Catholic studies at the forefront


Kennedy Smith chair established in the McGill Faculty of Arts

Principal Bernard Shapiro and Dean of Arts Carman Miller proudly announced this afternoon the creation of the Kennedy Smith endowment in Catholic Studies and the inauguration in the Faculty of Arts of the Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Studies. They also introduced the first holder of the Chair, renowned literary scholar David Williams of the Department of English.

"The Kennedy Smith Chair and the new Catholic Studies Program in the Faculty of Arts will enable McGill students to deepen their understanding of Catholicism in a pluralistic world," said Principal Shapiro when he thanked Leon J. and Mary Elizabeth Podles for their generous gift of $1.6 million to McGill. The new Chair is named in memory of Mr. Kennedy Smith, the father of Mary Elizabeth Podles (formerly of Baltimore, Maryland, and now of Naples, Florida), who was chief executive officer and chairman of Ben Venue Laboratories, one of the developers of the freeze drying technique and first mass-producer of penicillin in North America. Mr. Kennedy Smith, of Scottish and Irish Presbyterian descent, converted to Catholicism in 1995.

Dean Miller is particularly enthusiastic about the creation of the new Chair: "Our Catholic Studies Program will take its place in our Faculty with other interdisciplinary programs such as Jewish and Islamic studies, programs that provide our students with an understanding and appreciation of great world religions. The Catholic Studies program will give students insight into a religion that has shaped western civilisation, and one that has had a particularly powerful influence upon Quebec and Canada generally."

McGill historian John Zucchi helped to develop the proposal for the new Chair and the Program with the collaboration of the Newman Institute of Catholic Studies, which includes a number of McGill professors in Arts, Law and Education. He is the President of the Newman Association of Montreal and the Newman Institute of Catholic Studies. McGill’s Newman Centre began as the Loyola Club in 1897 and the Columbian Club in 1907. It became the Newman Club in 1929. Its governing body, the Newman Association of Montreal Inc., was established in 1951. The current director of the Newman Centre is Mr. Daniel Cere.

Professor Zucchi explained that the B.A. Minor concentration in Catholic studies consists of 18 credits. Following an introductory course on Catholicism, students can choose from 66 complementary courses. They include Catholic Intellectual Tradition, Catholicism and Moral Culture and Chaucer: Canterbury Tales under the broad heading of Catholicism and the Arts and, under the heading, Catholic Social and Intellectual Traditions, they can take courses on Renaissance Reformation Europe, Canadian Religious History, Religion and Science and The Church in History.

The Catholic Studies Program will welcome its first students in the Fall of 2001, and the Kennedy Smith Professor in Catholic Studies, David Williams, is looking forward to teaching one of the foundation courses, Introduction to Catholic Thought. "Given the lack of awareness concerning tradition in post-modern culture, young people are increasingly deprived of what belongs to them - their heritage. Catholic or not, the religious sense is an essential part of human identity, and my hopes for McGill’s Catholic Studies Program is that, in familiarizing students with the major religious tradition of the West, it may awaken a sensibility and appreciation of all religion."