Cardinal Thomas Collins, under the watchful eye of an icon of St. Monica, speaks to a crowd gathered Sept. 24 at St. Augustine’s Seminary for the launch of the St. Monica Institute. Collins will be chancellor of the institute. Photos by Dominic Chan

St. Monica Institute brings faith to a practical world

  • October 2, 2022

The Toronto archdiocese’s St. Monica Institute opened its doors Sept. 24 although Executive Director Matthew Marquardt acknowledges that technically it doesn’t yet have any doors to open.

Marquardt says the new centre for education and evangelization is temporarily housed at the archdiocese’s midtown Pastoral Centre and is eyeing several locations around Toronto where it can formally set up shop. But he said its design and purpose emphasize networking and mobile responsiveness over bricks and mortar stasis.

“It’s going to be a small central operation,” Marquardt told The Catholic Register. “I envision at the start maybe two offices and a couple of wired classrooms somewhere in a central area. But we’re going to be flexible and hold classes wherever people are. If it’s a group from North York, we’re going to find a parish or a school up there and borrow a classroom.”

The sheer scope of the institute’s four overarching program areas — education, the parish, the family and the public square — make it vital that its certificate, continuing formation and spiritual development courses respond to local capacities, he said.

“We do the nuts and bolts of how to respond to the difficult questions in society: how do you effectively communicate Catholic, Christian values as a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher or whatever it is you do? How do you witness your faith in practical terms in the world? It’s about giving people a network that they understand and know, and helping them with whatever formation they need.”

Or, as Cardinal Thomas Collins put it humorously in his remarks kicking off the day-long event at St. Augustine’s Seminary, quoting “that great father of the Church” Muhammed Ali, it’s about assisting Catholics in the fine art of “floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.”

The Cardinal noted more seriously that the institute’s logo is the shape of a tear drop shed by St. Monica as she wept over the dissolute life her son, the future genuine father of the Church St. Augustine, was still living. It’s a reminder for Catholics, Collins said, of the need to sustain hope for what lies on the far side of “slogging our way through Babylon” that today’s world demands.

Collins will be the Chancellor of both St. Monica and St. Augustine’s, and acknowledged he sees the institute as part of the legacy he wants to leave when he retires as Archbishop of Toronto. But he also emphasized he will be the coordinator not CEO.

“I’m the conductor of the orchestra. I don’t follow the Lisa Simpson model of taking the saxophone and going off to play (solos). We believe in the communion of saints. Let’s do this together,” Collins said.

Marquardt said that’s reflected in the parallel relationship between the St. Monica Institute and St. Augustine’s Seminary. Because the seminary is recognized by the Ontario College of Teachers, it will have an oversight role to allow St. Monica’s to grant certain kinds of certification. But the focus of both organizations will be complementary rather than overlapping or duplicating.

“The seminary does theological formation for lay people. I look at (St. Monica) as more a Catholic professional vocational school helping people understand the Catholic part of whatever it is they do,” he said.

Even before its “door opening” event, for example, St. Monica conducted sessions last May to form prospective Catholic school trustees in how to navigate the political world. Marquardt said it’s impossible to know if that was responsible for the higher than usual number of competitive trustee races this fall.

“I would love to think it helped but whether or not it did, it’s a good example of a partnership between St. Monica, Catholic Conscience and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association,” he said.

Marquardt said the institute’s quartet of program areas reflects the Church’s “very well laid out understanding” of the roles played by family, education, parishes and civil institutions. But the full house for the Sept. 24 event — double what he and his colleagues expected — shows the need lay Catholics have to access program information, education and formation in the living out of daily life.

“It’s all guided to the same purpose, namely helping us find our way to the gate where the Shepherd is waiting. If we can help to give people basic formation and confidence to know where to look for answers — and how to extrapolate their own answers — that’s a very positive thing.”

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