Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte is the president at St. Mary's University in Calgary.

At a recent convocation ceremony, I closed my commencement address with a reference to one of my favourite stories: that of the famed astronomer Harlow Shapley and his discovery that Argon atoms, which make up one per cent of our atmosphere, never fade. They recirculate indefinitely.

As a bilingual person I have often written about the joys and dangers of “linguistic passing.” Depending on where I found myself, I could remove or change my accent — speaking Québécois French when I needed to, Europeanizing my French on occasion and then making my French tones disappear in an English context. My goal was to disguise my origins if I sensed hostility, back when linguistic tensions were at their worse in la belle province. I confess to thinking that this was unique to Canada so was surprised to discover, as I travelled to over 50 countries, that virtually every place has a version of this, with dialects, patois, accents and more, either strictly regulated, judged or celebrated.

I recently had the honour of joining a small delegation of American and Canadian Catholic university presidents on a trip to Rome. The purpose of the meeting was largely to introduce the leaders of post-secondary institutions to the many important bodies that support educational initiatives at the Vatican.

Listening is often referred to as an art. Reams of books have been dedicated to defining “how” to listen, and even define “types” — deep listening, full listening, critical listening, therapeutic listening etc.

Today’s social media world has made abbreviations seem more ubiquitous than ever.

St. Mary’s University in Calgary is situated on a sprawling 35-acre property adjacent to Fish Creek Park, the largest urban provincial park in Canada. As a result, our campus is often teaming with wildlife, and here I don’t just mean student parties.

How would aliens reconstruct skulls that they discovered here on Earth?

The opening to Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou is predictably impossible to watch. An eye is open, observing the viewer, and then a razor blade is sliced across its surface. Few could watch this without blinking or looking away, something the director depended on as he “cut” from a human to a cow’s eye. And yet, as I lay on the operating table, with a mask covering my entire face except for my exposed right eye, I remember thinking, as I watched the scalpel move towards me, and then felt it press on and into my eye, that this was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. I hoped it wouldn’t be my last.

Our world is filled with positive and negative spaces — cracks and openings, fissures and holes. It is human nature to want to fill these spaces, whether through words into silence or action into stillness. How often have we seen someone babbling to fill in an uncomfortable silence, unable to let the stillness take hold?

Last year Pope Francis delivered his traditional Christmas message from the Hall of Benediction of St. Peter’s Basilica, rather than from the usual window where popes more traditionally appear before tens of thousands of the faithful. Just as his place of delivery reflected the grim reality of COVID, so too did his message focus on the responsibilities we — and the wealthier nations especially — have towards those in need.

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