Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2008
Penna named dean of Newman College
Sask. priest dreams of leading college into new era
- WCR photo by Glen Argan
Fr. Stefano Penna is the new head of academic programs at Newman Theological College.
By GLEN ARGAN
The new dean of Newman Theological College says his first task is to work with college faculty in a "faith-filled naming of the graces of the past" so that the college can bring "unity and focus and excitement to a new moment."
Father Stefano Penna, a priest of the Saskatoon Diocese and professor at St. Joseph's College of the University of Alberta since 2002, became academic dean of Newman College July 8.
Archbishop Richard Smith, chairman of the college's board of governors, announced the appointment.
Faced with a college that has eliminated its undergraduate programs, laid off three faculty and will soon move to a new location, Penna said the college is in the "middle journey" of life.
Having past the vigour and excitement of youth, reality is challenging it to "a deep wisdom and new empowerment," Penna said in a July 9 interview.
Both the cutting of programs and layoffs of staff as well as the impending move mean dislocation and excitement, he said. The move to a new location is a symbol that the college "is entering into a new period of life, into a new land.
"We are not at a moment of contraction, but a moment of new growth."
The college is not becoming more clerical, he insisted. "I don't see that as reality at all."
The practice of Newman College is that laity, religious and clergy collaborate in a spirit of equality, the priest said. "It is not a zero-sum game. In the economy of God, it is quite the opposite."
God's people should be able to celebrate and not be jealous of the gifts of others, Penna said. Jealousy comes "from never having experienced the amazing fullness that God's love has for me.
"If I know that forgiving love, I don't go around trying to figure out who's got more."
Penna has advanced degrees from Regis College of the Toronto School of Theology and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is currently completing a doctorate in religious studies at Yale University.
He has been a popular speaker, preacher and retreat master across Western Canada especially at conferences on Catholic education.
As Newman's dean, he replaces Franciscan Father Don MacDonald who retired in 2006.
A biography that accompanied the announcement of Penna's appointment lists his favourite food as pasta alla Carbonara, his favourite pastime as conversation and his favourite movies as The Passion of Joan of Arc and High Noon.
It says his "deep delight" lies in his nine nephews and nieces.
Penna said he couldn't say how long he will serve as dean. "I think the idea is for me to be here for a good long period."
Dreams for Newman
His dream for Newman College, he said, is that in 15 years the college will be a place where Catholics from across Western Canada come to further their studies, come to teach and then return empowered to their dioceses.
The Western bishops are very supportive of the college, not only because of seminary formation at St. Joseph Seminary, but also because it is the centre of graduate theological formation in the West.
The Edmonton Archdiocese has given the Church in the West "a remarkable gift" by its financial and prayerful support of Newman College, he said. He expects other dioceses to make an increasing investment in the college.
The Saskatoon Diocese, he continued, has not only benefitted from, but also contributed to the college through the many priests from that diocese who have taught at Newman.
One of his hopes is that the college will continue to be a place of lay formation for the Edmonton Archdiocese. "I can't say that strongly enough."
Religious orders make an essential contribution to the college as faculty and students and through their gifts of time and treasure, he said.
While he taught at Newman's summer school several years ago, he said, "I come with a completely fresh perspective."
Penna is also the chairman of the steering committee for the archdiocese's Nothing More Beautiful new evangelization initiative.
"I think it's not accidental that those two things have come together," he said. Newman College's theological education has an important role in giving people "the wings of faith" that are necessary for evangelization.
Letter to the Editor - 07/21/08