Fr. David Shulist, left, has unexpectedly left the University of Sudbury where he was director of spiritual services. Photo courtesy of St. Ignatius Loyola Parish

Jesuit’s exit leaves many questions

By 
  • May 29, 2019

The sudden departure of a Jesuit priest as director of spiritual services at the University of Sudbury has sparked doubts about the school’s commitment to its Catholic roots and spurred a petition demanding the university keep him on.

The Friday afternoon announcement going into the Victoria Day long weekend caught Catholic students and staff at the University of Sudbury by surprise: “Please note that Fr. David Shulist’s contract with the University of Sudbury will come to an end on May 30th. We are thankful for his various contributions as Director of Spiritual Services,” said an e-mail from vice president of programming and communications Sylvie Renault. No reason was given for his departure.

As of noon May 27, 361 students, professors and staff had signed a petition on change.org demanding the bilingual Catholic affiliate of Laurentian University reinstate Shulist, who was hired in 2013. Shulist himself is left wondering why Canada’s Jesuits would want to continue their association with the university they founded in 1913.

“The Scripture tells us, we want to shake the dust off our feet and move on,” Shulist told The Catholic Register.

He fears the Jesuit name and Catholic history has been reduced to a marketing gimmick for something that began as the College du Sacre-Coeur de Sudbury and was once the only route to a higher education for francophones in Ontario.

“Are we here because of historical roots?” asked Shulist. “Are those roots being severed — not by us but by others?”

University of Sudbury president and vice-chancellor Sophie Bouffard maintains the school “is proud of its Jesuit roots and its Catholic identity,” she said in an e-mail. Over the summer the university’s spiritual services department will be dormant while new plans are formulated.

“I am in discussion with the Jesuit provincial (superior) in order to ensure next steps and to explore the possibility of enhancing our collaboration with the Society (of Jesus),” Bouffard said. “Be assured that upcoming decisions will be informed by the needs of the university and of its students.”

The Jesuits confirm they are in discussions with the university.

“We have an ongoing partnership with the university. That hasn’t changed,” said Jesuit communications director José Sanchez. 

As a student in the University of Sudbury’s Indigenous studies department, Nikola Argirovski is suspicious.

“My concern is that the administration is not acting in the best interests of the wider university community,” he said. “Last year, the administration at the university decided to disconnect itself from the chapel. So they wished the university to be a separate entity from the St. Ignatius Chapel there. This is a strong indication that they didn’t want to be affiliated at all with Roman Catholicism or anything connected to spirituality of any kind.”

The University of Sudbury is a full member of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada. While no longer a Jesuit institution, the Jesuits retain the right to nominate one-third of its board. Plans to sign Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican’s constitution defining Catholic universities, were blocked by the faculty association during contract negotiations in 2006.

“The university has been distancing itself from its Jesuit and Catholic roots lately as it rebrands itself,” said a university lecturer who asked to withhold his name.

A university residence that had been named after Fr. Lucien Matte, founder of the Laurentian University teachers’ college, was renamed University of Sudbury Residence.

“To many baby boomers, to the generation that controls the institutions now, religion has become a sign of weakness,” said University of Sudbury philosophy professor Lucien Pelletier in an e-mail. 

“All I know is that this past fall the university changed its logo, removing the symbol of Loyola, which represents the Jesuit heritage and our Catholic community,” said student Maryse Leveille. “I’m not really sure if they are turning away from their Catholic identity. We will have to wait and see what will happen in the next year.”

Comments (1)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

As a former Professor at Guelph - as well as other Universities in Europe and Australia - I would love to know what is happening in Sudbury with Fr Shulist S.J.. Fr Shulist was an exemplary person at Guelph and the only thing that I can think of...

As a former Professor at Guelph - as well as other Universities in Europe and Australia - I would love to know what is happening in Sudbury with Fr Shulist S.J.. Fr Shulist was an exemplary person at Guelph and the only thing that I can think of is an anti-Catholic attitude with the present Sudbury University faculty and staff. What a pity! I hope I am wrong but would appreciate any faculty, staff or student input. Merci et a bientot.

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Antonio Salvadori
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