David Mulroney

David Mulroney

June 1, 2015

The diplomat's take on what it means to be educated includes getting out of your country and out of your comfort zone.

For incoming University of St. Michael's College president David Mulroney, his diplomat's understanding of education also happens to be Catholic.

The former ambassador to China takes over July 1 at Canada's largest Catholic university with more than 4,000 undergraduates and more than 200 graduate students. The university is federated with the University of Toronto.

While it's too early to announce specific programs, Mulroney will be pushing for more opportunities for St. Mike's students to study abroad.


"I actually think it is part of what it means to be an educated Canadian, to have that experience abroad," Mulroney told The Catholic Register. "It's experience of the wider world. It's fundamentally part of your education."

But that's not just the ex-diplomat speaking. Mulroney is convinced nothing could be more Catholic than an experience of the world beyond Canada's borders.

"We're connected to the world's first great global organization, the Catholic Church," Mulroney said.

A distinguished senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs over the last three years, Mulroney uses Cardinal John Henry Newman to try to convince students they should take risks and make sacrifices to gain international experience.

"My champion . . . is John Henry Newman. You need to have this passion first of all. So you're not going just to party with other foreign students. It's sort of a hole in you that you need to fill. You're keenly interested. It's part of who you were meant to be," he said.

As the author of a report for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada on Canada's Asia Challenge: Creating Competence for the Next Generation of Canadians, Mulroney will surely be looking for ways to send St. Michael's students to China and other Asian countries for part of their studies.


But Mulroney also wants to find ways to send Catholic students to study in Rome and other Catholic centres. He envisions opportunities for students to engage in Catholic social teaching and social justice directly, working and studying in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

"It's absolutely fundamental in terms of knowledge of the faith," he said.

Getting ready to take on the new job has been a process of prayer, reflection, conversation and reading Vatican documents such as Ex Corde Ecclessiae, the 1990 apostolic constitution for higher education.

But Mulroney is aware that fundraising will be a big part of his job at St. Mike's.


"It comes back to having a story to tell," he said. "Canadians, though they may not always agree with the Church, I think they look to the Church when we're operating as we should as a source of optimism, as a source of answers, as a place of confidence in an otherwise troubled world."

People will give to St. Michael's if they know what the college stands for, he said.

"When I say it's distinctively Catholic, I mean that students who come through here will leave with something more than they arrived with," said Mulroney. "They will leave with an appreciation for their faith, their faith will be deepened and they will play a role as Catholics in their families, in their education and school communities and in the larger community."

Mulroney takes over from St. Joseph Sister Anne Anderson, who has been president since 2008. Anderson was the first woman to hold the job. Mulroney will be the second layperson after Anderson's predecessor Richard Alway.


The tradition of St. Michael's really began with the Basilian Fathers creating an opportunity for Irish immigrant boys to gain an education that the Protestant establishment of pre-Confederation Upper Canada would never have given them.

"One of the great legacies of St. Michael's is that it has always been a home to people who are slightly on the outside," said Mulroney. "I want to be sure that we're continuing that."