Our Lady Seat of Wisdom president Ryan Williams outside St. Joseph Hall. Mary French

Little college working on big plans

By  Mary French, Catholic Register Special
  • February 28, 2020

BARRY’S BAY, ONT. -- Seven months into his job as president of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, Ryan Williams has moved well past the phase of getting to know the campus.

The American-born educator has set his sights clearly on the future expansion of the small Catholic college, in both its academic program and its physical buildings.

“I’ve worked in the Catholic world a long time, so I’ve seen projects that are very similar to this,” says Williams, who has earned degrees from Boston College and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, as well as PhD from the Catholic University of America.

“I was expecting what I did find — a nice, vibrant, powerful community of faithful Catholics. But, in terms of the academic rigour of our programs, we punch way above our weight, which was something I was very surprised by.”

Situated two hours west of Ottawa in the small town of Barry’s Bay, Seat of Wisdom College offers a post-secondary education in the liberal arts. The school only reached its college status with the arrival of its Bachelor of Catholic Studies three years ago, but long before then it has been serving an important purpose — encouraging youth on both an academic and personal level.

It all started with an idea, jotted on a napkin, and a handful of people who were excited about teaching young people the faith. Now, nearly 20 years later, the school is on its way to a four-year Bachelor degree program, which will offer degrees in history, philosophy, literature and classics. There are hopes that they will be available for the Winter 2021 graduating year, said Williams. In following years, he hopes to add degrees in theology and music as well.

Amidst the immense amount of time and work that must come with the college’s transition, Williams is keeping the initial purpose of the school alive. Since its beginning, the school has been dedicated to its slogan: “The truth will set you free.”

“We are by nature nourished on the truth,” says Williams. “So when we provide the context of that — a faithful loving community that is focused on knowing the truth of God and knowing the truth in the world — they (the students) naturally flourish.”

Williams arrived in Barry’s Bay last July with his wife Marianna and four young children from Texas, where he was an ontological engineer at an artificial intelligence company. His resume also includes several years in Kenya working for the Episcopal Conference and as associate dean of the St. Joseph’s Seminary for the Archdiocese of New York. Settling into his new town and community, Williams finds it to be quite a change of scene, but a good environment to raise his children and get them started on a good education.

“A wholly Catholic life is an educated life,” he said. “An educated life is an honest life because when you admit there is a truth, you admit you can be wrong,” says Williams. “Moral education is essential to a real education …(the students) aren’t just speaking using truth, they speak the truth.”

As the school continues to progress toward a four-year degree program, Williams expects a growth in residences, and hopes to build a new general purpose building. Williams finds lack of classroom space to be a big obstacle, making scheduling tight for students. While starting the capital campaign for this new building, Williams says he is also looking for short-term solutions, which will include renting another classroom in the fall.

The school can currently accommodate about 130 students, a number Williams expects to grow. He also hopes to integrate the school more closely into the community life and events.

“As a smaller school there are some challenges,” says Williams. “Any growth in community requires a lot of growth in other things … the college is going to grow in the number of people here, with that will bring an increase in the number of faculty, an increase in the number of administrators and staff, general campus expansion, then also a growth into the community (of Barry’s Bay).”

(French, 21, is a third-year liberal arts student at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

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