A comprehensive history of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta, as told by an insider.
In his latest book, Munro (First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton: A History, 2006, etc.) explores the full history of St. Joseph’s from its inception in 1927 to the present. The college began as the brainchild of Archbishop Émile-Joseph Legal, who thought that French Jesuits would be a good fit to steward the new institution’s educational mission. However, it was Archbishop Henry Joseph O’Leary who ultimately brought that idea to fruition, recruiting the Christian Brothers to undertake the task. That decision proved fraught with difficulties, as they turned out to be unprepared to teach at the collegiate level and unsuccessful at attracting top students. After a group of alumni stirred up controversy, the Christian Brothers were compelled to leave and were replaced by the Basilian Fathers. Munro expertly handles his account of these transformative shifts, diligently tracking the college’s development over time. Much of his history looks at administrative details, especially with respect to the institution’s residency, chaplaincy, physical grounds, and recurring financial challenges. These sections will likely only interest those with an intimate connection to the college, or readers with a stake in learning how a new college establishes itself. The broader, more gripping context, though, involves the college’s core mission, which was the subject of intramural disputes for a considerable portion of its history. O’Leary envisioned St. Joseph’s not as a stand-alone college, but as an adjunct to secular University of Alberta; he understood it as a means to not only strengthen the faith of young Catholics experiencing a secular education, but also to provide a humanistic education that wasn’t obsessively geared toward future employment. This is how President Father Smith saw the college’s principal objective: “Father Smith realized how ironic it was that the more secular the western world became, the more vital the need for Catholic higher education.” More than just a history, this book is also an account of the Catholic Church’s desire to remain relevant to young people in a world that doesn’t always embrace ancient principles. Munro maintains an elegant, readable style, and every page is a testament to the love he clearly has for St. Joseph’s.
Although much of this book may not appeal to a general audience, its theme of Catholicism’s modern-day appeal in is a timely one.