St. Jerome’s University’s new president Katherine Bergman says she sees “a lot of momentum” at the Catholic college. Photo courtesy of St. Jerome’s by Bryn Gladding

Embracing change at St. Jerome’s as new president Katherine Bergman settles in

By 
  • May 16, 2012

As a researcher, Katherine Bergman has an intense interest in the past. As the new president of St. Jerome’s University, Bergman wants to talk about the future.

Bergman has been studying how southern Saskatchewan went from a giant lake to a semi-arid plain — that is “the transition of the Devonian Elk Point Basin from fully marine to desiccation.”

So she knows about climate change. She believes the climate has changed at St. Jerome’s. Over the last three years faculty at the University of Waterloo’s Catholic college formed a union to protect themselves from an administration they accused of high handedness.

But last year St. Jerome’s reached a first contract with members of University Academic Staff Association. Faculty and administration are now working together to create a senate-like body, tentatively called the St. Jerome’s University Senate Council. With all the rancour of a battle for unionization firmly in the past, Bergman sees clear sailing ahead.

“I don’t really see a lot of challenges,” she told The Catholic Register. “There’s been a lot of momentum and I want to continue to build on that momentum.”

The centrepiece of that momentum is a constellation of new classrooms connected to a new library and a new student space the university is calling the learning commons. The new buildings are supposed to be in place by 2015, but Bergman isn’t thinking too much about the construction phase.

“Buildings are buildings,” she said. “It’s the people who fill the buildings and what goes on inside the buildings that makes the place come alive and gives the place an identity.”

For the college that the Congregation for the Resurrection began as a log cabin high school in 1865, Catholic identity will have more to do with the intellectual atmosphere than bricks and mortar, said Bergman.

“When a university is animated by the Catholic intellectual tradition, what I expect to see and what I do see at St. Jerome’s is researchers who see their research as contributing to the unity of knowledge. They ask questions across disciplinary boundaries and they ask difficult questions across disciplinary boundaries.”

Born in St. Boniface, Man., Bergman grew up in the St. Jerome’s neighbourhood. She attended St. Anne and St. Agnes elementary schools, St. David’s Junior High and St. Mary’s High School in Waterloo. She took an honours degree in biology from the University of Waterloo before going on to graduate studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

She’s been a postdoctoral fellow of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a geology professor at the University of Regina, where she was dean of science from 2000 to 2009. Since 2010, Bergman has been vice president, academic and research, at Nippissing University in North Bay, Ont.

Bergman is convinced students are getting something special at St. Jerome’s.

“We have faculty, staff mentors and staff who are inspiring students with a love of learning, but also challenging students to become people of integrity.”

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