Alway era comes to an end at University of St. Michael’s College

  • June 20, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Dr. Richard Alway has graced the buildings of the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto for almost half a century — first as a philosophy student and later in various administrative roles. As he prepares to retire June 30 from 18 years as president of the college, Alway has said that he will continue to serve the school in some capacity because it has become such a big part of his life.

“The supportive context provided by the religious identity of the university and the presence of the priests and sisters was just very positive for me,” he said. “It obviously worked because I’ve hardly left since.”

St. Joseph’s Sister Anne Anderson, currently a dean at the college, will take over from Alway on an interim basis. She will be the first woman to hold the post.

Alway said he has especially enjoyed the cycle of academic life — a renewal process as one group graduates and another comes in.


Lifetime of Catholic achievement

Over the years, Richard Alway has taken on a number of roles within Catholic Church circles, as well as garnering a number of honours. Here is a sampling of Alway’s achievements over the years:

  • President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College.
  • Founding Chairman of the Cathedral Council of St. Michael’s Cathedral (1968).
  • Appointed as official representative of Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter in ongoing conversation with the Anglican Church of Canada (1980).
  • Has served as member of the Millennium Planning Committee of the archdiocese of Toronto and as a member of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities of Canada.
  • Founded the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (2001) and serves as Vice-Chair of its board and chairs its executive committee.
  • Interim Publisher of The Catholic Register (1988-90).
  • Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II (May 22, 1996).
  • Appointed Knight Commander with Star of the Order of St. Gregory the Great (1999), the highest recognition that can be awarded to a Catholic lay person. He is one of only two Toronto residents to receive this honour in the past century.
  • Knight of the Magistral Grace, Sovereign and Military Order of Malta (1990).
  • Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre (1994).
  • Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa.
  • Member of the Order of Canada (1989).
  • Officer of the Order of Canada (1998).
  • Member of the Order of Ontario (2001).
  • Member of the board of governors of the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.
  • Member of the Advisory Committee on the Official Residences of Canada.
  • Chair of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.
  • Chairman of the C.D Howe Memorial Foundation in Montreal.
  • Member of the board of director for St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
  • Chairman of the executive committee of the board for Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute.
“You have the enormous pleasure of dealing with young people at a time in their lives when they are engaged in an intense process of discovery and self-discovery and that’s hugely energizing.”

He likes to share his own story with new students about how he was so intimidated and homesick in his first undergraduate year that he went home every weekend until Christmas, thinking that he wouldn’t go back. However, in the second term he only went home once and by the end of the year he even ran for class president and won.

The strong Catholic spirit of St. Michael’s made all the difference, he said. Having gone to elementary and high schools in the public system, he found St. Michael’s to be a nourishing place both academically and spiritually.

Alway is the college’s first lay president, succeeding 140 years of Basilian Fathers in the president’s post. With the decline of vocations beginning in the 1960s, he said it became evident in all of Ontario’s educational, health care and social services previously led by religious sisters, brothers and priests that there would need to be a shift in leadership. St. Michael’s College was no exception.

“The Catholic identity was taken for granted because it was visible — it could be seen in the men wearing collars and the women wearing habits,” he said. “Today, without that being there you have to be more intentional about Catholic identity and you have to be doing things to make sure it is maintained and nourished.”

In 2005, Alway helped write religiosity into the University of St. Michael’s College Act. The original act from 1958 made no mention of St. Michael’s as a Catholic institution in federation with the University of Toronto.

“It (now) states in the legislation that the Catholic mission of St. Michael’s cannot be changed without the approval of the archbishop of Toronto and the superior general of the Basilian Fathers,” he said. “It makes explicit the fact that the president is appointed by the superior general of the Basilian Fathers.”

The Basilian order has continuously offered its support, he said, and close ties between the Basilians and the school’s chancellor (the archbishop of Toronto) made life that much more enriching for both himself and the entire school.

The Catholic aspect of the college has also played an important role on the University of Toronto campus by representing the largest demographic group in a “specific and special way.”

“We’ve got new buildings and have done a lot of renovations to an elderly but important and historic campus in the downtown area, which is good,” he said. “But it all comes down to why we’re here in the first place, which is to serve the church and represent a certain reality in society, and of course that’s our contribution.”

To keep that reality going, Alway has faced many financial challenges, including a $2.9-million deficit from day one.

“I always spoke about St. Michael’s endowment as the ‘living endowment’ represented by the contributed services of the priests and sisters,” he said. “And as the living endowment went down, it began to disappear, we had to find a way of replacing it with a financial endowment.”

Alway said the school has managed to improve finances to the point that the college will continue to operate in a healthy state. Good finances, he added, coupled with a renewed Christianity and Culture program, new staff and other improvements are providing a good basis for the future growth and development of the institution.

At a tribute dinner for Alway June 11, David Naylor, president of the University of Toronto, said that people in university administration inevitably wear out their welcome, but for Alway this wasn’t the case.

“After five years as a university administrator your colleagues are rooting for your departure. After 10 years, they are praying for your departure. After 15 years they’re planning a revolution. For Richard Alway to last 18 years is an incredible achievement,” Naylor said. “Richard Alway is a man who has always struck me as completely comfortable in his own skin. I think it has to do with his character and integrity and his own faith.”

John Turner, former prime minister of Canada and an old friend of Alway’s, added that having him as an ally was an honour.

“He’s a living example of our faith and commitment. . . . He’s enjoyed and earned the full support of the Christian community in this city and country.”

St. Michael’s was only one facet of Alway’s public life. From 1976-86 he also worked as senior news analyst and commentator for Canada’s largest radio station, CFRB in Toronto. During this time he wrote and broadcast more than 700 commentaries on The Richard Alway Report, appeared weekly as a guest on The Betty Kennedy Show and as a regular panelist on Let’s Discuss It. And for two years (1988-90), Alway was interim Publisher of The Catholic Register.

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