Catherine Clifford

Catherine Clifford

November 14, 2011

OTTAWA – A year before the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Saint Paul University has launched the Research Centre for Vatican II and 21st Century Catholicism.

The centre will study the contribution Canadians made to council as well as how the council has shaped religious communities here. It will examine ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in today's society as well as both progress and decline in the Catholic community.

"I hope we find a way to help contemporary young Catholics, other Christians and non-Christians to understand the commitment and the opening of the Catholic Church to the world, to contemporary society and to contemporary issues," said SPU

Saint Paul theology professor Catherine Clifford, one of centre's co-founders, said the centre aims to help today's young Catholics, as well as other Christians and non-Christians, understand the opening to the world and contemporary issues that the council represented.

Clifford said she is teaching courses on the council as history. "We have to be clear, we're not the same Church that we were 50 years ago and we're not living in the same world."

The council showed the Church's commitment to be in dialogue with others and to seek unity with Christian churches, she said. It also sparked a commitment to dialogue with other religions.

"All of these rest on the principle of religious freedom, which is one of the most contested points of the council's teaching," she said.


Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue takes on a new significance in the present context where the migrations of peoples over the past 50 years have created a much more religiously pluralistic society today than in 1962, she said.

The council opened up ways to think about these issues, and the challenge of the centre will be to "think about them in new ways" and build on the heritage of Vatican II, she said.

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said he entered the Jesuits "on the cusp of the Second Vatican Council.

"We were still praying the prayer of John XXIII for a New Pentecost in our time," he said. "All of my life in ministry has been in the light of that seminal event in the Church."

Over the past 16 years as a bishop, Prendergast said he has been learning how to deal with the tensions the council has produced. "We're trying to solidify, and to unify and to keep together all the tensions that were invoked by the council and are still with us," he said.

The centre released its first book at the launch, Vatican II: Canadian Experiences, co-edited by Clifford and centre co-founders Gilles Routhier (Université Laval, Québec) and Michael Attridge (St. Michael's College, University of Toronto).

The book brings together the papers presented at three colloquia held at each of the participating universities.

Routhier has studied extensively the contribution of Canadians, especially Quebecers to Vatican II.

"The council was for them an opportunity to renew their vision of the Church and the way to live the Church," he said in an interview. Montreal Cardinal Paul-Emile Leger "was one of the major conciliar fathers at that time."

Routhier said he hoped the centre would prevent amnesia from developing about the council, so that in keeping the memory alive "we can live it."

The council transformed bishops who learned how to collaborate thanks to the council's emphasis on collegiality, Routhier said.

The centre, in conjunction with Novalis/Bayard, is putting on a national, bilingual conference next year to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the council.