The Heritage Centre at St. Mary’s University in Calgary. Photo courtesy St. Mary’s University

St. Mary’s in Calgary joins Universities Canada

  • November 4, 2022

Universities Canada, self-branded as “the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad,” welcomed Calgary-based St. Mary’s University as the 97th member to its ranks Oct. 25. 

“I am pleased to welcome St. Mary’s University to our association,” said Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada, in a media release. “As we advance Canada’s universities as the pre-eminent hubs of the talent and research that serve all Canadians, we will greatly benefit from St. Mary’s joining with universities across the country as we advance higher education, research and innovation.”

Sinda Vanderpool, the president and vice-chancellor of the Catholic liberal arts and science institution, said that the St. Mary’s community is “honoured to join our colleagues across the country as a member of Universities Canada.”

“This is a reflection of the continuous work that has been put into expanding our already robust program offerings, and further strengthening our vibrant campus environment,” Vanderpool said. “As an independent university with program offerings across the liberal arts and sciences as well as education, we look forward to joining this esteemed community of Canadian universities to share best practices, advocate for common interests, advance collaborative research and collectively prepare future graduates to solve our nation’s most pressing challenges.”

Vanderpool, who assumed her role at St. Mary’s on July 1 following an 18-year career at Baylor University — a Christian research institute — elaborated further about the unique voice St. Mary’s can bring to the Universities Canada conversation.

“I think Catholic institutions have more solid tools to work with when we are talking about things like ethical decision-making. We have our wonderful Catholic intellectual tradition to draw on and a lot of thinkers who have worked through issues about how we make decisions where there is a lot of grey,” she said.

“I think most institutions would say that they educate students holistically, right? They care not just for the intellectual development of their students but also social and leadership development. I would argue that as human beings, we are spiritual — we have this spiritual nature. The fact is, I am very proud to be at a Catholic university as we have a lot of history of caring for people in a pastoral way. (In contrast) at a non-faith-based institution, there is a little bit of a stretch there when it comes to spiritual development.”

St. Mary’s University is Alberta’s first Catholic-designated higher education body to be welcomed into the Universities Canada fold, but not the first faith-based school. The King’s University in Edmonton, affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church in North America, also holds this license. There are over a dozen other Catholic postsecondary schools accredited with membership, including Campion College in Regina, St. Paul’s College in Winnipeg, University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

Vying to become a Universities Canada institutional member is a competitive, comprehensive process. Each contender’s administrative and governance structure, mission statement, undergraduate and graduate course offerings, faculty, scholarship and academic inquiry reputation, non-profit status and commitment to diversity, inclusion and academic freedom are all under review. 

If the written portion of a school’s bid is acceptable, the Universities Canada board sends a visiting committee to tour the campus. This delegation then files a report for the board to consider. 

St. Mary’s is the first school to gain admission since Capilano University in North Vancouver on Oct. 30, 2020. 

The journey toward realizing this deed began during the tenure of Vanderpool’s predecessor, Gerry Turcotte. 

Joining Universities Canada was the first of two significant events for St. Mary’s during the week. On Oct. 28, Vanderpool was officially installed as the university’s fourth president and vice-chancellor. She is the first woman to hold this position. 

“It’s been a very full four months, as you can imagine,” said Vanderpool. “It’s been a privilege and even more inspiring than I thought it would be just to interact with all the people of the community. I have always had a student-centred philosophy, and it is so clear speaking to (faculty) one-on-one or in groups that they are all so passionate and motivated to serve the students.

“I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know some of the students, and they are amazing. It is a great honour to have students of various ages, backgrounds and places. It really creates a rich and dynamic working and classroom environment.”

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