices from one culture (i.e. Europe) stifled the voices of Christians from another culture (China). It stifled the possibility to be enriched by what Chinese Christians themselves had to offer.

In the 20th century things began to change. Many Chinese Protestants criticized the denominational conflict of the Western Church and sought to overcome disunity through the formation of the National Christian Council in 1922. The following year, the Roman Catholic Church convened the first council of the Catholic Church in China, and later consecrated six Chinese bishops in 1926 to allow for greater control over territorial jurisdiction. These practical ways of ensuring that Chinese Christians chart the course for Chinese Christianity were followed by attempts to root Christian identity in a shared Chinese cultural heritage. Just as European Christians turned to Greek philosophers like Aristotle to help advance theological reflection in Middle Ages, Chinese Christians turned to figures like Confucius and Lao Tzu to help shape a unified vision for doing theology in China. The truth of God manifested in classical Chinese learning, argued L.C. Wu 吳雷川 (1870–1944), could be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who was God’s Way (or Dao 道) made flesh. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so could sages like Confucius reflect the light of Jesus Christ, said Y.J. Zhang 張亦鏡 (1871–1931). Christians could, and indeed, must be sincere about promoting Chinese culture, argued the polymath Roman Catholic theologian P. Joseph Zi 徐宗泽 (1886–1947), who followed the example of the pioneering Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552–1610). For the first time in history, Chinese Christians shed light on ways of being Christian that were in touch with their own culture. Christian thought and practice were being rooted not in European Christian thought-forms, but in Chinese ones. And unity among Christians of different theological persuasions was beginning to take hold.

But, sadly, throughout the 20th century, crisis and conflict continued to mount in China and sap the strength of a unified Christian effort. The Communist Revolution (1949) collapsed any and all such efforts. The newly established People’s Republic of China restructured all religious practice through official, state-sanctioned Churches, causing the activities of both Catholic and Protestant Christians to become a heavily monitored affair. In our day, with the unprecedented rise of underground house churches and unregistered Christian gatherings, Chinese Christianity has shown that it is not going away any time soon. But Christians now remain painfully divided. As with the Christian division that erupted in St. Cyprian’s day from the Decian persecutions (250 AD), Chinese Christians are divided between those who have joined official, state-sanctioned Churches and those who have refused and faced persecution as a result.

As we think about and pray for Christian unity, we remember that it is not always an easy thing to put into practice, and can indeed cost a great deal. It cannot be imposed, but most flow naturally from the lived-practices of Christians themselves who come from the diverse cultures of the world. Conscious of the things that divided Christians in his day, T.C. Chao saw discord and division in a certain light, in light of the suffering Saviour himself. The divided and broken body of Christ, the Church, sees itself as thus filling up or completing “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” Chao said, citing Colossians 1:24. Christian division is that state of suffering which the Church enters into and remains in until it attains the resurrection. The Church’s bitter hardship amidst discord and brokenness is the way of the cross, a way it can embrace but which, in the end, it hopes to surmount in union with the one, resurrected Christ. This was T.C. Chao’s vision, one which has ongoing relevance for us today as we think about and pray for Christian unity.


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Maria Ivaniv is a third-year PhD student at the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College. Her current research, done in conjunction with the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, focuses on the participation of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council and its reception of the Council in North America. She holds ReMA, MA, and STL degrees in theology and religious studies from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and MA and STB degrees in theology from the Ukrainian Catholic University. Maria was a lecturer at Three Holy Hierarchs Kyiv Theological Seminary (Kyiv, Ukraine), a teaching assistant in the Theology Department at the Ukrainian Catholic University (Lviv, Ukraine), and served as Secretary of the Patriarchal Commission for the Laity of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church (Lviv, Ukraine).


The Pain of Separation, the Joy of Unity

Photograph of Windle House on the St. Mike's campus with the steeple of St. Basil's in the background

In this time of pandemic and lock-down…we are separated by public and health recommendations, law, and fear for ourselves and our loved ones. In this situation, I desire to be reunited with friends, family, and significant other. I expect that you feel the same way. This pain, which I feel in my heart, reminds me of a time when we could be together and be joyful and content in being together. 

This experience can give us a chance to reflect on unity and what it means to be united or to desire unity with others. It can help us think about the question of Church unity, especially during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which for more than a century has occurred every year from January 18–25. In this little blog post I will reflect on the pain of separation, the joy of unity, and my identity as a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic in the midst of these.

I can recall a few moments in my own life when I have felt the pain caused by the separation among Christians. I keep those experiences in my heart as a reason to work for unity. The first time my heart felt the pain of separation was in Amsterdam, where other students and I were attending an ecumenical conference. That was, in fact, one of my first experiences of listening to and speaking with other Christian denominations. It was exciting to see that there are a lot of themes that unite us. As a part of that meeting, we went to a Sunday service in one old and lovely English Reformed Church. There was a wonderful service and sermon. It was the Sunday of the Cross in my Church calendar, and I was happy that the preaching was about the symbol of the Cross and its importance in the Christian life as the sign of our salvation. After that, however, I was disappointed at the absence of the Eucharist in the service, and it brought me some pain. I understood that I could not have received it anyway, but the pain of not seeing the Eucharist—what I understand to be the realization of unity—as part of the Sunday service profoundly pained my heart.  

Another experience that brought the pain of separation into focus came during an ecumenical conference a few years ago. The conference was an excellent opportunity for dialogue and sharing about what unites us. Common prayer was part of that conference, and one of the prayer services was a Byzantine Divine Liturgy presided at by an Orthodox priest. It was nice to pray together in one of the ways that I pray in my own parish. But the pain again struck my heart during Communion… Because of the separation, I could not share Eucharist with those who pray in the same way I do. The pain caused by these two experiences of Christian disunity remains. And it creates in me a longing for unity—a unity that heals the wounds among Christians as well as the wound left in my own heart.

Happily, my heart is also marked by other, more joyful experiences. It seems to me that pain alone cannot bring us together—we also need to feel the joy of unity. Studying at the Toronto School of Theology is one of these experiences. Being part of the University of Saint Michael’s College and studying together with other students of different Christian denominations brings me a lot of joy. Also, the presence of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies at Saint Michael’s brings a different voice and many opportunities for the students to experience and learn about other traditions. This experience of common work, studies, prayer, and friendship reveals a lot of differences; at the same time, simply being together unites us. 

As I mentioned before, I am a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic. This means that I belong to an Eastern Church of the Byzantine Rite that is in union with Rome. There are 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in the world. Being an Eastern Catholic is beautiful but challenging in some ways. I experience all the beauty of Byzantine prayer, eastern spirituality, and magnificent iconography. I also enjoy all the beauty of the Latin Church, its theology, prayer, and teachings. Living in these two spheres simultaneously gives me the feeling that I see a glimpse of unity among the churches, and I feel the pain of separation and the joy of unity at the same time. But I know there is a long way to go, and all of our efforts are not enough if we do not call on the Holy Spirit to unite all Christians, as He did at Pentecost. Therefore, this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gives us an excellent opportunity to be together (even if it is virtually), pray, be joyful and ask the Holy Spirit to unite us. 

It seems appropriate to finish this little blog post with the words of the Kontakion of Pentecost:

When the Most High came down and confused the tongues, He parted the nations. When He divided the tongues of fire, He called all to unity; and with one voice we glorify the all-Holy Spirit.”


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A tight job market for teachers led Marie Green to chat with a professor she had taken a course with at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology.

This Saturday, November 14, she will not only be granted her doctorate in theology, she will also be the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for achieving the highest academic standing.

After having completed her Master of Theological Studies degree at Wycliffe College, Green then earned a Master of Science in Adolescent Education at New York’s D’Youville College. But when she returned to Toronto, she learned that high school teaching jobs were hard to find, and she hoped that Dr. Darren Dias might help her brainstorm on how to find a position. She had a calling to teach, and was keen to start.

But the conversation took a turn when Dr. Dias began to speak enthusiastically about a new doctoral degree that was to be offered conjointly with the University of Toronto.

“After two master’s degrees I thought I was done writing essays, but after our conversation I spend the next two months prayerfully considering (the doctorate), while still waiting to find a teaching job.”

Ultimately inspired, she applied to the doctoral program, and began work in 2015. This Saturday, Nov. 14, she will formally become Dr. Marie Green.

Green’s thesis topic, Examining the Experience of Racialized Students in Southern Ontario Catholic Schools, has led her to design a university course she hopes to teach at a later date: Black Lives Matter in the Classroom.

“My topic and search were inspired by my experience in school. I had some great teachers, but I also experienced racism and was stigmatized,” says Green, who was born in Jamaica and moved to Toronto at the age of 13.

“Why can some teachers make all students feel valued and do this so well, while others create a negative climate?” she asks.

It is this question that prompted Green to study the Catholic school system specifically because it offers a faith-based approach that asserts that all students should be viewed with the understanding of Imago Dei, that every person is made in the image and likeness of God. If we embrace that belief, she says, then how do we work in the classroom to ensure that we are treating students with that level of humanity, and doing it evenly?

Partly, the challenge of changing attitudes comes from figuring out how to widen our knowledge base and deal with a culture steeped not necessarily in malevolence but in ignorance, she says. What is key, she adds, is to ensure that lessons offer every child an opportunity to recognize him/herself in the lessons being taught.

If Green sounds passionate about teaching, she says she learned a great deal from the professors and community she encountered while at the Faculty.

“The professors clearly have a passion for teaching, which comes from loving what you’re doing. That leads you to want to see students strive for their best,” she says.

She says she made lifelong friends at the Faculty, and credits time on both the Faculty’s Student Life Committee as well as her time serving as the Vice President, External on the TST Graduate Students’ Association as a wonderful way to build a supportive community and, in time, to mentor younger students.

“In real estate they use the old term ‘location, location, location’ but in academia it’s ‘relationships, relationships, relationships’” she says, noting that the friends you make and the people you meet can help in everything from getting support in doing research to finding outside connections.

Marie is currently teaching computer skills in the corporate world, and when people she encounters find out her educational background they are often puzzled, but she says there’s a clear link.

“As philosopher Jacques Maritain and educator Paulo Freire advised teachers, if you can see others’ humanity, you can nurture the knowledge that already exists inside of them. Theology is at the base of so much. It really helps everyone.”

Visit the Faculty of Theology’s Fall Convocation 2020 page to learn more about this year’s graduates and to celebrate their unique achievement. 

Hugo Tang

“The University of St. Michael’s College Faculty of Theology serves the Church by educating and forming its sons and daughters, and I am proud to call myself an alumnus of this Faculty,” says Hugo Tang, who will be granted a Master of Theological Studies degree on Saturday, November 14.

Tang says  he wondered whether he was making the right choice when he decided to enrol, wondering whether the Faculty might be “too liberal” and fearing “that I was not capable of such mature and high-level discussion, given my relative youth and inexperience.

“I noticed, however, a spirit of fraternity combined with academic rigour which attracted me to apply to the Faculty,” he says, and that feeling was supported by the recommendations of several members of his parish who had graduated from St. Mike’s.

When he started classes he was encouraged by the academic rigour, combined with a sense of community and a small yet diverse student body.

“The diversity of the student body produced some interesting and fruitful “theologizing” in class and beyond,” he recalls.  Whether lay or religious, fresh graduates or mature students, each brought a new and unique perspective to the table. Being a bit of a nerd for theology, and warmly welcomed by all, I soon felt at home amidst the other students and faculty.”

As St. Mike’s is one of the seven member colleges of the Toronto School of Theology, Tang had the chance to meet students from other colleges, including the two other Catholic schools — Regis College and St. Augustine’ Seminary.

“In our classes, I witnessed that it’s alright for people to disagree. People can (and should) co-exist fraternally even if they hold different opinions,” he says. “We should, however, be ready and willing to challenge and support our opinions and beliefs with arguments, facts, and references to source documents. I think as a society today, we have too often lost the ability to agree to disagree, that we put up walls around us. Rather than fulfilling us, these walls suffocate us and darken our world.”

Reflecting on his time at the Faculty of Theology, he says, humbly, of his Master of Theological Studies degree, “The degree is a bit of a misnomer: I am not a ‘master’ at theology. I have not and will never master theology, for theology is the study of God, God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  I truly believe that everyone is a theologian, because each one of us, whether intentionally or not, is seeking God in his or her own way, through the pursuit of all that is good, true, and beautiful.”

Hugo says his studies have given him the framework and vocabulary to allow him to continue to grow. He says among the skills he has gained are an enhanced ability to argue a point, the ability to express himself and speak for an extended period of time, and writing lengthy papers.

“Everyone should study theology— maybe not a full master’s degree, but at least a few courses. Catholics, myself included, are largely under-catechized. I did not realize this until I began this degree. Given that our faith is more and more countercultural, we need well-formed disciples to live and preach the Gospel in the world. We need to do more than simply memorize the faith but make it our own through reason.”

Visit the Faculty of Theology’s Fall Convocation 2020 page to learn more about this year’s graduates and to celebrate their unique achievement. 

Douglas Kaufman

Douglas Day Kaufman, who will be granted his Master of Theology degree on Saturday, November 14, was drawn to study at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology because his interest in ecotheology.

“I came because of The Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology (EAITE) as a way to have a deeper understanding for articulating a Christian approach to environmentalism,” Kaufman says. “When I met Dr. Dennis Patrick O’Hara, I knew he would be an excellent guide for me and so he proved to be.”

As he reflects on his time at the Faculty, several things resonate: the weekly worship, the diverse community, the beautiful University of Toronto campus with its multiple libraries and the opportunity to grab a fast bite, often from another culture’s cuisine.

When asked what he will take away from his studies, he cites a quote from Thomas Berry, whose work in ecotheologian who inspired the EAITE: “ ‘We must say of the universe that it is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.’ I experience that communion and community in my daily walks in the woods near my home, and that helps empower my ongoing activism for the sake of creation.”

Now, Kaufman looks forward to employing what he has learned in his role as Director of Pastoral Ecology at the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions, a partnership in Goshen, Indiana, encouraging Anabaptists/Mennonites to see climate change as the moral equivalent of war. A pastor himself, at Benton Mennonite Church in Goshen, he lead retreats at the centre on climate change for Anabaptist pastors and leaders.

“ I  consider it a privilege to have been part of an elite institution like the University of Toronto and St. Mike’s,” he says. “There are so many resources and yet it did not feel elite to me. The library staff, for example,  was so amazing to graduate students. I treasure my time there.”

Visit the Faculty of Theology’s Fall Convocation 2020 page to learn more about this year’s graduates and to celebrate their unique achievement. 

Tina-Marie Lockyer

“I was drawn to study at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology because of the reputation of the institution,” says Tina-Marie Lockyer, who will be granted her Master of Religious Education degree on Saturday, November 14.  “I wanted to learn more about my Catholic faith, and I felt that St. Mike’s was a good fit for me. “

One of the things that really struck Tina-Marie as a student was how small the faculty actually feels.

“The University of Toronto is a world-class university and thousands of people are there every day. Somehow when you enter St. Mike’s you feel as though you are part of a family that cares for each other. Even as a part-time student, I always felt as if I was an important member of the school.”

Another thing she appreciates about St. Mike’s is that while it is Catholic-centred, “there is a communion with other faiths and institutions in the Toronto School of Theology, and we are always open and willing to learn and understand others through dialogue.”

When people ask TIna-Marie what is involved in earning a theology degree, she says she tells them it is “a lot of hard work, but I loved every minute of it: the readings, the writing and the friendships made me a more well-rounded person with a strong Catholic faith. The professors and support staff at USMC made all the difference in my program. It was so wonderful to walk the halls and have professors actually know me by name. Also, the relationship a grad student has with the library is important, and at St. Mike’s we literally have anything we need from the library at our fingertips. It is extremely helpful.”

But the main lesson Tina-Marie says she will forward is that her is that “we are meant to be with Christ. Decisions you make should be a part of who you are, and that has to involve Christ. If you endeavour to have a relationship with Christ you will always achieve love, moral decisions and justice, because that is what Christ calls us to do, and we want to please Him because we love Him.”

Lockyer chose the MRE for personal enrichment and faith development.

“My degree will also support my work in my parish and pastoral care at the hospital,” she notes.  “As a religious educator, this degree will allow me to expand my leadership potential.”

While she enjoyed her time at the faculty. one of the highlights was the opportunity to study in Israel at Bat Kol, a centre of Jewish studies for Christians using Jewish sources.

“It was an experience that I will always remember fondly,” she recalls. “I learned so much about Judaism and it deepened the understanding of my faith. Being in the places where Jesus and the Apostles walked, and having access to special places because we were Bat Kol students, is something I will be forever grateful for.”

And lest anyone think this is good-bye, a final note:  “I do not actually want to leave USMC,” she says, “and am considering coming back for another Master’s degree in the future….”

Visit the Faculty of Theology’s Fall Convocation 2020 page to learn more about this year’s graduates and to celebrate their unique achievement. 

John Solheid

For Minnesotan John Solheid, it was the Faculty of Theology’s reputation that drew him to study at the University to St. Michael’s College. Add in the size and resources of the John M. Kelly Library, as well as a “generous financial package” and he was sold.

This Saturday, November 14, he will be granted his doctorate, officially becoming Dr. John Solheid, with his thesis entitled The World in the City: Biblical Scholarship and Reading Culture in Origen’s Psalm Homilies from the Codex Monancensis Graecus 314.

“I was immediately impressed with how welcomed the faculty made me feel,” he recalls. They helped me …acclimate to Canada, to Toronto, and to campus. I never felt out of place or as if I didn’t belong.

“St. Mike’s is a wonderful place to learn and develop personally and spiritually. There is a very collegial atmosphere at St. Michael’s. It is ideal for anyone who want to be part of a scholarly community.”

Solheid, whose goal is an academic career as a professor and scholar, says one of the key lessons he learned while at St. Mike’s was a sense of responsibility to participate in the broader scholarly community, doing such things as attending lectures and presentations from peers, even when the subjects aren’t related to his own research.

“I always appreciate how much I learned from those presentations and lectures, and especially those whose subject matter was not related to my field.”

An added bonus? “I made some friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Visit the Faculty of Theology’s Fall Convocation 2020 page to learn more about this year’s graduates and to celebrate their unique achievement. 

Josefine Nobel

When Josefine Nobel first pondered theological studies, a friend put her in touch with a graduate of the Faculty of Theology whose assessment of the school prompted her to apply and enrol.

“I have always felt like I am home here, and especially when sitting and engaging with my peers and faculty,” says Noble, who will be granted a Master of Divinity degree on Saturday, November 14. “This sense of community is often cemented with events arranged by the Student Life Committee, the liturgies, the extra-curricular outings such as the Ordinandi Dinner and  events put on by the Toronto School of Theology as a whole.”

That sense of community, she says, made her entire experience transformative.

“At first, I did feel that my faith—and all I had thought I knew about the Church and God— was being challenged, I also learned that faith is able to be challenged! In fact, it grows stronger! Somehow, as my old frameworks of meaning were challenged, I begin to stretch the ‘envelope’ of my faith and this did not diminish it rather it enriched it.”

Because of this, she says, she feels she has been transformed on many levels—spiritual, personal, and intellectual— “and I know that I have also become a better human being and a Christian.”

Another huge lesson for Noble at Saint Michael’s has been the lesson of community, she says.

“I have often chosen to work alone and have not been so drawn to communities and group events. I worked in my church behind the scenes and thought that I preferred that. Saint Michael’s changed me. I have become aware that there is richness to be found in community and this is a very large part of what enhances one’s faith and faith walk. I boldly offer then that any who desire their educational experience to be further enriched by the power of community will be sure to find it attending Saint Michael’s.”

Today, Josefine has begun work on a Master of Theology degree, continuing onward to see where her education takes her.

“I am honored and blessed to be a part of Saint Michael’s and I hope to continue to grow here in fellowship, friendship and faith.”

Visit the Faculty of Theology’s Fall Convocation 2020 page to learn more about this year’s graduates and to celebrate their unique achievement. 

Nick Cotman did his undergraduate studies in philosophy and political science at the University of Ottawa. He then completed his Master of Theological Studies at St. Michaels Faculty of Theology in 2019. It was at this time that he began working in the chaplaincy leader position at his alma matter, Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School in Kingston, ON.


Encountering Opportunity in Restriction

Image of an open window looking out onto an autumn landscape

As we have come to expect from most things in 2020, public education in Ontario’s schools looks a little different from most years. In Kingston, secondary schools are following an octomester model, meaning that there is one class each day for 22 straight days. Lunch periods are staggered for each grade in an effort to avoid congestion around the school. Additionally, teachers are livestreaming their lessons to ensure remote learners are getting the needed material. All of these adjustments have required a significant mental and pedagogical reorientation from staff and students. Having only begun my high school chaplaincy career in the fall of 2019, and being out of the school by this past March, these first months back have felt more like the second volume of my first year as I relearn the role.

Being (physically) back in school has affirmed something I had been reflecting on since COVID first began to reshape our daily lives: that a single thing can be both restrictive and freeing. The colleagues and students I have the privilege of spending time with each day are showing me there are unexpected opportunities to be found in the constraints we are currently navigating. I think it is important to note, however, that any “pleasant surprises” we encounter in no way diminish or undermine the unique challenges each of us has faced. Nonetheless, we should acknowledge that by being forced to reconsider the way we approach many things, 2020 has also shed light on the shortcomings of previous practices and provoked new, more effective methods. Being in school has made this especially clear to me.

There are a few experiences I’d like to recount. The first is one which is bound up closely with my position in the school: the absence of school Masses.  This has forced a significant shift in focus to other liturgical practices. I have been doing regular class visits to lead lectio divina readings and the Ignatian Daily Examen with students. Although we will be thankful when the day comes that we can celebrate Mass as an entire community, this unplanned hiatus has led me to recognize the richness of these other liturgical approaches. Mass in school was always an appreciated community event, but it was evident that further foundational efforts in spirituality and liturgical understanding would enrich the experience. The event of a school Mass may have become overly familiar, causing a lack of deliberate and reflective participation. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that we often need “to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur or triteness of familiarity.” This break may inadvertently serve as opportunity to form our liturgical sensibilities as a community through other practices, allowing us “to clean our windows,” and more fully appreciate Mass when we can gather once more as an entire community.

Another example that is small but noteworthy is the new inclusion of an end-of-day prayer. Prior to current circumstances, we would recite a simple grace over the PA before lunch.  Now, however, with each grade now getting out of class at different times, this was ruled out to avoid further interruptions. In the absence of a lunch hour prayer, we decided to begin doing a prayer at the end of the school day. This small change has been incredibly well received. We join in a meaningful prayer to give a definitive conclusion to the school day and to look forward to the evening ahead. This is a practice we will likely carry forward beyond these unusual circumstances, though we may have been unprompted to explore it without the current conditions.

Without Masses, retreats, or community outreach to coordinate, my priorities within the school have shifted. More than ever, it seems that chats in the staff room and chance encounters with students in the halls are of greater pastoral importance. When there was more room to complete tasks and plan outreach events, I began to let behind-the-scene to-do lists take the front seat. I’m thankful I’ve been required to shift my focus to relationships within the school. When things return to normal, I’ll be sure to maintain this focus.

There are an array of other instances I could talk about, such as our amended graduation ceremony, virtual coffee houses, and the music class using the cafetorium so as to social distance more effectively (allowing halls throughout the school to enjoy their practice). Students seem more open to seek me out to chat (though perhaps they just want out of class since they’re now in the same room all day!) and are displaying impressive consciousness of the well-being of those around them. They are dutiful in mask wearing, have embraced the octomester model, and even surpassed any previous food drives during our Thanksgiving collection.

These are all just small instances of the pleasant surprises I’ve seen over the past months. We have all encountered them in different ways, but I am especially thankful to see them occurring in Catholic education through the lens of chaplaincy. When we learn to embrace unanticipated circumstances, we can open ourselves up to viewing things in new ways and create room for God’s grace in areas we might lack control. In the chaplaincy work ahead, I’ll be sure to continue looking for the pleasant surprises and opportunities for growth that our current restrictions can bring.


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John Fraresso is completing his Master of Theological Studies degree at St. Michaels Faculty of Theology. He completed his undergrad at UTM in the 90s in Crime & Deviance and Sociology. He currently serves as the Community & Spiritual Life Coordinator for the community of LArche Hamilton.


God Keeps Laughing as I Make Plans

A path winds along the side of a coastal cliff

If you really want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.

Sometimes God taps you on the shoulder, other times God throws a brick at your head.

Add to these—paraphrasing Gary Zukav— in order to be authentic, your personality must serve the will of your soul, and you get a glimpse into my journey of returning to school in my mid 40s. They actually define my life story, but that’s a book and not a blog.

From the time I was a young boy, I always felt called to be in service to others. If the call to have children wasn’t so strong within me, the call to priesthood might very well have won out in my teens. I listened to that call to have children and was blessed with three beautiful kids. Since they were (and are) my highest calling, I launched into corporate life in my 20s and had a highly successful career. Though it was gut-wrenching in many ways, it served my kids well by providing a very comfortable life for them. On the other side of this coin, making millions more in sales and margin dollars for a multi-billion dollar company did nothing to serve the least of my brothers and sisters, nor my soul’s calling.

About five years ago, I was discarded like yesterday’s news by the company I had poured my life and soul into. That monumental event—which at the time seemed devastating—set me on an incredible journey up to this day, a journey that continues to unfold. What is evident in it, though, is that the will of my soul is getting the upper hand, as my personality is listening to it a lot more than it used to. God keeps laughing as I make plans. Sometimes God taps me on the shoulder and I listen; more often than not God has to throw a brick at my stubborn head.

Richard Rohr wrote an entire book, Falling Upward, on what happens when we hit mid-life as we start to reassess our values and where we’re heading. Circumstances started to line up for me to follow my dream of returning to school so that I could follow a vocation to be in service to others—which, you will note, sounds entirely different from a “career change.” I enrolled in St. Mike’s Faculty of Theology to do a Master of Theological Studies degree.

Many people have said to me, “Wow, that’s quite a change. What made you decide to go in that direction?” My answer is always that it wasn’t a “change” per se; it is simply a matter of honouring what has always been deeply seeded in my DNA, the will of my soul.

I decided to do the “responsible thing” and continue to work full-time so I could make money while doing school part-time. I didn’t really need to; my financial situation had allowed me to go full-time, but I didn’t listen. Result? The new company I was working for shut their operations down. God. Brick. Head. I listened, and dedicated to school full-time.

I decided to do a field placement in my degree. My professor suggested, after a period of discernment and discussion, that I do my placement at LArche. Turns out—and he was bang on—that someone like me, so stuck in my head, could learn a lot from people who live from their hearts. In the ten months I have been at LArche I have learned more than my entire education, going all the way back to junior kindergarten.

Yet even in this journey of the past few months, I continued to make decisions with my head and didn’t listen to my heart. Put another way, my personality wasn’t serving the will of my soul. God showed up again, brick in hand. LArche had to remove all volunteers from their homes when COVID struck, including me. A week later, they offered me a relief assistant position. I struggled with taking it, because my head told me that perhaps I should find something full-time for the summer (a nice cerebral decision that didn’t consult my heart). My heart eventually won out, and in no time I was getting more hours at LArche. Fast forward a couple of months, and the person who was my supervisor at LArchetheir Community and Spiritual Life Coordinator—was retiring, and they needed someone to fill the position.

Guess what I’m doing now! Of course, as a result of listening to my heart, it all works out well with my studies: I can balance both this position and my studies. Though it is highly regretful that classes aren’t in person—I didn’t return to school after 20+ years to do it online—the fact that they are virtual, and that I don’t need to commute from Burlington to Toronto for classes, allowed me to take this service position at LArche.

This is literally a microcosm, a small sample, of the incredible events that have conspired to allow for this to come to fruition. My super-stubborn self has learned (more accurately, is still learning) the valuable lesson that you can’t stand in the way of the will of your soul. I guess with more brazen effort and deafness one could. I am sure many do. I know I have. But when you surrender even just a little, gain a little humility, ask God to guide you, simply go with the flow, and let go of the wheel so that The One with a better driving record can take it, miracles happen.

Again a couple weeks ago as my head was trying to run the show, God sent another messenger to remind me. Without even knowing I needed to hear it, she shared Proverbs 3:5-6 with me: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Thankfully I noticed this subtle tap from God, gave control back to God, and saved myself another brick to the head.


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Nick Olkovich is an Assistant Professor and holds the Marie Anne Blondin Chair in Catholic Theology at St. Marks College in Vancouver. He completed three of his four degrees at the University of St. Michaels College where he met his wonderful partner Julia, a graduate of Christianity and Culture and the Faculty of Theology, in a course exploring the thought of Bernard Lonergan.


Nick and Julia’s Victory Garden

Photograph of Nick holding radicchio he and Julia grew

I’m sitting in my living room looking at what’s likely to be the last tomato from the small garden we planted at St. Mark’s College here in Vancouver. Shortly after everything shut down on March 16, 2020—and well before the ground was ready in Toronto—Julia and I found ourselves sowing seeds—two types of lettuce, arugula, radicchio and puntarelle—and planting tomato, eggplant, pepper and cucumber seedlings.

Anxiously awaiting signs of germination and growth, we’d close our laptops around 5 p.m. every second day and drive up to the College to check on our pandemic garden. Slowly but surely our seeds sprouted and their shoots began to look like miniature versions of themselves. Within weeks we were eating arugula while Toronto was still under a pile of snow. Yet, our tomatoes had barely grown; the cucumber seedlings kept dying; and I was convinced that my pepper plants were shrinking. I was frustrated. Anxiety over the pandemic combined with the pressure to work harder and accomplish more. I was hard on myself like I was hard on the garden.

As the lockdown wore on, workdays and then weeks began to blur into one another and yet time stood still in a different way when we’d call it quits, earlier and gradually with much less guilt, and head up to the College. We’d go when we were miserable or angry with each other. It was quiet and it helped. We’d go on the weekends sometimes when the sun was shining and it helped even more. Julia needed her steps and so we’d walk after pulling weeds and talk in ways that our pre-pandemic weekdays never seemed to allow.

As time went on our near daily trips became routine. We’d pack our tomato ties, our scissors, and big ziplock bags that I’d wash after each use. Soon we lost access to a hose and so we started bringing a watering can that one of us would fill six or seven times behind St. Mark’s Parish whenever Fr. Rob wasn’t hearing outdoor confessions. As summer finally started to arrive in Vancouver the garden became a hot spot of activity. We met neighbours who told us they liked our greens (thanks?); neighbours we traded stories and plants with; other gardeners on the UBC campus who envied the shade our lettuce got; neighbours’ children and their pets. I began running into work colleagues, one who tended two of the College’s four garden beds, and others who still had access to the main building. These chance encounters and the short conversations they prompted—so everyday and yet so oddly meaningful—broke up the monotony of daily Zoom calls and online happy hours. Soon enough the garden started to produce and everyone we ran into or visited got a bag of lettuce or clippings of chard. What had started out as a pet project had become a way to connect.

In the end, not everything worked out. The eggplant and peppers never grew. Most of the tomatoes will never ripen. But over time my frustration with the garden turned to acceptance and then celebration. Look at all the delicious things we got out of two overcrowded and partly shaded boxes. Over time I’ve grown to be easier on myself and to celebrate all the little ways Julia and I have grown over the past six months. None of it was expected. None of it was easy. All of it was grace.


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the logos of the University of St. Michael's College and Regis College

“The whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts.” (Pope Francis, encyclical Fratelli Tutti (3 October 2020), # 145.

We write to inform our communities that representatives of the Board of Regis College, and the Collegium of the University of St. Michael’s College, have met recently to explore a mutual desire to renew long-standing discussions regarding a closer institutional relationship between the two Catholic institutions.

We are pleased to report that these very fruitful meetings have led to the establishment of a Steering Committee that will oversee, on behalf of the two governing bodies, the formulation of an alliance between Regis and St. Michael’s. The work of the Regis-USMC Steering Committee and its anticipated sub-committees, and the deliberations of the respective governing bodies, will be guided by the following shared principles:

  • The commitment to forge a world-class centre of excellence in Catholic theological study whose mission is to promote teaching, research, and formation to serve the needs of the Church and society, here in Canada and globally;
  • The commitment to consult all stakeholders (including the administration, the faculty, staff, students and alumni/ae, of each institution, as well as the sponsoring religious orders/ congregations). The continuation and cultivation of a cordial relationship with the Archdiocese, while keeping the Cardinal informed of plans and on-going developments;
  • The commitment to orient governance of Regis and St. Michael’s to a deepening union for the sake of enhancement of their mission.

David Sylvester, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of St. Michael’s College

Thomas Worcester, S.J., PhD
President
Regis College

Nisheeta Menon is a graduate of St. Michael’s Christianity & Culture program and holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Faculty of Theology. While studying theology she served as the Social Justice Co-ordinator and Student Life Committee Vice-President. She is now a high school Religion teacher in Mississauga, where she hopes to continue her co-curricular work serving her school community in the areas of equity and diversity education and chaplaincy.    


Wandering in the Desert

Moses with the Tablets of the Law by Marc Chagall, 1956
Moses with the Tablets of the Law by Marc Chagall, 1956

Autumn is a time of year I have always loved. As a student, I looked forward to transitioning back into school and the start-up of all of the clubs, sports, and activities. Now, as a secondary school teacher, my appreciation of this time of year has only increased. It is around this time that the life of a school starts to take shape—student leadership, chaplaincy, athletic teams, volunteer and outreach initiatives, arts programs, etc. Plans turn into reality and the school begins buzzing with activity, creativity, and life!

This autumn, as you might imagine, looks very different. The beginning of the school year was tumultuous, to say the least, and some of us only received our teaching assignments in late September. A number of teachers, like me, were designated to teach the online cohort and, with that, we have sunk into the routines of virtual teaching with considerable reluctance.

Students continue to be moved in and out of our courses due to a host of scheduling issues while the quadmester is rapidly progressing toward its end date in the second week of November. The tight timeline forces teachers to compress the curriculum, either speeding through important concepts or eliminating them entirely. The students “attend” class daily but are behind their screens while we are behind ours, and, even when our cameras are on, there is a palpable discomfort.

In a regular classroom, these students would know each other quite well by Grade 12, and they would continue to build connections with one another throughout their time in a class like mine. In the virtual environment, however, students in my classes are from all over the school board and, despite my efforts, their interaction is limited. As well, during the average school day, my colleagues generally remain isolated in their own classrooms (for good reason), leaving the staff lounge and department offices empty. The school is eerily quiet and the few faces you may pass are hidden behind masks. This is a far cry from the Thanksgiving liturgies, staff potlucks, and Student Council Haunted House tours of the past.

For most teachers, even those with in-class cohorts, the laments are the same: feeling disconnected from the students, being unable to teach and assess in an effective way, concern over students with access issues or learning challenges, and a general lack of guidance and support. At the same time, we watch the news as reports of COVID-19 cases in schools rise and we check in with some of our close friends and family as they await the results of their tests. We miss the loved ones who are outside of our social bubbles, and we worry about them, and ourselves. It is difficult to be hopeful.

One day, as I discussed these grim realities with a colleague, I confessed I was having a difficult time staying optimistic and energized, but that I was simultaneously feeling guilty about this because I also acknowledge how privileged I am in many ways. She offered one of the most helpful comments I have heard throughout this pandemic: “Of course you’re having trouble staying hopeful! What do you expect? We are the Israelites in the desert! This is not the Promised Land!”

Coincidentally, it was at that very time that I was in the midst of discussing the Exodus story with my Grade 12 Religion class. We had talked about how the Israelites in the desert must have felt a sense of hopelessness, fatigue, monotony, and an underlying fear that they might never actually reach the Promised Land. It is difficult to imagine that they ever woke up optimistic and chipper, ready to spend another day wandering in the desert!

During this pandemic, part of the struggle which so many of us put ourselves through is trying to make our lives as close to what they were pre-pandemic as possible. Of course, this is nearly impossible, and our failure to meet our self-imposed standards only heightens our anxiety. By acknowledging that we are “in the desert,” perhaps we can give ourselves permission to feel a little lost, at times hopeless, and generally unable to think more than a few steps ahead at any given time.

My most gratifying class thus far occurred when I shelved the curriculum for one day and chatted with the students about how I was feeling. As a teacher, and one of the only adult influences outside of their home they have regular access to right now, I know that modelling for my students the fact that it is okay to be struggling is perhaps the most important lesson that I can offer. After sharing with them a little about what was weighing on me, my students quickly piped in with words of validation and encouragement, which led to other students sharing their particular burdens, which in turn led to more encouragement from the group. Despite the distance between us and the glitchy internet connection, our discussion rolled on until the end of the period. There was laughter, exclamations of, “Oh my gosh! Me too!” and quiet, muffled sniffles at times. We never got around to our lesson on the Book of Exodus that day, and yet I am certain that we came to a better understanding of how the Israelites were able to survive—and find deep meaning in—their time in the desert together.


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Rev. Dr. Matthew Durham is a Roman Catholic priest and experienced hospice palliative care administrator. An alumnus, Fr. Matthew earned an MDiv and a DMin at the Faculty of Theology, and is currently the Executive Director, Hospice Palliative Care and Community Development for SE Health. Formerly, he was the Director of Community Engagement & Advancement at The Hospice of Windsor & Essex County Inc. This article was co-authored with Hana Irving, MA.


Helping the Most Vulnerable at the End of Life

A hospice caregiver clasps the hands of an elderly patient

While discussions of how to create a system that supports Canadians who wish to live and age at home have been at the forefront of health care agendas for decades, this discussion has only become more necessary in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions of viral spread, social and physical distancing, the importance of wearing a mask, washing hands, and disinfecting surfaces to prevent infection have become commonplace in households nationwide. At the same time, as a society, we are becoming more aware of the social and economic disparities that have put certain vulnerable populations at greater risk.

Ubiquitous yet largely ignored, in every major city there are thousands of Canadians who are homeless and lacking access to adequate resources to follow public health guidelines about social distancing and hygiene (Jadidzadeh & Kneebone, 2020). Furthermore, people experiencing homelessness are often at greater risk for virus transmission due to crowded living conditions in temporary housing or shelters, or congregate settings, and overall face a 5–10 times greater mortality risk than the general population (Tsai & Wilson, 2020). Those risks only increase for individuals with compromised immune systems or who may be approaching the end of life.

For people experiencing homelessness, access to palliative care has traditionally been a challenge, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hudson, Shulman and Stone (2017) note that

the delivery of high-quality care in mainstream settings for homeless people is complex for many reasons, including mistrust of health services, isolation, the impact and chaos associated with substance or alcohol misuse and, for some, alcohol-related early cognitive impairment. These factors, alongside the relatively young age at which homeless people may benefit from palliative care, means access to hospice and care homes is currently rare. As a result, homeless people often receive inadequate care and support. (p. 54)

This is a problem that Journey Home Hospice has been addressing for a little more than two years as Toronto’s only hospice serving homeless and vulnerably housed individuals. The hospice, which is a partnership involving Saint Elizabeth Foundation, Hospice Toronto, and Inner City Health Associates, provides 24/7 hospice palliative care, including complementary therapies to patients at the end of their lives, with a typical admission having a prognosis of approximately three months. More than pain and symptom management, Journey Home Hospice also offers formerly homeless patients the opportunity to experience “home,” sometimes for the first time in decades. The small clinical staff, complemented by specially trained volunteers, often become a “found” family for patients who are typically estranged from their loved ones. Volunteers especially fill an important role: reading stories aloud, singing favourite songs, cooking memorable dishes, playing cards, or even watching movies with patients.

Equally important, Journey Home Hospice becomes a place of healing, even as patients approach the end of life: regular meals; a clean, safe place to stay; coordinated pain and symptom management; programs such as art and music therapy, legacy work, and a visiting dog program all help patients to reconnect with their humanity after years of hardship and struggle. The psychosocial and spiritual care program also helps patients reconnect with loved ones if they wish and provides a welcoming space to express their faith or find a connection with their chosen religion.

Every patient who has stayed at Journey Home Hospice comes with a story. As each patient begins to feel at home, they will often share their story with a trusted team member or volunteer, and each life history comes with its own unique heartache. Whether fleeing an abusive family or relationship, struggling to cope with mental health issues and addiction, or facing financial setbacks from a divorce or workplace accident, our patients never intended to be homeless. However, once they found themselves without a permanent address, the struggle to find or maintain employment, save enough money for deposits on a new apartment, or even access social services became almost insurmountable challenges for many.

For many persons who have experienced homelessness, the overwhelming shame and fear associated with appearing “needy and dependent” prevents both men and women from asking for help. This is only compounded by our generally negative view of dependence and aging as a society. A recent study in Montreal found that individuals aged 50–64 were the largest growing demographic of the homeless population, as ageism often made it difficult to find new employment, and age prevented them from accessing social services and support programs designed for older Canadians (Burns, Sussman and Bourgeois-Guérin, 2018).

Journey Home Hospice becomes even more important in this context as a beacon of hope for patients, and as a potential teaching and learning facility on a local, national and international scale. Both from listening to our patients’ experiences and leading research into the factors affecting homelessness, we know that it is largely structural issues that cause and perpetuate homelessness. We are socially conditioned with capitalist values that emphasize individual responsibility, work ethic, and suggest that the only factor that determines success or failure is an individual’s motivation to work towards a goal. In reality, there are political and social factors that shape individuals’ access to opportunities, education, resources, and the necessary support and social services. Poverty and homelessness are closely tied factors that are caused by an inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunity (Murphy and Eghaneyan, 2018).

Our hospice is creating a truly safe space for people who have experienced homelessness, with a specially trained team able to respond to their unique life stories, physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs, as well as to offer care in a flexible environment responsive to the needs of the individual. COVID-19 has demonstrated more than ever that health care solutions in Canada must be innovative and responsive; we are proud that in the midst of this pandemic, not only have we been able to offer patients a safe respite at the end of their lives, we are also expanding to serve more people in the future. Currently, Journey Home Hospice is renovating our existing site to add six more hospice beds and hopes to be open in late 2020.


References:

Burns, V.F., Sussman, T & Bourgeois-Guérin (2018). Later-life homelessness as disenfranchised grief. Canadian Journal on Aging, 37(2), 171–184.

Hudson, B., Shulman, C. & Stone, P. (2017). ‘Nowhere else will take him’ – Palliative care and homelessness. European Journal of Palliative Care (24)2. 54.

Jadidzadeh, A. & Kneebone, R. (August 2020). Homeless shelter flows in Calgary and the potential impact of COVID-19. Canadian Public Policy. S160–S165.

Murphy, E.R. & Eghaneyan, B.H. (2017). Understanding the phenomenon of older adult homelessness in North America: a qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis. British Journal of Social Work, 48, 2361–2380.

Tsai, J. & Wilson, M. (April 2020). COVID-19: a potential public health problem for homeless populations. www.thelancet.com/publichealth (Vol 5). e186–e187.


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Theologian Karl Barth famously advised younger colleagues to base their work on both the Bible and the newspaper. Now, two new courses offered by the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College are doing just that, reflecting theologically on the evils of racism and clerical sexual abuse, topics that regularly make front-page news.   

Theology of Radical Evil and Suffering will look at the experience and testimony of Jewish, African American and Indigenous individuals and communities who experienced extreme evil and suffering at the hands of those reclaiming what they understood to be their Christian faith, values and way of life.

(Sexual) Abuse and the Catholic Church, in turn, aims to explore how the present sexual abuse crisis informs—and proposes the need to reform—the understanding of the church as body of Christ.

“These are very challenging—and very necessary—courses,” says Interim Dean John L. McLaughlin. “We are educating people who will be helping to find the answers to society’s ills. They need to understand root causes and be able to recognize systemic challenges before they can begin to effect change.”

Image depicts Jean- Pierre Fortin
Dr. Jean-Pierre Fortin

Radical Evil and Suffering “will offer a different approach to evil, as often we look at both God and evil at once in abstract philosophical terms,” says Dr. Jean-Pierre Fortin, who will be teaching the course. “This course will have a more practical approach, based on self-narratives, determining agency and how we experience the impact of evil on our personal identities and lives. How as Christians do we listen to victims when Christianity is on the side of the perpetrator?”

Along with readings from theologian Dorothee Soelle and philosopher Simone Weil on the nature of suffering, the course also features the works of such writers as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, who is a specialist in African American Catholic theology, Aboriginal writer Thomas King, and documents from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Dr. Fortin, who is the author of Grace in Auschwitz: A Holocaust Christology, says his years living in Chicago while teaching at Loyola University exposed him to the reality of the African-American experience, and allowed him to hear prophetic voices. As a Canadian, he felt the ongoing fallout from residential schools and the injustices revealed via the TRC highlighted the need to discuss injustices suffered by Canada’s Indigenous peoples and reflect constructively on a responsible Christian response.

(Sexual) Abuse in the Church, which is being co-taught by theology professors Drs. Darren Dias, OP, and Michael Attridge, is one of the first of its kind to be taught in Canada.

Dr. Michael Attridge and Dr. Darren Dias, OP
Dr. Michael Attridge and Dr. Darren Dias, OP

“The church has gotten better, in the sense that the present number of cases has decreased, but the crimes that have been committed are a permanent wound,” Dr. Dias says. “After (1989’s) Mt. Cashel scandal, people thought it couldn’t happen again. Then came the magnitude of Pennsylvania (where a grand jury report indicated the church had covered up abuses committed by more than 300 priests over a 70-year span) and we began to realize that this was happening around the world, in any number of cultures and linguistic groups, whether the United States or India.”

The course will be delivered in three sections: the first will be inductive, using data such as statistics and ethnography; the second will look at structural, systemic issues such as celibacy, clericalism and power; the final section of the course will be deductive, looking at what church is and what the people of God are called to be. The last section, notes Dr. Attridge, will look at Scripture, and theologically grounded teachings from Pope Francis and others. Each class will begin with the testimony of survivors.

“If we think of church as sacrament, with the moral responsibility to be the body of Christ, the presence of God in the world, ask yourself what it means when the Church, called to be an instrument of God’s love, behaves in this way,”says Dr. Attridge. “We are talking about Church in a responsible, methodological way.”

Dr. Dias agrees.

“This is a pervasive issue and Catholic universities have to address it, both because we have witnessed degrees of abdication within the church and because we are informing people who will be in ministry,”  he says.


Theology of Radical Evil and Suffering (SMT5610HS) is offered Tuesdays from 14:00-16:00 in the fall semester.

(Sexual) Abuse and the Catholic Church (SMJ3/6505HF) is offered staggered Saturdays from 9:00-13:00 in the fall semester.

The front door and stairs on the exterior of Muzzo Alumni Hall on the St. Michael's campus

What does community look like in the face of a pandemic? For the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College, community has meant professors digging deep into their own pockets and inviting others to join them to start an emergency fund for graduate students struggling with finances due to COVID-19.

 To date, the fund has received more than $30,000 in donations from a small group of professors, staff and alumni and the university has offered to match up to $50,000.

When the pandemic began to take hold, the University of Toronto quickly established an emergency fund for students, but because the Faculty of Theology’s degrees are issued by St. Michael’s rather than UofT, graduate students studying at the faculty are not eligible for the UofT relief funding.

Having been graduate students themselves, however, Faculty professors Drs. Darren Dias and Michael Attridge recognized that their students might be facing any number of challenges, ranging from job loss—particularly tough for single students with no supplementary income—to additional expenses because travel restrictions kept them grounded in Toronto. International students, they note, are not eligible to receive CERB funding from the federal government.

“As soon as [Dr. Dias] reported that students were asking if any funding was available I knew creating assistance was the right thing to do,” Dr. Attridge says.

The two professor chatted and then opened up the conversation to their colleagues. In the broader brainstorming session it was suggested that professors establish a fund to help students unable to help cover costs such as groceries, rent or other standard expenses.

St. Michael’s President David Sylvester received the idea enthusiastically and took it one step further, proposing to match donations up to $50,000 from a University fund.

“The Faculty of Theology is in a position to generously fund many students in terms of tuition, but we do not cover day-to-day living expenses,” Dr. Dias explains. “Graduate students often live close to the poverty line. Coronavirus would only make things worse.”

Doctoral student Mariia Ivaniv agrees.

“It is a challenge for an international student to be alone in a foreign country, but to be alone in a foreign country during the world pandemic is….a huge struggle,” says Ivaniv, who comes from Ukraine. “As a student in such a situation, I was happy to hear about [the] initiative… It shows [the professors’] desire not only to develop the big theological ideas but to practice Christian generosity. 

“This kind gesture will help students to overcome a lot of challenges and feel protected and supported.”

Another student, who preferred not to be identified, noted that Toronto is a very expensive city, offering as an example his rent of $1,000 a month for a basement apartment.

“Finances are probably the most difficult thing about being a PhD,” says the student, who was forced to stay in Toronto for the summer, even though his work hours were reduced, due to conditions in his home country.

“Response has been great,” says Ken Schnell, whose regular role is Advancement Manager of the annual fundraising campaign, but who is also overseeing this special project. After the initial donations from professors, the advancement office launched the next phase of the campaign and is reaching out to the wider community of alumni and partner organizations to invite them to contribute. “We are delighted by the generous response, to date.”

“Our students tend to be shy about asking for any kind of help,” says Emil Iruthayathas, the faculty’s Student Services Officer, who is notifying students by email about the fund and how to apply.

Funding will be on a semester-by-semester basis and capped at $2,000 a semester per student. With the $32,000 already received and the matching amount from the university, the fund sits just shy of $65,000.

“Since we do not know how long the pandemic will last we want to ensure we can keep some money flowing to students for as long as possible,” says Dr. Dias.

“This kind gesture will help students to overcome a lot of challenges and feel protected and supported,” says Ivaniv.

For more information or to contribute to the Faculty of Theology Student Emergency Fund please contact Ken Schnell at ken.schnell@utoronto.ca or call 416-926-7281.

Anthony De Feo is the Programs Coordinator at the Faculty of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College. He began his time with the Faculty of Theology back in November of 2019, taking over for Catherine Mulroney. He graduated with his Honours B.A. in Religious Studies and Italian from McMaster University and his Master of Divinity degree from USMC. He lives in Stoney Creek, ON with his wife, Cristina, and their three-year-old daughter, Catarina.


Rethinking How We Do Things

Family portrait

Five a.m. alarm clock: I sulkily hit the snooze button and slowly roll out of bed, ready to begin my journey to the office in Toronto. The train leaves promptly at 7:20 a.m. from Aldershot station, about a 20-minute drive from my house in Stoney Creek. To make it to the train on time so I am in the office by 9 a.m., I leave the house no later than 6:45, providing time for a proper parking spot and to load up my PRESTO before the train leaves. Shower, get dressed, eat a quick breakfast, and out the door I go; then on the train to Union Station, where the second “adventure” of getting onto the TTC awaits. I get off at Bay Station and hit the Tim’s on Wellesley to get my morning cup of coffee, then on my way to Alumni Hall. Emil is usually already hard at work, ready to greet me as I saunter past his office, stopping for a brief chat about the previous evenings’ Leafs game or how neither of our children slept the night. The day usually starts with checking the many emails that came in overnight, from students asking about information on their courses and reaffirmations that they are on the right track. Diana comes in not too long after, and the three of us chat a bit before getting “lost” in our work; though, before long one of us would usually ask “Is it lunch time yet?” as we couldn’t wait to go to our favourite lunch hot spot: EATALY! As you can imagine, the afternoons were a little harder to get through because of having eaten delicious food and especially after a bombolone (Italian doughnut). However, we got through the days easily with the help of student drop-ins, conversations with faculty, and many phone calls and emails being made.

Fast forward to mid-March. No longer being woken up by a 5 a.m. alarm to remind me I had to catch a train, the commute from Stoney Creek to Toronto turned into the commute from my bedroom to my “living room office.” No longer worried about getting on a crowded GO train or TTC subway. The worry now was whether my internet would hold up for the Zoom appointments I had that day; or whether my three-year-old would make an appearance at our Faculty Council meeting. Face-to-face conversations with students turned into many back-and-forth emails; morning conversations between colleagues turned into many WhatsApp messages and frantic Zoom meetings to talk about what had to be done that week. It very soon became “the norm” and we had to adapt quickly to our new circumstances. Course planning in the lounge turned into strings of emails between me and TST, making sure we had the right course information for the upcoming academic year. Zoom became a normal way of communication between me and our students, meeting to plan for what courses they had to take in the Fall and Winter. Since the COVID pandemic has caused many to re-think how we do things, we as a Faculty of Theology have decided to run our Fall courses remotely, not yet knowing what the Winter term will hold. The hope is that we can return to some in-class learning, but only time will tell. For now, we will continue to forge ahead and are planning a virtual Welcome Day, many Zoom liturgies to come, and a possible online Convocation.

Only a handful of times does my daughter want to know what “papa is doing,” or decides to peek her head into one of my student appointments. I have the benefit of not having to juggle working from home and taking care of my daughter at the same time because my wife has also been home since March; this has been a blessing in disguise. Though there have been challenges, it has been nice to be home with my family and be able to experience some of the things I would otherwise miss while away at work. We are lucky to be able to enjoy nice lunches together outside on our deck in the beautiful summer weather; It isn’t EATALY, but it is perfetto!


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Fr. Don McLeod is a Basilian priest, an alumnus of USMC (College and Faculty of Theology) and a member of the Collegium since September 2013, serving as Chair from 2017 until the present. He has a particular interest in institutional governance and in ensuring that the proper role of the Collegium in University governance is clearly outlined. He has taught and been an administrator at both the high school and university levels, most recently at St. Joseph’s College in the University of Alberta. He continues to exercise his passions for aviation and cycling, Catholic Social Teaching and the study of Scripture and Biblical languages, while residing with the Basilian Fathers of Presentation Manor in Scarborough.


“Piloting” USMC

Aerial shot of the St. Mike's campus

Two or three weeks ago, someone asked me if serving as Chair of the Collegium was burdensome, especially during the current COVID-19 crisis. After a few moments’ reflection, I replied that although Collegium had recently had to confront some very challenging issues, I would not describe my role as “burdensome.” To the contrary, the past four-plus months have been challenging but not burdensome.

To help clarify, permit me to draw an analogy with aviation. When people learn that I am a licensed pilot, they often ask if I fly solo—to which my usual response is “yes and no.” “Yes,” if that means that I am the only person in the aircraft. “No,” if the implication is that no one else is involved in a flight. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, even if the pilot is the only one aboard the airplane, there is no such thing as “solo.”

Most people who fly commercially know that a safe and successful flight requires professional pilots “up front,” equally competent and professional flight attendants in the cabin and good ground crew—and that is certainly true. However, there is much more to aviation than that.

First, even a small aircraft comes with a very detailed Pilot’s Operating Handbook—in the case of the Cessna 172, the aircraft I fly, nearly 200 pages of very dense information. Included in this are several checklists covering nearly every conceivable situation, from before engine start through to shutdown—and the pilot who ignores or omits even parts of these does so at his or her own risk. These documents reflect literally thousands of person-hours of designing, building and testing, without which no aircraft ever makes it to the flight line, let alone into the air.

Further, behind the scenes of any safe flight are the people who service the aircraft and keep it airworthy. This includes mechanics, dispatchers, fuelers, cleaners and airworthiness inspectors—all of whom are required to ensure that the aircraft is indeed safe to fly.

Most of my compatriots fly out of and into what in Canada are known as certified aerodromes—airports, for short. These facilities require ongoing maintenance to ensure that taxiways and runways are safe and clear of any debris, including snow and ice in winter, that pavement markings including runway numbers are clearly visible and that all ground signage is accurate. Much of this work goes unnoticed but is essential to safe operation—and is regularly inspected.

Once the aircraft is ready, the airport safe to fly out of, the pilot (and maybe passengers) belted in and the engine started, the pilot is still dependent on many people to ensure a safe flight. If the airport has traffic controllers the pilot must obtain clearance both to taxi and to take off and must rely on the men and women at the other end of the radio waves to ensure safe separation of all aircraft. Even at an uncontrolled airport, the pilot must rely on other pilots and even people on the ground to advise of their positions and intentions. The same is true, in reverse order, when preparing to land.

In short, from long before engine start to after shutdown, safe and enjoyable flying is dependent on the skills, attentiveness and commitment of a significant number of people filling a wide range of roles—the pilot is one of these people, undoubtedly an essential cog in the machinery, but far from being the only one. In other words, the pilot in reality is never “solo.”

To return to my analogy, one could suggest that the Collegium, and in particular the Chair, might be viewed as the pilot who is charged with ensuring that the University is able to fulfill its mission. However, just as with the pilot of an aircraft, a successful “flight” of the University is dependent on the commitment, dedication and competence of many more persons than the relatively few that a casual observer might see seated at the Collegium table.

This has been even more apparent to me as we have dealt with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the very beginning, every member of the USMC community, regardless of their particular role, has given more than generously of their time and talent to ensure that we “fly” successfully through this unprecedented turbulence. I may by analogy be one of the “pilots” for this adventure but am well aware of the enormous debt of gratitude my colleagues and I owe to so many who have contributed to our safe and level “flight.” To them I say simply, “Thank you!”


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The crest of the University of St. Michael's College
Image depicts Dr. Hilda Koster

Dr. John L. McLaughlin, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Theology, is pleased to announce that Dr. Hilda P. Koster will be joining the Faculty of Theology as an associate professor in Ecotheology. Dr. Koster comes to St. Michael’s from Minnesota’s Concordia College, where she held joint appointments in Religion, Gender Studies and Environmental Studies.

“The addition of Dr. Koster to our Faculty underscores the importance of both ecological and feminist theology to the University of St. Michael’s College,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “She will carry forward the groundbreaking teaching and research of eco-theologians Fr. Stephen Dunn and Dr. Dennis O’Hara, as well as the important work in feminist theology conducted by professors such as Sr. Ellen Leonard and Sr. Mary Ellen Sheehan.”

Dr. Koster will teach courses for the Faculty’s three basic degree programs—the Master of Theological Studies, the Master of Divinity and the Master of Religion Education degrees—as well as teach and supervise graduate students through the Graduate Centre in the Toronto School of Theology. In the 2020-2021 academic year her courses will include Introduction to EcoTheology, Catholic Social Teaching, and a new course titled Ecofeminism, New Materialism and Ecological Theology.

She will also help shape the activities and certificate program of the Faculty’s Elliott Allen Institute of Theology and Ecology (EAITE), which was established in 1991 to allow students to acquire a specialization in theology and ecology.

“The University of St. Michael’s College has been a leader in ecological theology through the Elliott Allen Institute. It is a privilege and an honour to further this tradition of visionary ecotheological education and scholarship,” says Dr. Koster. “My own work in ecological theology is done from an eco-feminist perspective. To me environmental and gender justice are interconnected.”

Born in The Netherlands, Dr. Koster received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Divinity degrees from The University of Groningen. After further study at Princeton Theological Seminary and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, she earned her doctorate at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Koster has published articles and book chapters on eco-feminist theology, and edited two books on Theology and Climate Change. The book Planetary Solidarity: Global Women’s Voices on Christian Theology and Climate Justice (Fortress, 2017), co-edited with Grace Ji-Sun Kim, gathers eco-feminist theological reflections on the intersection of gender and climate justice by feminist/womanist/mujerista theologians from both the minority and majority world. Together with Ernst Conradie, she published the T&T Handbook of Christian Theology and Climate Change (Bloomsbury, 2019) to create a dialogue between religion scholars, ethicists and theologians situated within a high carbon footprint context and those representing climate vulnerable communities in low carbon footprint world.

Emily VanBerkum (USMC MDiv 2015) is the Dean of Student Residence at Loretto College, and John Paul Farahat (UofT DMA 2019) is Director of Music and Principal Organist of Saint Basil’s Church.


Enjoying Life’s Quiet Moments

“How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning?” — Fred Rogers

Image depicts the interior of St. Basil's Church facing the altar from the back.

The story of the proposal is really a two-part saga. Last year around this time, we were vacationing in Chamonix, France. Standing at the base of Mont Blanc, eyes gazing up at the breathtaking alpine landscape with gelato and marzipan cookies in hand, we considered ourselves incredibly grateful.

Unbeknownst to one of us, an engagement ring had been discreetly tucked away in our luggage for a surprise proposal in the Alps. But that carefully chosen landscape would fall through following an ill-timed fall down an old stone church staircase moments before that destined date-night dinner. Instead of a picturesque engagement ring reveal in a historic gazebo on a crisp late summer night under a sky of twinkling stars…a torn ligament, a pair of crutches, and a wheelchair ride through the Geneva airport.

One month later—ankle reasonably healed—we took a relaxed evening stroll along Toronto’s Queen’s Quay. Nearing sunset, on an ordinary park bench looking out to the calm waters, a proposal happened at last. A wild success: two elated smiles (and no torn ligaments). It was a perfectly tranquil, joyful moment. We laughed at the story of the-Chamonix-proposal-that-almost-was, and exclaimed to each other that 2020 was the year to be married—a year of perfect balance and harmony. We unhesitatingly chose Saint Basil’s, a parish to which we have both happily belonged since our student days, and set a date for September, 2020.

Much has changed in the world since we made initial arrangements. While our 2019 selves were focused on venues, vendors, realizing the “wedding vision,” and planning for out-of-country family members to attend, our 2020 selves have been more concerned with health, safety, and grappling with our new reality.

Our new central question was shared with many others: do we go ahead with the wedding, or do we postpone?

Our engagement story provided us with a providential lesson. The elaborate getaway proposal in Chamonix—with bells, whistles, and grand gestures—was replaced with a quiet proposal close to home, with only the most essential elements: the two of us, the “big question,” and a whole-hearted promise to spend our lives together. Indeed, the most though-out plans do not always go according to plan. Often, it is the beauty of the “quiet” moments that we cherish so deeply. It’s these instances that capture a moment in time, leaving an indelible mark on our minds and hearts.

Therefore, we have decided to move ahead with the originally scheduled date.

Establishing a sacramental union in Saint Basil’s, even without the larger guest count, elaborate reception, or flourishes that we had originally imagined, allows us to be true to what is most foundational: that marriage is a vocation in which the couple is drawn together for a purpose greater than themselves. Just like the proposal, our wedding day will be a reminder to find joy and contentment in the quiet, less elaborately planned moments of our married lives.

The beginning of our married life, surrounded by a small gathering of immediate family, will be at the forefront of our special day. And while we know the wedding day doesn’t make the marriage, in the end, perhaps the apparent “quietness” of the day will be everything we didn’t know we needed.


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St. Michael’s pulled out all the (virtual) stops on Thursday to honour three key leaders as they move on to new roles and responsibilities. More than 90 people gathered online to celebrate the careers—thus far—of Principal Randy Boyagoda, Theology Dean James Ginther and Fr. Peter Galadza, Director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies (MASI). 

Festivities began with a slideshow of each man in action on campus—Fr. Peter with students at Windle House, Dean Ginther presiding at convocation, and Principal Boyagoda in Rome with Gilson Seminar students—all set to the jazzy strains of Natalie and Nat King Cole’s duet of “Unforgettable.”  

Then President David Sylvester kicked things off with a welcome to guests, who ranged from students and Collegium members to colleagues and family. Dr. Sylvester recalled his own welcome party two summers ago, bemoaning the fact that the assembled could not celebrate in person in the sunshine of Scollard Park, as he had been feted. 

Image depicts the Very Rev. Fr. Peter Galadza delivering remarks at a podium
Fr. Peter Galadza

As the program unfolded, however, the inability to gather together did not stand in the way of heartfelt praise for each man. Dr. Ginther offered a tribute to Fr. Galadza, who is retiring from MASI, citing his “dogged commitment to academics,” his “passion for Eastern Christian studies” and his deep faith. 

The Dean recalled that even though the two men were doing doctoral studies at the same time at St. Mike’s, it was only during the negotiations in 2017 to bring MASI from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa to St. Michael’s that they met, and Dr. Ginther expressed great admiration for Fr. Galadza’s dedication to students, MASI and the Church. 

In response, Fr. Galadza offered his thanks, and expressed his delight at finally being able to spend more time with Olenka, his wife of 41 years. 

“God bless all of you,” he said, and guests responded with a flurry of virtual toasts and clapping emojis. 

Image depicts Dr. James Ginther in academic robes.
Dr. James Ginther

Then Dr. Sylvester offered thanks to Dean Ginther for his service to the Faculty of Theology, noting that, as both men are mediaevalists, the former knew the latter’s academic reputation long before the two met, given Dr. Ginther’s profile as a scholar of Robert Grosseteste and his work in digital humanities. 

Calling him a champion of the Faculty, the President cited the Dean’s “tireless work” in renewing the graduate division of St. Michael’s, citing three new hires as an exciting indication of things to come. 

Dr. Ginther responded with thanks to faculty staff and his colleagues, and told those assembled how much he is looking forward to returning to the classroom after his year-long research leave. 

“It’s been 12 years” since he’s had a leave, he noted. 

This prompted another flurry of toasts and clapping icons. 

Image depicts Dr. Randy Boyagoda standing in front of gardens on the St. Michael's campus
Dr. Randy Boyagoda

Then it was Dr. Boyagoda’s turn to be honoured. With some gentle teasing, the President noted that if he left anything out in his introduction “Randy would fill it in.”  

Dr. Sylvester thanked the outgoing Principal for his vision for St. Michael’s, noting that he was at the forefront of the renewal of the university’s programming and repetition, helping to restore St. Mike’s to its place as the leader in Catholic education. 

In his response, Dr. Boyagoda, who has been named Vice Dean, Undergraduate in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto, offered thanks to many people, and then concluded his remarks with an anecdote. 

He had just been the basement of Elmsley Hall with a young colleague to seek out furniture for the office he will maintain at St. Mike’s, as he will teaching the Gilson Seminar next year. The new employee who greeted him thought he was a student. 

“I’m leaving here feeling young!” he proclaimed, and everyone offered a virtual toast. 

Then came a round of comments from such notables as Collegium Chair Fr. Don McLeod, CSB, and Dr. Christopher Brittain, Dean of Divinity at Trinity College. 

It was not the in-person party that anyone had imagined, but it was a heartfelt send-off, and the community wishes all three godspeed as they head off in new directions.

Andrew Selvam is currently the Acting Chaplaincy Teacher at St. Joseph CSS in Mississauga. He is also a science and religious studies teacher with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board. He is currently pursuing his Master of Religious Education degree at St. Michaels Faculty of Theology. He enjoys music, hanging out with friends and family, and travelling.


A Language of Love, Unity, and Joy

Image depicts MRE student Andrew Selvam taking a selfie with a group of students.

The day was March 12; I remember it clearly. I had just finished with our chaplaincy team meeting in the library when a student asked me if it was true…that they would be closing schools for three weeks because of COVID-19. I immediately went to my computer to confirm what I hoped wasn’t true and, lo and behold, it was. We would be away from school for at least three weeks. Immediately the news cycle was flushed with what was becoming a worldwide pandemic and, as each given week passed, it seemed more and more likely that the school year would happen away from the school.

After March Break, it was a very slow waiting game. Retreats, social outreach programs, and student engagement activities would have to be put on hold. The way relational ministry would have to be delivered would look very much different. I had been reading all the emails from our school board offering all of the different platforms for learning, but I stood there for a moment and wondered “How do I connect with students?” From the beginning, it became a get-go of mine to make sure that, in as many ways as possible, I was going to make it feel as much as it could for students like we had never left. My first digital daily reflection went out on the feast day of the patron of our school, St. Joseph, more important than ever as the patron saint of families and the universal church. The Holy Spirit that I always felt travelling through a school would be called upon to help me figure out this new upper room. And that was just my motivation. I needed the Holy Spirit also to do the work of expanding this upper room, now neighbourhoods apart from each other and along a digital superhighway.

As each new day rolled out, each reflection and activity would focus more on refocusing our “new reality” into something positive, something to come alive through the Spirit. Meeting with students using videoconferencing applications made it as close to kids coming by the office as I could. Three-and-a-half months later, it has transformed into an opportunity for us to hear each other, talk about the struggles of the day, of the week and of the month, and offer support when needed. With the chaplaincy team back in full swing, I was ecstatic that, more than ever, kids were looking for ways to be engaged outside of the classroom. Each discussion we had and prayer we said felt like therapy for the mind and the soul, for the kids and for me.

But distance-learning causing frustrations wasn’t the only thing on the minds of staff and students. The number of deaths of relatives of staff and students was on the rise, and I asked the Spirit to just give me the right words to say when I picked up the phone to offer my condolences and support in any way that I could. It also became apparent that many of our families had parents unable to work, raising the possibility of not being able to put food on the table. The St. Vincent de Paul society helped us out, as did our generous staff, to provide food and gift cards for our neediest families.

I have to say I had my reservations. I did not know what distance chaplaincy would look, but it has been more than enlightening. It has shifted me out of my comfort zone in a way only the Holy Spirit can, and moved me to find energy reserves I did not think I had. We had just celebrated Easter at the beginning of this pandemic, and we know that we are an Easter people called, as Christ did, to work to make anew. More than anything, though, we have been called to be a Pentecost people—gathered together, filled with our blessed gifts, so that people outside our Upper Room can hear us speak in a language that they could understand—a language of love, unity, and joy.


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Professor Emeritus Dennis Patrick O’Hara is the former Director of the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology at the St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology, where he taught from 2002-2019, and directed many theses in ecotheology and ethics. He was also an associate member of the graduate faculty at the School for Environment at the University of Toronto. In addition to teaching courses in ecological theology, spirituality, ethics, and sustainability, he has worked for the World Health Organization and Health Canada researching and preparing policy positions. He regularly delivers both popular and academic lectures in Canada and the USA but has also lectured in Europe and South Korea. Prior to becoming a theologian, he practised as a chiropractor and naturopathic doctor, and taught at colleges of both of those professions.


Moments of Grace and COVID-19

Image depicts a glass marble on a mound of dirt. The marble gives an upside-down reflection of the sky and ground in the background.

Basil of Caesarea, in Rule LV: Whether the Use of Medicinal Remedies is consistent with the Ideal of Piety, instructs that a serious illness can be sufficiently disruptive to our normal patterns of living that it can force us to consider the circumstances that led to our illness and to re-evaluate our choices so that we can once again align our life with the telos of God’s creation. This opportunity can be identified as a moment of grace, on a religious level.

Thomas Berry notes that moments of grace can also occur on cosmic and historical levels, such as the dispersal of primary element via the explosion of stars or the development of photosynthesis. Throughout the 13.8-billion-year history of the universe, change occurs when systems reach the most tension that they can creatively endure. At that point, systems evolve irreversibly by transforming into a new level of order and complexity by resolving the dangerous tension in an unprecedented way. In many respects, we are at such a moment, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in part due to an ecological crisis magnified by climate change.

The people who are suffering the most due to the ecological crisis with its complex interwoven array of hardships will undoubtedly be least able to withstand the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic with its threats to personal health and reduced access to supportive infrastructures. Both the ecological crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic are anthropogenic crises on a global scale, and both require a commensurate response. This pandemic has demonstrated the enormous actions we will take when we decide to act for the common good as a single Earth community. Despite decades of exasperating delay to curtail climate change, when faced with this pandemic, nations rapidly instituted measures to restrict travel, pause economies, enforce physical distancing, and impose domestic isolation. Perhaps such a collective and purposeful response could become a rehearsal for addressing Earth’s ecological challenges as we creatively seek ways of being that are mutually enhancing for us and the rest of the Earth community.

Pope Francis, in an interview with Austen Ivereigh from the University of Oxford concerning this pandemic, noted that the great uncertainty of this present moment is “a time for inventing, for creativity” because “every crisis contains both danger and opportunity: the opportunity to move out from the danger” through conversion, including “the decisive step to move from using and misusing nature.” Ecotheology reminds us that we have a common origin and share a common sacred story with all of Earth. We need to reframe our choices to better align with the creative dynamics and the telos of that story for we will go into the future as a single Earth community or not at all.


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Dr. Callie Callon is a New Testament scholar at the Faculty of Theology who has also taught at the undergraduate level for St. Michael’s. She is an expert in ancient physiognomy, looking at how early Christians used appearances to praise or impugn others. Her book, Reading Bodies: Physiognomy as a Strategy of Persuasion in Early Christian Discourse, was published in 2019 by Bloomsbury Publishing.


Healing Moistly in Ancient Times

Image depicts the painting "Healing the Blind Man" by Václav Mánes, 1832.
Healing the Blind Man by Václav Mánes, 1832.

Recently, Prime Minister Trudeau rather infamously suggested that wearing masks during the current health crisis will help prevent the transmission of the virus through saliva, or, as he phrased it, by speaking moistly on others in close proximity. As cringeworthy as this terrible image is to a contemporary audience, it likely would not have evoked the same reaction in an ancient Mediterranean one. In this context the use of saliva was considered by some to be highly efficacious in treating a number of various ailments. 

Perhaps the most famous examples of this are found in the New Testament, where Jesus is depicted as using his own saliva in conjunction with healing some sensory afflictions. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus heals a person with hearing and speech impediments through his touch, prayer, and by spitting (7:31-53). Visual impairments are healed by him with the assistance of a topical application of his saliva in two accounts. In Mark, Jesus spits directly into the eyes of a supplicant prior to laying his hands on him (8:22-26). In the Gospel of John Jesus forms a paste made from saliva and earth which he the applies to the blind mans eyes before instructing him to then go and wash in the pool of Siloam (9:6-7).  

However, these were not the only people who were held to have regained their vision through the application of saliva in ancient texts. According to the first/second century historians Suetonius and Tacitus, the emperor Vespasian accomplished a similar feat through the use of his saliva (Vesp., 7.2; Hist., 4.81). Pliny the Elder, a natural historian from the first century, also attests to the use of saliva for ocular disorders, asserting that ophthalmia could be remedied by daily application of the spittle of a fasting person (N.H. 28.7). According to him, a fasting womans spittle was considered an extremely effective treatment for bloodshot eyes (N.H. 28.22) 

Beyond eyesight, Pliny further relates a tradition that seems to have held the application of spittle from a fasting person as a particularly effective treatment for a variety of different complaints.  To cite but a few examples, it was thought that the application of this type of spittle behind a persons ear would soothe a disordered mind (N.H. 28.5), could be used to treat boils (N.H. 28.7) and to remove leprous spots (N.H. 28.7), and that a crick in the neck may be got rid of by carrying fasting spittle to the right knee with the right hand, and to the left knee with the left (N.H. 28.7).   

Non-topical uses are also attested for a host of different ailments, ranging from warding off snakes to prevent poisonous bites (although should it enter their throats it purportedly destroys them [N.H. 7.2]), as a preventative against contracting epilepsy (N.H. 28.7), and as a means to secure the desired outcome of a healing incantation regarding foot pain, with the rather interesting stipulation that the accompanying words must be recited sober (VarroAgr. 1.2.27).  

Far from being a transmitter of health complications, in some ancient Mediterranean thought saliva was viewed as a means to resolve or even prevent them. While our present circumstances necessitate keeping our saliva to ourselves, there is still a wealth of actions drawn from the gospels that we can, have been, and should emulate: compassion, faith, love and care for others. And of course, social distancing (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; Matthew 14:13)!  


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Image depicts the John M. Kelly Library on the St. Michael's campus seen from the building's northeastern corner.

Sheril Hook, chief librarian at the John M. Kelly Library, tells the story of a University of Toronto professor calling her recently for help. The professor simply couldn’t find the materials he was searching for—Syriac-Latin text editions for the Patrologia Orientalis series, as well as articles from Analecta Bollandiana. With just a little digging, she found them, digitized from the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies (PIMS) collection, which is housed at Kelly.

“U of T is one of the top research libraries in North America. I was confident I could find the materials,” Hook says.

A library can be hard enough for an expert to navigate, so asking students to find resources remotely during physical distancing can be a challenge for those already stressed over papers, exams, and an uncertain summer.

In response, Hook and Noel McFerran, Kelly’s Theology and Rare Books librarian, are hosting a virtual town hall on Wednesday, May 6 for students in the basic and advanced degree programs at the Faculty of Theology. The afternoon session is perfect timing for theology students enrolled in intersession courses. Eligible students have received an email with instruction on how to access the online gathering, and it will be recorded for anyone who cannot make the 3-4 p.m. time slot.

The librarians have three goals for the hour-long session, which will include a 15-minute presentation, as well as time for questions posted to the forum. First, they want to do a close look with students at the U of T catalogue, delving into some of the more advanced ways to search it to discover digitized materials.

“We’d like to show people how to find materials they didn’t anticipate being online,” Hook says.

Then, they will highlight materials that have been made temporarily available to students. While in this period of physical distancing due to COVID-19, for example, students can call on the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service.

The third thing McFerran wants to stress is that the Kelly librarians are constantly discovering new materials.

“Send us an email and ask us about availability,” he says. “Just last week I had to say ‘sorry, it’s not available’ to a request, but this week that material has been digitized, so I was able to help the student after all.”

“This is a great new opportunity for learning,” says Hook, who notes that Kelly Library plans to expand sessions in the fall semester to include undergraduate students as well. “It’s important to feel comfortable in asking for help. If you can’t find something, we will look for you, as we very likely have it.”

Ann Mathew graduated from St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, in 2019 with a double major in English and Christianity & Culture. While an undergraduate, she served as an editor on Saeculum, the student peer-reviewed journal associated with the Christianity & Culture program. She has just completed her first year of the three-year Master of Divinity program at the Faculty of Theology. A member of the Faculty’s Student Life Committee, she also sits on one of the subcommittees preparing for the coming visit by the Association of Theological Schools, the Facultys accrediting body. 


Adjusting to the New Normal

Image depicts the inside of an empty subway car in Toronto

Writing this draft in the glory of the Risen Lord, I am also thrilled to have completed my first year of the Master of Divinity program at the Faculty of Theology at St. Michaels College. Although this global situation of the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected all of our lives, taking a special toll on the state of classrooms, the fact that I had enrolled in a couple of introductory online courses at the Faculty meant I was quite prepared for the virtual classroom setting. That being said, this shift in ones surroundings was indeed surprising.  

Being a commuter student, this change was admittedly rather welcome. To avoid rush hours and wind chills between home and campus for the second half of the Winter semester was an unexpected blessing in the present circumstances. The faculty and administration were rather prompt in addressing us about the changes that were about to take place. In light of the various final papers and deadlines, I recall the commute to campus to hoard up on library books before the closure. While many online resources have been made accessible to us by the university, there were still a few books that I needed to check out. My transit experience on March 16th was interesting, insofar as that, during what would have been an otherwise crowded morning commute, the TTC subways ran almost barren to the bones. Strategically planning my time between the Emmanuel College and John. M. Kelly libraries, I managed to bring home some 12 books. The ride home was eerie in that many at Union Station were homeboundluggage and neck pillow-clad, with no return date in sight.  

The remaining four weeks of classes flew by and we all seemed to adjust to our Zoom meetings, despite technical difficulties with Internet crashes at home, screen shares and background noises. Given the limited access to research materials, my professors graciously agreed to deadline extensions, along with concessions to primary sources. Throughout my undergraduate years, the Kelly Library gave witness to my eremitic lifestyle as each semester concluded. This time, however, my family got to experience my two weeks as a recluse. Truth be told, I rose with Christ on Easter Sunday as I submitted my final research paper.  

The whole world has more or less been brought to a halt. Each one of us plays a crucial part in maintaining normalcy, and the community at St. Mike’s has helped me adjust to this new normal, especially during the most stressful time of the semester. Currently, I am awaiting the commencement of online courses in the summer. Until then, I am passing time by engaging in some leisure reading, creative writing, family prayer, card games and such. As Archbishop Cardinal Collins often mentions in his daily homilies, let us continue to demonstrate our “love for our neighbour” in these days of keeping to our homes. May we find inspiration in the most trivial of things, all the while getting a step closer in knowing ourselves and emerge out of this phase as finer human beings.  


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Dr. Reid B. Locklin is Associate Professor of Christianity and the Intellectual Tradition at the University of Toronto, a joint appointment with St Michaels College and the Department for the Study of Religion. His research focuses on a range of issues in Comparative Theology and Hindu-Christian Studies, particularly the engagement between Christian thought and the Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta. He also writes on the scholarship of teaching and learning in theology and religion. 


Catholics and Hindus, Together Alone

Pope Francis delivering a special Urbi et Orbi blessing to an eerie, empty St. Peter’s Square.
Image: Vatican Media

Like many Toronto Catholics, I began my observance of Holy Week this year in front of my family’s television, watching the Cardinal’s celebration of Palm Sunday in St. Michael’s Cathedral. A little over a week earlier, on March 27, I sat transfixed in front of my laptop computer as the pope pronounced a special Urbi et Orbi blessing to an eerie, empty St. Peter’s Square. My devotional life has moved nearly entirely online.

Catholics, of course, are not unique in this respect. Consider an “e-Satsangh” hosted on Facebook Live by the New York City-based Hindu movement Sadhana on April 2. In this event, a pandit offered a ritual puja in his apartment, presenting Sanskrit verses, water and other offerings to several Hindu deities well suited to the present crisis. These included the elephant-headed god Ganesha from a local temple in Flushing, New York; Arogya Lakshmi, the Goddess in the form of mother, health and power; and Sudarshana Vasudeva Dhanvantari, the god Vishnu in the form of a medicine healer. Following the puja, from a different apartment, one of Sadhana’s co-chairs guided virtual participants in a short meditation and hymns for the flourishing of all living beings. Discussion followed, ranging from the visceral—one participant sought advice on grieving the loss of a friend to COVID-19—to broader questions of advocacy and political organization. The focus here was on action: pragmatic service to those who are vulnerable, and also ritual action for their health and well-being.

Still more direct is the approach taken by residents of the Indian city of Mumbai, according to a widely circulated report. There, it seems, the Novel Coronavirus has been personified as an antigod or demon (asura). On the eve of the popular festival of Holi, effigies of this antigod—called Coronasur—were created and ritually destroyed, in an effort to halt the virus.

Statue of the Hindu God Ganesha.

As a Catholic, I admit some discomfort with these rites, at several levels. But, also as a Catholic, I am obliged to approach such discomfort with an attitude of dialogue and exchange, rather than fear or condemnation. What might I learn from my Hindu neighbours about being a person of faith in this time of pandemic?

I think that the examples of Sadhana and even the Coronasur effigy offer an important reminder that Catholics, no less than Hindus, believe in the authentic power of ritual prayer. When Pope Francis raised the Blessed Sacrament and pronounced the Urbi et Orbi blessing on March 27, he was flanked by two icons that had defeated plagues in the past, Mary Salus Populis Romani and the Crucifix of San Marcello. This was a spiritual blessing, to be sure, an indulgence for those unable to receive the Rite of Reconciliation. But it was also an invocation of the power of God to intervene on behalf of those who are sick, and to arrest the devastation of COVID-19.

In the present crisis, some voices on the secular left and the religious right have called persons of faith to make a false choice: to follow the recommendations of public health officers, or to trust in the power of our shared prayer. Most Catholics, like most Hindus, refuse this choice. We embrace both the best science and the deep wisdom of our ritual traditions.

And so we vacate our churches and temples, and even St. Peter’s Square, to “flatten the curve.” But that need not, and cannot, stop us from persisting in our prayers. In this, Catholics, Hindus and many other others stand together, even while we are alone.


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A portrait of Dr. John McLaughlin of the St. Michael's Faculty of Theology
Dr. John McLaughlin. Photo by Sheila Eaton.

University of St. Michael’s College President David Sylvester is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. John McLaughlin to a two-year term as Interim Dean of the Faculty of Theology, effective July 1, 2020.

Dr. McLaughlin served as the Faculty’s Interim Dean in the 2014-15 academic year prior to Dr. Ginther’s arrival.

“St. Michael’s is fortunate to have such a capable administrator with a strong familiarity and history in the Faculty” says Dr. Sylvester. “Dr. McLaughlin’s presence in the Dean’s office will help make this process seamless, and I look forward to working with him in this role.”

A professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Dr. McLaughlin earned a BA from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB before enrolling at the University of Toronto, where he earned an MA in Philosophy. He then studied Theology and Scripture at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology, earning an MDiv and a PhD.

Professor McLaughlin joined the St. Michael’s faculty in 2002 after teaching for seven years at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia. He is an Associate Member of the Graduate Faculty with the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at U of T, and is a past President of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. He currently serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and as an Associate Editor of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly.

Current Dean Dr. James Ginther completes his five-year term on June 30 of this year. After a 12-month research leave, Dr. Ginther, a mediaevalist and historical theologian, will return to the Faculty to teach and conduct research.

Dr. Sylvester has expressed his gratitude for Dr. Ginther’s service over the course of his term in the Dean’s office. “I would like to thank Dr. Ginther for his tremendous service to our community as a member of the President’s Advisory Group and Senior Administration team, in his leadership within the Toronto School of Theology, and in many other collaborative initiatives, including in his field of expertise at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies and the Centre for Medieval Studies,” he says. “I look forward to Jim’s return to campus following his leave and to his renewed leadership at the University.”

Fr. Gustave Noel Ineza, OP, is a doctoral student at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology. Born and raised in Rwanda, he lived through the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and went into exile for a month in what was then Zaire. His family left the refugee camps and returned to Rwanda after three members of his family developed cholera. He studied in the minor seminary and joined the Dominican Order in 2002. He studied Philosophy in Burundi, and Theology in South Africa (SJTI/Pietermaritzburg) and the UK (Blackfriars/Oxford). Ordained in 2014, he worked for Domuni (www.domuni.eu) and was a chaplain to university and high school students. In 2018, he came to Canada to pursue studies in Christian-Muslim dialogue. He is currently reading on post-colonial approaches to the taxonomies assigned to religious traditions (Muslims and Christians) by colonial powers in Rwanda.


In Solidarity with the Suffering

Image shows a person cupping their hands against the sky, creating the illusion that they are holding the setting sun

When it was announced in Canada that COVID-19 was knocking at the door, multitudes rushed to shopping malls to buy as many provisions as they could, to be “prepared” for the pandemic. One item in particular was a major target of the worried crowds: toilet paper. Looking at images of people with trolleys full of toilet paper, one thought came to mind: “People are planning to eat a lot.”

I was reluctant to write this post because it is not easy to introduce a distressing subject in the middle of a global lockdown caused by a pandemic. It would be adding distress to distress. However, anyone interested in humanitarian crises has to know that disasters differ in intensity.

As I write this reflection on April 7, the whole world has started commemorating the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi, one of the worst genocides of the history of the world. Twenty-six years ago, in 100 days, about a million people died in a genocide, yet the rest of the world seemed disinterested by — or unaware of — what was happening there. Nations sent contingents of soldiers to Rwanda to remove their citizens from what the world knew to be genocide while at the same time trying to ignore the plight of the Tutsi for reasons no one has yet managed to logically explain to me.

After the genocide, masses of Rwandans moved to what was then Zaire – now, the Democratic Republic of Congo – seeking refuge. For a couple of weeks, we thought the world did not know that Rwanda existed. I was 11 years old.

Today, as the world closes in on itself to fight a ruthless pandemic, it is easy to forget there were ongoing crises around the world before COVID-19. No one forgot, I suppose, that Syria was in the middle of a bloody war, that Yemen never saw the end of another almost internationally ignored horrific conflict.

As a young child in Rwanda during the genocide, I would spend the day looking up at the sky to see if planes would bring United Nations troops. A few months later, in the refugee camps, I saw UN workers and knew we would get food soon if cholera did not first decimate my family, as three members were already infected. There was hope because, at that age, I knew that there were not so many crises going on in the world. I can imagine there is nothing as frightening as knowing that you may die soon of hunger or be killed, and that no one will even know about it because the whole world is afraid of something you consider a minor threat to you in light of all the other challenges and threats you face. Today, the UN relief agency UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations are reminding people that crises are still happening around the world and that charitable people should not forget those who are hungry, in refugee camps,or being persecuted because they belong to minorities.

Charity tables set up in Cairo during Ramadan
Charity tables in Cairo. Photo by Otto J. Simon / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Consider this pandemic as experienced by poverty-stricken families in extremely poor countries. After the confinement began in Canada, it took only a couple of days to have African countries announce total lockdowns. In most African countries, a lockdown means staying inside your compound-house, your hut, or just in a small house that hosts more than eight people. A five-week confinement without a job for a family of five is nothing less than a death sentence. Fortunately, some countries have started distributing food, but very few people manage to get it. Worse, all those without homes and who had relied on charitable people’s provisions will have to find other means to feed their families. The city of Cairo has announced that the famous charity tables (mawa’ed al rahman) that adorn the streets during Ramadan for poor people to eat after a day of fasting were not going to be set this year. Having been in Cairo during the 2012 Ramadan month and having shared food at Al Abbasiah and Midan Al Tahrir with people from all strata of society, I understand how this will impact poor communities.

It would be inconsiderate to end without mentioning another shared worry for African people around the world. Two French doctors, Dr. Jean-Paul Mira, head of the Intensive Medicine and Intensive Care units at Cochin Hospital, and Professor Camille Locht, director of research at INSERM, discussed on a French talk show the plausibility of testing COVID-19 vaccines on the African continent. The suggestion raised an outcry from many who did not grasp there are many other places where testing is in progress. The overall perception from both ordinary people and many African celebrities, including the WHO’s Director-General Mr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was that Africa would once again be that continent where people are considered lab-rats, where foreign countries go to test their unsure economic and political theories, drugs, or just to dump hazardous industrial wastes. The WHO Director-General called those French doctors’ attitudes a colonial hangover. Whatever intention those doctors had, their statements were inappropriate enough to worry an entire continent and all those who care for its inhabitants. Would that mean that when a vaccine is finally discovered African countries will still need to overcome trust issues before making it available to their people?

As we struggle to accommodate the strenuous new routines caused by home confinement, let us think of all those dealing with COVID-19 while facing greater and deadlier calamities. May solidarity with those who suffer be the major lesson we may take from these distressing times.


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Because Sunday Mass has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemicDr. Darren Dias, O.P., has shared his homily for this, the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Dr. Dias teaches in St. Michaels Faculty of Theology, specializing in Trinity, Religious Diversity, and teaching methods. He is currently working of a SSHRC funded project with colleagues Gilles Routhier (Laval) and Michael Attridge (St Michaels) entitled: One Canada Two Catholicism: Divergent Evolutions in the Catholic Church in Quebec And Ontario, 19651985.


Tears of Compassion

John 11:1-45

“Jesus began to weep” is the shortest verse in the NRSV English translation of the New Testament. Yet this short verse says something terribly important about Jesus and his solidarity with us in our moments of difficulty and suffering.

In John’s Gospel account, Jesus’ friend Lazarus is ill and Jesus is summoned to his side by his sisters, Martha and Mary. But instead of hurrying to be with them, he waits another two days. He says that the death of Lazarus is an occasion for Jesus to be glorified. Jesus confidently refers to Lazarus’ death as “merely sleeping” and even says, “I’m glad I was not there so you may believe.” Jesus is strangely sanguine about his friend Lazarus’ death.

But as Jesus’ gets closer to the tomb, he becomes increasingly emotional. Twice, the Gospel lection says, “Jesus was greatly disturbed.” And then he began to weep. But why how do we account for this change of emotional state? One moment he seems placid and confident and the next he weeps. Does Jesus not think he will be able to “awaken” Lazarus anymore? Does Jesus suddenly doubt the life of the resurrection? Or the power of God to be glorified? Why the change?

In the Gospel lection, we read that “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved…Jesus began to weep.” It was in his encounter with those who suffered loss and were grieving that Jesus began to weep. He is not weeping for Lazarus. He is weeping with, sharing in the suffering of others. Compassion is the source of Jesus’ tears.

Though Jesus is confident in his belief in the life of the resurrection, it doesn’t negate the real suffering of those who loved Lazarus, his sisters Mary and Martha, their friends, and Jesus himself. At the coming celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday we will read about Jesus in the letter to the Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way.”

Compassion comes from the Latin word “to suffer with.” We often experience the suffering of others, whether vicariously or else because we have memories of similar suffering. Suffering is part of our human condition. And solidarity in suffering reveals the depth of our humanity.

The current COVID-19 crisis reminds us how interconnected the human family really is. We are “deeply moved” by the dedication of medical professionals and other front line workers. When I’ve gone to the store to buy necessities, I’ve been struck by the friendliness and dedication of workers in drugstores and grocery stores in very difficult circumstances. We are “disturbed in spirit” by the lack of ventilators for all those who may need them. We “weep” at the deaths of so many around the world, and of their families who are unable to bury them at this time. We are experiencing a deep sense of togetherness around the globe because we are all affected, and we all wait with some anxiety, for an unknown future. As we stand at the entry of the tomb, we ask what will Easter look like this year.

Our Gospel lection today reminds us that the God of life is not unaffected by our situation. Indeed “the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world,” our “high priest” weeps with us, with compassion for the suffering, anxious, sorrowful and grieving.

Because Sunday Mass has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemicDr. Darren Dias, O.P., has shared his homily for this, the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

Dr. Dias teaches in St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology, specializing in Trinity, Religious Diversity, and teaching methods. He is currently working of a SSHRC funded project with colleagues Gilles Routhier (Laval) and Michael Attridge (St Michael’s) entitled: “One Canada Two Catholicism: Divergent Evolutions in the Catholic Church in Quebec And Ontario, 1965–1985.”

Finding God in Challenging Times

John 9:1-41

Amid this global COVID-19 pandemic, isolation and physical distancing are necessary to diminish the spread of the virus. In our time we can definitely understand the link between illness and isolation. In Jesus’ time, illness, and particularly something like blindness, was believed to be a punishment for the sins of one’s parents or ancestors. Thus, the question of the disciples to Jesus about the man born blind: “Who sinned this man or his parents?” Of course, Jesus’ answer is neither one; the very question misses the point. The man born blind would have been marginalized because his blindness was thought to be the product of divine punishment and so he would have been excluded from the normal network of social relations. We read that he had to beg for his livelihood. Like many other healing accounts, when Jesus heals this man he not only cures him physically but removes the reason for him to be excluded and isolated from his community. Jesus heals him and tells him to purify himself in the pool of Siloam so that he might be re-born into his community. 

In the narrative the man born blind is cured of his blindness but only gradually begins to see. When initially questioned by Jesus’ critics about who opened his eyes, the man responds rather journalistically by recounting the events as they happened, not even mentioning Jesus by name. When pressed his questioners ask, “what do you say about him?”  The man responds with the conviction: “He is a prophet.” His questioners react with a strong judgment against Jesus, calling him a sinner because he works on the Sabbath. Yet again they ask the man how is it that he now sees. Seemingly frustrated by their criticism of Jesus — and with firm conviction — the man says that Jesus is not a sinner but one who obeys and worships the true God of Israel and to whom God listens. The man’s questioners, those in power and authority, are scandalized that this poor beggar, a man born in sin else he would not have been blind, someone neither named nor vouched for by his own parents, would dare to teach them and so “they drove him out.” The man born blind, cured by Jesus, about to leave the isolation of his blindness behind, on the cusp of entering into social relationships, is driven out of the community he was never really a part of but longed to have a place. It is at this point, a low point for the man who has just been healed of his blindness, that Jesus seeks him out and finds him. In the brokenness and vulnerability of the man born blind, someone who has just gone from marginal to outcast, Jesus shares himself by revealing who he is: I am he, the one speaking to you is the Son of Man. Jesus chooses to reveal his true identity not to the powerful but to the outcast. Because of this intimate moment the man can finally answer the question that had been put to him throughout the narrative about the person who cured him. The man now sees who Jesus really is.   

In our Gospel selection today the man born blind, though he had a powerful experience of healing, is only gradually able to see God’s vivid presence in his midst in the person of Jesus Christ. In these days, weeks and even months ahead, many will experience the difficulty of isolation and loneliness, and be challenged to see the God who seeks us and finds us in our vulnerability and fear. But just as Jesus revealed God’s presence in his very person, maybe God’s presence reveals itself to us in the midst of this present crisis: in the selfless dedication of medical workers; in the store workers who ensure our access to food and other supplies; in neighbours who check in on the elderly or vulnerable; in our prayerful solidarity with those who are ill from the virus.      

Rosemary Boissonneau will receive her MA in Theological Studies on Saturday, Nov. 9. It will be her third degree from St. Michael’s.

If there’s a club for people holding three degrees from St. Mike’s, move over and make space for the newest triple alumna, Rosemary Boissonneau.

Rosemary will be awarded her MA in Theological Studies from St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, having received a Master of Theological Studies in 2017, and a BA, with a major in French and a minor in English, in 1987.

“It was interesting when I came back to St. Mike’s (in 2011) because I was a mother and a teacher and my oldest was in university herself,” she recalls. “What I found was the same hospitality, the same sense of welcome as my undergrad days, but because the Faculty of Theology is small, the sense of community was more pronounced, the sense of Catholicity more informed.

“There’s a real sense of identity and, given the size of the place, it’s easy to get to know people.”

The faculty impressed her for multiple reasons. One of the first courses she took when she returned to school was with Old Testament scholar Dr. John McLaughlin, who, as Rosemary describes, “sets rigorous standards” not only for the content of work submitted but also in his expectations regarding the mechanics of papers. They were standards, she notes, that she applied to all subsequent work to ensure she was meeting the McLaughlin bar and making the most of her education.

There was the fact that classroom topics would be addressed from a range of viewpoints, whether it was one of feminist theology or eco-theology, as well as the expectation that students would use inclusive language as much as possible.

She had the opportunity to learn the workings of a university by serving a term as a student representative on the Collegium, St. Michael’s board overseeing governance of the university.

And then there was Eco-theology Faith and Practice, a week-long course held at the Villa St. Joseph Retreat Centre in Cobourg, taught by Sisters Linda Gregg and Mary Rowell, CSJ. The course confirmed Rosemary’s interest in eco-theology, and led her to studies with eco-theologian Dr. Dennis O’Hara at St. Michael’s Elliot Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology.

“I always cared about the environment but the summer after Laudato Si’ came out I saw Dennis on a panel, which included a talk about the need for climate activism, and since I was working half-time to complete my studies, I felt I had the time to get involved.”

Her goal was to combine spirituality with justice, and that led to her work with ClimateFast, a volunteer organization whose goal is to encourage politicians to take greater – and faster – action on climate change, as well as work with #FridaysforFuture, the group behind the student climate strike.

It also played a hand in her MTS thesis, entitled The Christological Symbolism of Water in the Gospel of John.

“Rosemary is not merely intelligent but also thoughtful and morally motivated. She cannot only grasp complex ideas but she reflects on them in order to integrate them with other knowledge that she has gained,” says Dr. O’Hara. “This invariably prompts her to action, to reframe her own life and encouraging others to follow suit in their own way. She will willingly pay the price for a right course of action. This is why most professors relish her presence in class.”

Reflecting on her time at the Faculty, Rosemary says it enhanced her worldview.

A deeper understanding of Scripture, for example, has “helped me articulate what I believe,” she notes.

It has also left her an even busier woman, because even though she’s back to teaching full-time, she’s finding it impossible to set aside the volunteering she started when she was working reduced hours to complete her studies.

As she talks about finding a way to balance the rest of her life with the possibility of returning to do doctoral work, there’s little doubt she’ll find a way.

Portraits of Dr. Catherine B. Shannon and Dr. James Heft, SM (Marianist)
Dr. Catherine B. Shannon and Dr. James Heft, SM (Marianist) will receive honorary degrees at the joint Faculty of Theology and Continuing Education Convocation in November.

At the Faculty of Theology and Continuing Education Division’s 2019 Fall Convocation, not only will new scholars receive degrees qualifying them to conduct high-level research and teach, but two already-accomplished scholars will also receive special honours in recognition of their longstanding contributions. This year’s honorary degree recipients are Dr. Catherine B. Shannon and Dr. James Heft, SM (Marianist), both prolific researchers, writers and educators whose work embodies the ideals of the University of St. Michael’s College.

Dr. Shannon graduated from St. Michael’s with a B.A. in History in 1960, and went on to become a historian of Northern Ireland. In addition to her research on the historical roots of partition and the Northern Irish conflict, she worked to organize conferences and symposia during the 1980s and 1990s to promote dialogue between nationalist and unionist politicians. She has written on the impact of the conflict on Northern Irish women, and convened two conferences where women from Northern Ireland and the Republic discussed their aspirations for peace and their roles in achieving it.

In addition to her scholarship and advocacy, Dr. Shannon has served as a guest historian for museum and historical society exhibits. She has also served on the Executive Board of the American Conference of Irish Studies for over a decade, and has served as president of the Eire Society of Boston and the Charitable Irish Society of Boston.

Dr. Heft is a priest in the Society of Mary and has been a leader in Catholic higher education for over three decades. He received his MA in 1971 and his PhD in 1977 from the Faculty of Theology at St. Michael’s. For years, he served in a variety of teaching and administrative roles at the University of Dayton, where he chaired the Theology department before working as provost and then university chancellor. He departed in 2006 to found the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The author or editor of 13 books on topics ranging from intellectual humility and interreligious dialogue to Catholic higher education, Dr. Heft has also published over 175 articles and book chapters. His book Catholic High Schools: Facing the New Realities (Oxford, 2011) was listed as a best-seller in a recent Oxford catalogue, and a new book on the future of Catholic higher education is under review with the same press. In recognition of his long and distinguished service to Catholic higher education, in 2011 the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities made Dr. Heft the recipient of the Theodore M. Hesburgh award.

For their many contributions and accomplishments, Dr. Shannon will be conferred with a Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa and Dr. Heft will be conferred with a Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa on Saturday, November 9 during a joint convocation for the Faculty of Theology and Continuing Education Division at St. Basil’s Church. A reception will follow in Fr. Madden Hall.

A list of all past recipients of honorary degrees from the University of St. Michael’s College can be found here.

Faculty of Theology professors Dr. Michael Vertin and Dr. Margaret O’Gara were wed at St. Basil’s Church in 1976. 

Dr. Margaret O’Gara was a doctoral candidate and Dr. Michael Vertin a professor of philosophy at St. Mike’s when the two wed at St. Basil’s Church in 1976. Over the course of 36 years of marriage not only did each become a legendary professor at the Faculty of Theology, with Dr. O’Gara known around the world for her work in ecumenism and Dr. Vertin for his expertise in Bernard Lonergan, but they amassed a remarkable – and sizeable – library.

Now in the process of downsizing following Dr. O’Gara’s death in 2012, Dr. Vertin has donated an estimated 900 books from the couple’s individual and shared collections to this year’s Friends of the Kelly Library book sale. The sale runs Sept. 24 to 28 in Carr Hall  (100 St. Joseph St.).

The works donated from the couple’s library, carefully packed up by Dr. Vertin and delivered to volunteers in 40 bankers boxes, include books on everything from ecclesiology and ecumenism to scripture, patristics, and the philosophy of religion. Many of the items resided for years on simple pine book cases that Dr. O’Gara had built herself, an accomplishment, Dr. Vertin notes, that she felt quite pleased about.

When asked, Dr. Vertin notes there were some items he was unable to part with, including his 25-volume series on Lonergan, complete with its “red U of T Press binding.”

The annual used book sale, organized by the Friends of the John. M. Kelly Library, is designed to raise funds for the library, with proceeds earmarked for such projects as physical improvements, technology upgrades, and adding to collections.

Along with the Vertin/O’Gara donation, this year’s sale will feature a range of shopping options from first editions and art books through to academic works and pleasure reads.

A portrait photograph of Dr. Jean-Pierre Fortin.

Faculty of Theology Dean Dr. James Ginther is delighted to announce that Dr. Jean-Pierre Fortin will be joining the faculty as Assistant Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Formation. Dr. Fortin takes up his position July 1, 2019, and will begin teaching in the Fall semester.

“Jean-Pierre’s work at the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola makes him an ideal fit for us,” says Dr. Ginther. “His research profile and involvement in ecumenical dialogue will also be of great value to our community.”

Dr. Fortin’s most recent book is titled Grace in Auschwitz: A Holocaust Christology, and he is currently working on a book on the spiritual history of grace for Fortress Press. His research focusses on religious concerns and questions of 21st-century Christians.

Mentored as a student by world renowned St. Mike’s theologian Dr. Margaret O’Gara, Dr. Fortin earned an M.A. and a PhD in theology from St. Michael’s. He also holds a doctorate from Université Laval in Quebec City in the philosophy of science and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Regis College in Toronto.

As well as teaching at Chicago’s Loyola University, Dr. Fortin has also taught at Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec.

Coming to teach at St. Mike’s “constitutes a tremendous honour and opportunity to bear witness to the quality of the education I received,” Dr. Fortin says.

The duties of the practical theology position include teaching the Theology of Ministry and Reflection Seminar classes, as well as overseeing field placements. Field placements are an essential aspect of the Master of Divinity and Master of Religious Education programs at the Faculty, allowing students to practice under supervision the pastoral skills they have learned in the classroom and then come back to reflect on what they have learned about their abilities.

Dr. Fortin’s experience in the scholarship and teaching of spiritual direction will also enhance the Faculty’s pastoral formation program. “I hope to be able to inspire students to engage in a transformative search for truth leading to a new way of life in and for God,” he says.