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.”

Dr. Tamara Grdzelidze’s career has taken her from the Geneva offices of the World Council of Churches to Rome, where she served as the Georgian ambassador to the Vatican from 2014-2018. Now, her latest travels have brought her to Toronto as the Aileen Driscoll Research Fellow in Ecumenical Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College.

Midway through her year-long appointment, Dr. Grzelidze is delighted to be following in the footsteps of legendary St. Mike’s professors and conducting research at a university known for its work in ecumenism — even though her arrival on campus this past January was something of a shock.

“Certainly I knew cold. I’d been to the Alps, for example, “she laughingly recalls. “But I didn’t know what (a wind chill of) -32 felt like!”

Still, everything from conversations with Dennis Savoie, Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See, to her work at the WCC helped convince her that St. Michael’s was a logical place for her to further her work on ecumenism.

“I was familiar with some of the big names who taught at St. Mike’s – Margaret O’Gara and Étienne Gilson, for example – and I knew U of T is a very good university,” she says. “From my work with the World Council of Churches I knew that, ecumenically, (Canada) is very strong.”

The project she is working on while at St. Mike’s stems from concerns over the fallout for various Orthodox churches in the wake of the 2018 decision by the Russian Orthodox Church to sever ties to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which historically has held a special place in the Eastern Orthodox world. The break came last October after Constantinople granted the Ukrainian Orthodox Church autocephaly, or permission to operate independently from Moscow.

“Having lived various places this is painful for me. Borders are not so precise,” says Dr. Grdzelidze, who is organizing a conference to take place at St. Mike’s in June, 2020, titled Boundaries of the Christian Faith in the 21st Century: Intersecting with Borders of Geography, Cuture and Theology. Earlier this year, for example, she delivered a paper, ‘National Borders of the Orthodox Church,’ at a conference in Romania.

“Ecumenism is not only about knowledge but about experience, just as theology is not just about patristics,” she explains. “It is about seeing how people interact; it serves as a compass to understand others’ beliefs, their passions.”

In the coming Fall semester, Dr. Grdzelidze will teach The Ecumenical Theology: Division, Difference, Dialogue, a course that will examine some of the major themes related to the impact of inter-church dialogue and action on theological reflection.

Educated in Tbilisi State University in Georgia, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York, and Oxford, Dr. Grdzelidze has taught around the world, including St. John’s Theological College in Auckland, Trinity College Dublin, and the Angelicum in Rome.