Saint Paul Innovates While Staying True to Roots

Oblate Legacy

By Susan Korah, Originally Published by the Catholic Register

(Re-posted with permission)

Archbishop Marcel Damphousse co-celebrated the ecumenical service for Saint Paul University’s 175th anniversary. Photo courtesy Saint Paul University

As Ottawa’s Saint Paul University, celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, Chantal Beauvais, its first female Rector, simultaneously exemplifies its Catholic identity, historical values and its face of change.

She is at once the keeper of tradition and the driver of innovation.

Beauvais was co-appointed by the Superior General of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the missionary order that founded the university, and the Vatican’s Dicastery of Culture and Education. She has been charged with honouring the historical values of the founders, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. But she is also the “face of change” as articulated in the university’s motto.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are a missionary order founded in France by Fr. Eugene de Mazenod in the wake of the French Revolution, Beauvais said. Canonized as a saint in 1995 by then Pope John Paul II, de Mazenod paid particular attention throughout his life to the evangelization of the poor. 

According to historical records, the first Oblates arrived in Canada in 1841, establishing a presence in what was then Bytown on the Ottawa River. In 1848, they founded the College of Bytown, which would evolve into the University of Ottawa.

In 1965 the University of Ottawa acquired its current form, dividing it into two federated post-secondary institutions, the University of Ottawa and Saint Paul University, the former a non-denominational school, while Saint Paul maintained the ecclesiastical faculties and its Catholic tradition.

Although the core identity of the university remains Catholic, equity, diversity and inclusion are also woven into the Saint Paul culture, she emphasized.

“We are open to people of all faith traditions or no faith,” she said. “It’s a Catholic university, but we are making it meaningful for a wider audience.”

The principles of equity, diversity and inclusion were formalized in 2019 when Saint Paul incorporated the principles of the Dimensions Charter unveiled by Kirsty Duncan, then Minister of Science and Sport. The charter was a call to all educational and research institutions to drive deeper cultural change to ensure equity and respect for women, Indigenous people, racialized groups and people with disabilities. Under Beauvais’ leadership, a plan is being implemented to ensure that all these groups are valued and respected for their contributions and receive equal support.

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