St. Mark’s College and Corpus Christi College at the University of British Columbia celebrate the faith in the midst of a secular world. Photo from Wikipedia

Catholic colleges shine a light of hope

  • November 2, 2023

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.

One such discovery came on the back of sad news: learning of the passing of Archbishop Adam Exner, OMI. Although I knew of him, I was surprised to learn that he had been instrumental in establishing Corpus Christi itself in 1999, and that his dream for supporting post-secondary education was, in his words, to set up a “light of hope” for young people. His aim was for the “small seed” of Corpus Christi to grow into a “huge, fruit-bearing tree’.”

I think he would be pleased to see that our original 16 students has now grown into a community of over 400 students, and thousands of alumni who are Catholic school principals, businessmen and women, not-for-profit advocates  and much more.

Corpus Christi, together with St. Mark’s College, are the Catholic Colleges at UBC. Although affiliated with the larger university, meaning our students have access to the wonderful resources of UBC from athletics to libraries, the colleges are independent. We own our land, have a beautiful stand-alone library and St. Mark’s Parish (formerly St. Ignatius) is on our campus.

The colleges do not receive provincial government funding despite offering the same courses as UBC, SFU and other liberal arts institutions, and that should concern the community. The colleges work hard to raise funds, especially to provide scholarships to students so they can study in comfort and security.

Our average class size is 20, a far cry from the super-sized cohorts of 300 to 400 I used to teach in Australia. What isn’t as well known is that the college has ministerial consent to offer the Associate of Arts degree along with our many university transfer program. All our courses seamlessly transfer to institutions both within and outside the province.

This is important because many students choose to do their first two years with us — a “soft-landing” as one parent put it, for students who may be overwhelmed by the transition from high school to a larger university. At the college, the students have the best of both worlds. They have access to all the amenities of a giant, world-class university, but they have a small refuge to hone their skills, to study in intentionally smaller classes and to learn the ropes before moving on. They can continue their studies by transferring their courses into the third year of a future degree.

But to Archbishop Exner’s point, there is much more to studying at Corpus Christi and St. Mark’s than smaller classes. Our colleges are based on the values of the Catholic intellectual tradition, and faith is on the table: in our core courses, in the social justice and leadership opportunities we make available to all our students, and in the faith formation that is always available to all who want it. While we are open to all, and many students come to us from a different — or even no — faith, here they know that our Catholic values put them first as individuals, celebrating the dignity of each human person. Many students tell us that they rediscovered their faith by being on a campus that celebrates the positivity and gift that our Catholic values make possible.

I’m sure many people would be surprised to know that St. Mark’s College, established almost 70 years ago, and Corpus Christi, a more recent institution founded in 1999, deliver both graduate and under-graduate courses. St. Mark’s, which offers a full BA in Theology and Culture, also offers graduate degrees and important programs for Catholic school teachers, lay people volunteering and working in parishes and ministries, and those studying for the permanent diaconate.

Corpus Christi, on the other hand, is a liberal arts undergraduate program that offers a two-year Associate of Arts degree as well as the first two years of study that can transfer into a program in the arts, business, sciences and more. Corpus offers core courses in religious studies and philosophy, and it also offers all the standard courses in business, arts and science. Together the colleges celebrate the faith in the midst of an aggressively secular world, shining a light of hope, as Archbishop Exner so aptly put it, on the lives of remarkable young people.

(Turcotte is President and Vice-Chancellor at St. Mark’s and Corpus Christi College, University of British Columbia.)

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