Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 12, 2001
75 years on campus
St. Joseph's College celebrates lifetime of providing a Catholic presence
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Now celebrating its 75th anniversary, St. Joseph College's establishment as an affiliate of the University of Alberta represented a big achievement for the Catholic Church.
It established a beachhead for the Church in its quest to provide Catholic higher education in the West.
Things have changed over the years but the heart of the college, bringing a Christian presence to a secular campus, and the fusion of education and religion, have remained the same.
On March 18, the college will mark its 75th anniversary with a 7:30 p.m. Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica presided by Archbishop Thomas Collins and featuring the University of Alberta's mixed chorus. The guest list for the Mass includes many local and college dignitaries.
The motivating force behind establishing St. Joseph's was Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary who arrived in Edmonton in 1920 from Charlottetown.
He invited a fellow Maritimer teaching in Quebec, Father John MacDonald, to organize a Catholic college and secure affiliation with the University of Alberta.
MacDonald managed to scrounge $100,000 from the Carnegie Foundation for construction of a building, with the proviso that Albertans would make a matching contribution. They did and the ball was rolling.
On March 18, 1926, the province granted college status to St. Joseph's and it became a "corporate entity" of the University of Alberta. In November of the following year, the four-storey structure was officially opened.
O'Leary invited the Christian Brothers to take over the college administration.
With a staff of no more than three religious brothers during the first few years, the Christian Brothers still had a big impact on campus. The college housed up to 100 men in very close quarters and provided university courses in Christian apologetics, ethics and philosophy.
Beginning with the college's first rector, Brother Rogatian, Christian Brothers on staff were members of several faculties in the early years of the university.
When in 1963 the brothers relinquished control, Archbishop John Hugh MacDonald invited the Basilian Fathers to assume responsibility for the college.
Under the order's guidance, the college underwent several transformations - both academic and structural.
"The college's academic components expanded, lay professors were hired (in the late 1970s) and the college's course offerings increased significantly," noted college president Basilian Father Tim Scott.
"Academics became more front and centre in the life of the college while still maintaining the residence, although on a somewhat smaller basis."
About 1,200 students are currently receiving instruction in applied ethics, philosophy, religious education and theology. About 15 priests and lay professors teach the courses, which are recognized as university credits.
In the past two years, the college has developed courses directed to students in the faculty of education who intend to teach in the Catholic school system.
Other important areas of teaching at St. Joseph's are philosophy, science and religion, bioethics, social justice, marriage and sexuality. In total, more than 50 courses in Christian theology and a dozen courses in philosophy are listed for credit in the faculty of arts.
The college's library, now completely computerized, contains over 25,000 volumes and well over 100 periodical subscriptions in subject matters related to St. Joseph's course offerings.
Under the direction of Notre Dame Sister Mary Lou Cranston, the St. Joseph's College Ethics Centre has had a major impact on ethical reflection in Alberta's Catholic health care facilities. The centre reaches out to hospitals throughout the province enhancing the Catholic voice in the complex field of medical ethics.
The spiritual needs of the university are a central concern at St. Joseph, which has a strong campus ministry and a vibrant liturgical life centred in its chapel.
"On any given Sunday, 800 to 1,000 students attend worship services here in the college," Scott said. "There are morning and noon Masses here everyday."
St. Joseph's also runs retreat programs, RCIA for new Catholics, Bible groups and reflection groups. Last year, the college's RCIA program culminated with an Easter Vigil in which 18 adults received the sacraments of initiation.
Despite its success, the college is not planning to change course any time soon. "The purpose of the college is to remain the affiliated Catholic college of the University of Alberta; that's to say it draws its academic reality from the U of A," Scott said. "That linkage is central to our mission."
Built for $212,401, the college, found at the corner of 114th Street and 89th Avenue, has undergone several changes since the Basilians took it over. In fact little remains of the original interior, except for student residences.
Mona-Lee Feehan, a Catholic teacher, recalls spending most of her time at St. Joseph while studying at the university, even though she never had the opportunity to take courses at the college.
It was the "warm, safe atmosphere" of the college, as well as the fact her husband Kevin Feehan was taking philosophy classes at St. Joseph's that attracted her to the college.
"That's where I studied because the library was so incredibly quiet and it was a nice atmosphere," she recalled. "We went to Mass everyday at lunch time and sometimes on Friday nights we went to the socials there."
The Feehans have talked so much about the college over the years that their two sons, Sean, 22, and Ryan, 20, decided to give the college a try. They have both taken theology classes at St. Joseph's.
Dr. Rose Marie Hague, a theologian, psychologist, counsellor and lecturer who has been teaching at St. Joseph's for over 10 years, says the college helped to shape her faith and vision of life at a young age.
When she was 18 and studying at the University of Alberta, Hague took a course, which she says reaffirmed her belief that love in God is essential.
"I thought 'There is something to this whole business of loving God and therefore being called to use my gifts for the good of people, for the good of the community.'"
Today Hague, who teaches theology as well as Christian marriage and sexuality, sees St. Joseph's as having an integrated approach to learning.
"In addition to offering courses here, we offer an opportunity to speak freely about God."
Colleen Maguire, a biological sciences student, took a bioethics class at St. Joseph's last May. Since then she visits the college daily, to study at the lounge or to hang out with the many friends she made there. She also attends Sunday night Mass and several times during the week.
"I have to say I love it here," she laughed. "There is a great spirit of community. It's a place of learning and fun. I'm glad that I got to know it."
Although St. Joseph's receives per student funding from the U of A, its main source of funding comes from community donations, said college spokesperson James Cunningham.
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