I was recently in Calgary attending a launch for one of our newest titles, Small Things: Reflections on Faith and Hope. It was held at St. Mary’s University, one of Catholic Canada’s best-kept secrets.
The author, university President Gerry Turcotte, is a wee bit theatrical as well as a gifted writer. Accompanied by pianist, Charlene Valdo, Dr. Turcotte gave a spirited reading from the book, drawing out the humour and humanity of his reflections in a performance that was funny, musical and inspirational.
Equally important, from our perspective, is that he is a serious Catholic, a man who struggles to find ways to maintain his faith and express it in the face of a sometimes hostile culture. In fact, since his retirement from government over a year ago, he has joined the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, where, as Co-director of the Centre for Public Ethics, he will be studying and teaching on the very issues we address in our book.
A highlight of the evening was the singing of the Our Father by Sepidar Yeganeh Farid, accompanied on the piano by Jasmine Siqueira. Sepidar started with a heart-rending version in Turkish, followed by the English equivalent. Both students are heavily involved in the university’s social justice club, which helped welcome a family of Syrian refugees to the city. The two co-wrote the beautiful music.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Turcotte arranged a meeting for me with members of the faculty to discuss publishing possibilities with Novalis. It was an interesting exchange of ideas that left me recalling why I love this job so much.
The entire day reminded me once again how alive the Catholic community is in Canada and how little we know of one another. Too often, we labour in our own little vineyards, rarely looking up to acknowledge our neighbours. Yet there they are, just as passionately serving God in whatever fashion they know best.
The university traces its history back to the mid-1980s, beginning to offer courses in 1994 for teacher development. Today its Bachelor of Education program trains a good many teachers for Catholic schools throughout the province and, increasingly, for public schools. Students can also study for bachelor’s degrees in nine other areas, including general studies, English, history, psychology, liberal studies and biology.
While St. Mary’s is seriously devoted to academic excellence, it revels in its Catholic nature. It was refreshing to visit a place where the Catholic mission is fundamental to its very existence. There were no sheepish expressions of faith here; nor were there lavish expressions of piety. Just a natural joy at living out the faith.