“The past is in front of me and the future is behind me...”
There are great challenges to living our faith in the changing circumstances of our times. We live in a post-Christian culture; conflicting understandings of what it means to be human, and of the purpose and ultimate end of life mark our era. None of us is immune to the effects of individualism, materialism, relativism, and secular humanism.
Conscious of the Risen Lord’s presence among us, however, we must continue to ask ourselves the same question put to Peter in Jerusalem immediately after his Pentecost speech: “What must we do?” [Acts 2:37].
The challenge is not to invent a “new programme” but rather to translate the Gospel plan into pastoral initiatives adapted to the circumstances of each community. It is in the local churches that the specific features of a detailed pastoral plan can be identified—goals and methods, formation and enrichment of people involved, the search for the necessary resources—which will enable the proclamation of Christ to reach people, mould communities, and have a deep and incisive influence in bringing Gospel values to bear in society and culture.
One of our diocesan pastoral priorities is the growth and development of St. Mary’s College.
To spell out the vision of St. Mary’s College, the approach used by Fr. Donald Senior in his address to the Third International Congress on Vocations in Montreal last April is helpful.
He began by acknowledging that in biblical Hebrew the ways of referring to the past and future have the opposite orientation than does English or French.
“While we say the past is behind me, the biblical idiom is the opposite; i.e. the past is in front of me (before my face) and the future is behind me (at my back). The image is visual, something like rowing a boat across the lake. The receding shoreline is ‘in front’ of you—where you are headed is at your back, behind you. You view the ‘past’ – the receding shore line – in order to fix your course for where you are going.”
“This is how the Scriptures function for us. We view our sacred past not out of nostalgia but to find there the footprints of God, the traces of our religious roots in order to give us direction for the future which we cannot see but which we know God holds out for us.”
One of the immediate advantages to this method of envisioning St. Mary’s future is that the image of “putting your back into it” connotes hard work. As a diocese, we need to put our “backs” into the future of St. Mary’s College.
The receding shoreline is quite clear. Born from the heart of the Church, each discipline at the College is taught systematically and according to its own methods, interdisciplinary studies, assisted through the study of philosophy and theology, enabling students to acquire an organic vision of life and to develop a continuing desire for intellectual progress. In promoting this integration of knowledge, a specific part of St. Mary’s task is to promote dialogue between faith and reason, so that it can be seen more profoundly faith and reason bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.
We are keenly aware that St. Mary’s College was established by an Act of the Alberta Legislature in 1986 as a non-profit, “private college for the promotion of higher education for Catholics and others.”
In 1994, St. Mary’s began offering its first credit courses in rented premises at the University of Calgary. These courses were primarily for teachers and university students preparing to become teachers and for those in the health professions. In 1996, the College entered an affiliation agreement with St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, ensuring complete transferability of the College’s courses to that University.
In 1997, the College introduced two professional development certificate programs, one for teachers of religious education and the other for Catholic school administrators. The College also opened its doors to full-time students in the first year of a Liberal Arts Program with courses in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. In 1998, there was a further increase in student enrolment as both junior and senior university courses were offered to full-time day students.
In July of 1999, the College moved to its permanent campus on the historic Father Lacombe site in Midnapore.
During 2002 the College experienced unprecedented growth in terms of increased number of students (up by 37%), the development of facilities that doubled office space and science labs, the hiring of a new senior administrative team, the reorganization of the Board of Governors, and the taking of various initiatives to broaden the College’s financial base.
At the same time, the College successfully completed a demanding organizational evaluation by the Private Colleges Accreditation Board (PCAB), hired new and highly qualified full and part-time professors, enhanced the academic program and continued to raise the profile of the College’s profile in Calgary and beyond as a consequence of teaching excellence and scholarly reputation.
Much remains to be done in the months ahead including: a comprehensive strategic planning process; the development of a coherent site plan; the on-site academic visit by the PCAB, and hopefully, success in gaining degree granting status; preparations for increased enrolment in September 2003; hiring of additional professors and ongoing development of campus buildings.
The Lord invited Peter to “put out into the deep” [Lk 5:4] for a catch. Peter and his first companions trusted Christ’s words, and cast the nets. “When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish” [Lk 5:6]. We too must “put out into the deep” for a catch.