Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte

Gerry Turcotte is president of Corpus Christi and St. Mark’s Colleges in Vancouver.

Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.

Exodus: 14: 17

There is nothing quite so spectacular as a well-executed ceremony, replete with fanfare and ritual. This is arguably why we marvel at coronations even if we aren’t royalists and watch starry-eyed at award ceremonies even if we secretly feel they are testaments to vanity. Ceremonial rituals, however, sometimes point to moments of deep historical importance, and at such times we do well to pause and pay homage. A flag at half-mast, an award of valour, the sign of the Cross. So it is with symbolic objects that capture not just the splendour of the moment, but a long-term history that gives meaning to what they represents. The mace is one such object.

the delusions of their magic art lay humbled.

Wisdom of Solomon: 17:7

The words ‘magic’ and ‘magicians’ are mentioned just over 20 times in the Bible and generally describe an act of illusion for purposes of deception rather than entertainment, or an act of sorcery. In our day, however, magic is understood to be a largely joyful piece of foolery, meant to entertain by sleight of hand or some sort of misdirection. Another phrase that I knew of, but largely in a negative context, was the concept of sympathetic magic.

I am about to do a new thing.

Isaiah 43: 19

When I accepted the position of President of St. Mary’s University in Calgary, I had to convince my family that it was exciting to give up our life on the beach and move to a glorious mountainous winter wonderland. I must have been convincing because they immediately agreed. But when we left Sydney, Australia, at 40 degrees, and landed in Calgary at -40 degrees, my daughter looked at me sternly: “This is child abuse!”

Do you understand what you are reading?

Acts: 8: 30

The art of reading is rapidly disappearing. According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts, nearly “half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure.” Even more alarming given my line of work, “College attendance no longer guarantees active reading habits.”

So it is with every artisan and master artisan …

they set their heart on painting a lifelike image,

and they lose sleep in order to finish their work

Sirach: 38: 27

As a writer I have always had an interest in the complexity of language: the way words could be constructed to say one thing when an entirely different message was intended. This perhaps is most obvious in coded messages — words spoken into dangerous situations that must be disguised to protect the speaker.

I have always been frustrated by moments, especially in political speeches, where half a well-known adage is presented as proof of concept, completely ignoring the original context and the fuller saying. We see this often when someone cherry-picks part of a saying to prove their point but leaves out significant context that might disprove their argument as a whole.

As a humourist I have often asked myself if my lighter reflections were appropriate in a time of such deep division and grief. As a columnist for over 10 years, there have been times when I have wondered if I should change tack, focus on darker or more politically edgy work, addressing the catastrophes of our times. It is surely fair to ask if one’s lightness, at a time of dark, is fitting or even welcomed. Truth be told, I continue to be torn. Humour, I know, has had a role to play in every context since the beginning of time, as a mediating influence, a salve or as a weapon to address contentious topics.

I think we can all agree that mobile phones are now ubiquitous. What I hadn’t expected was that their impact was literally changing our body shapes.

Learn to do good; seek justice.

Isaiah: 1: 17

I am not a social justice scholar. Nor am I an expert in the field of health care. I was invited recently, however, to be part of a forum on Catholic health care to define the concept of social justice, especially as it emerges within the Catholic intellectual tradition and Catholic social teaching. This tradition, not surprisingly, heavily informs the values and practices that we see manifested in the health care system.

As a newcomer to Vancouver, and in only the second year of my presidency at Corpus Christi and St. Mark’s College, I am still in a stage of wonder, discovering new things every day, about the city and indeed about the colleges themselves.