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Lauretta Frederking, right, Brescia’s principal and new president, chats with a student. Photo courtesy of Brescia University College

Social justice at the core of new Brescia president

  • May 16, 2021

The new president of Brescia University College is a political scientist who wants to liberate social justice from politics and an educator who wants to free teaching from the classroom. Lauretta Conklin Frederking has been named the 13th principal and the new president of Canada’s only Catholic women’s college. The London, Ont., college was founded by the Ursuline Sisters in 1919. Its 1,500 students also attend Western University.

As an academic who has published books on the deep social history of immigration in the United States (Economic and Political Integration in Immigrant Neighbourhoods: Trajectories of Virtuous and Vicious Cycles, 2007 Susquehanna University Press) and the politics of Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway on Politics and Rebellion, 2010 Routledge), Frederking has plenty of respect for what goes on in classrooms. But that’s not the limit of education.

“What I really teach has happened at those in-between places, the falling-down moments when I purposely shed my expertise,” Frederking wrote for a collection of essays by University of Portland professors when she taught there. “Yes, what I really teach seems to have happened when I am not teaching at all, just living a relationship of communion with students.”

Such a deeply Catholic approach to education should surprise no one who knows Frederking, the daughter of 3rd Order Franciscan Marilyn Conklin who grew up going to St. Peter’s Cathedral Basilica in London, where she eventually returned for her wedding.

“Lauretta Frederking has a brilliant mind. I suppose if you search long enough you might find someone who’s even smarter than she is, but you will never find anyone who is more Catholic,” Fr. Charlie Gordon told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. Gordon and Frederking used to co-teach an introductory course in social justice at the University of Portland.

Conceiving of social justice as primarily a political category — something that can only be achieved through government policy — doesn’t do justice to the Catholic tradition as Frederking understands it.

“Social justice, for its greatest strength, really needs to be removed from the political sphere,” she said. “We do not want to surrender the beauty and the strength and the possibilities of our social connections to the political forces that are set up to be competitive.”

For Frederking, thinking about social justice isn’t an exercise in abstract theory. It’s basic to what a Catholic university should be.

“Brescia as a community can be a place for us to practise social justice,” she said. “The Catholic traditions of social justice provide a way for us to get to the core of human dignity.”

Brescia stands out as one of only two Canadian universities (the other is McGill University in Montreal) to declare itself a Blue Community, committed to preserving and protecting water and ecosystems. Two of Pope Francis’ encyclicals, Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti, have spoken directly to Frederking’s academic obsessions with politics, immigration, environment and community.

“Let’s just say that he (Pope Francis) has given me special tasks and I’m fulfilling them,” she said.

But she doesn’t want to fulfill them alone.

“I want Brescia to serve the city. I want Brescia to serve the national and international community. We do have those experts in terms of faculty,” she said. “We do have a lot to contribute — uniqueness. Our women are building and practising resilience for society.”

Frederking’s philosophy of education is about setting students on that path.

“Be cautious with good news because it may not be what you hoped for, I tell them,” she wrote. “And be open to bad news because it may be the first carving out of a path of self-discovery.”

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