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St. Joe's Marks Seventy-Five Years on Campus — Rich in History, the College is Key to Catholic Education

We have a little bit of a problem in Edmonton," says the president of St. Joseph's College, Father Timothy Scott. "John Joseph O'Leary was Archbishop when all sorts of places were founded, so you've got St. Joseph's Basilica, St. Joseph's Seminary, St. Joseph's High School, St. Joseph's Hospital. It's hard to differentiate which of them you are!"

To help shake some of the confusion, St. Joseph's College — a college and residence affiliated with the University of Alberta-held a 75th anniversary gala on 27 October. Scott, a Basilian father, called it a "getting to know St. Joe's" evening and he says it was a roaring success. The event attracted 500 people from the business and academic communities and raised more than $75,000 for the college. "It was the first time we've ever done anything like this. It was spectacular!"

The Archbishop's soft spot for St. Joseph aside, John Joseph O'Leary was a man who lobbied for great things for the city of Edmonton. In 1926, together with the province's first premier, Alexander Rutherford, and the U of A's first president, Henry Marshall Tory, O'Leary pushed for the creation of a Catholic college at the U of A. At the time, the University was encouraging the establishment of denominational colleges on campus, promising land to those who applied successfully. The University granted a generous space to the Christian Brothers — who transferred control to the Basilians in the 1960s — once they had scraped together the funds to construct a building. The tract initially ran from 87 Avenue to 89 Avenue, but the University later reclaimed part of the land to build the Education Parkade.

In the last 75 years of University expansion, red-bricked St. Joseph's has remained one of the prettiest buildings on campus. It houses a busy chapel, a student lounge, a library, three classrooms, and a men's residence. A certain lore has developed on campus about the residence, which currently houses 60 undergraduate men. "‘Catholic' describes the college as a whole, the nature of the courses we teach," says Scott, "but the classes and the residence are open to people of all denominations." Former prime minister Joe Clark, '60 BA, '73 MA, '85 LLD (Honorary), spent some time there, as did the current University dean of medicine and dentistry, Lorne Tyrrell, '64 BSc, '68 MD.

The intramural sports team "the Rangers" holds 14 consecutive titles for campus intramurals, which is a campus record. "The Rangers have been tremendously involved in sports for decades now," says Brian Eshpeter, president of St. Joseph's house committee. "Because it's a smaller group of guys than some of the other residences on campus, it becomes a more tightly woven group."

Scott says he's been impressed by how the team members have come together. "I don't sense them being competitive amongst themselves," he says. "They are serious about their studies. But weekends come and they are involved socially and athletically."

Space in the residence has often been limited, especially during the Second World War, when the Royal Canadian Air Force took over the residence and crammed in 140 trainees — more than double the building's usual capacity. A decade earlier, St. Joseph's was sharing another part of its building with the "School of Education," as the Faculty of Education was known at the time. The faculty needed some temporary classroom space, and St. Joe's was happy to help. After lectures, many of the young teachers would meet downstairs for a coffee at "Little Tuck," a small coffee shop located in what is now the student TV lounge. Apparently, education students know how to have a good time, and word of these boisterous goings-on reached Rome. The Pope sent a firm letter warning that the "cabaret" in the basement of St. Joseph's must cease.

Because St. Joseph's is only affiliated with the U of A, it sits in a unique position within the University framework. Students do not register for degree programs directly through the college, nor does the college graduate students. Instead, classes offered by the college are credit courses available through the U of A calendar. Any student is welcome to take one of the college's classes, which generally focus on philosophy and ethics.

Of the 1,200 students currently enrolled in St. Joe's classes, many are Faculty of Education students. Scott calls religious education "an important and growing area." He says Catholic school boards are currently looking for graduating teachers who have studied the basic content of Catholicism and know the methodology required for religious education in schools. The Theological Education of the Catholic Teacher (CHRTC 250) is "a grounding course for all education students who are planning to teach in the Catholic education system in the province," says Scott. The class has been so successful that next fall, in conjunction with FacultéSaint-Jean, it will also be offered in French.

Another success is the Last Chance Mass, held Sunday nights at 10 p.m., which Scott introduced when he started as chaplain in 1986. "For students, it's a perfect time for service; it's just packed. There are students just hanging out down the steps." He adds that the difficulty in providing the service is keeping the priests awake that late.

Published Winter 2001/02.

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