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‘This is the face of change’: Saint Paul University celebrates 175 years

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen.

By Ursula Leonowicz ©2023 Postmedia Network Inc.

As a 175-year-old Catholic university’s first female and secular rector, Chantal Beauvais has had the opportunity to witness transformational change over the years.

“I became rector in 2009 and it was an unusual candidacy because I was still a junior professor, but I was very attracted to the possibility of carrying the mission forward and I had a ton of ideas, which is why I applied,” says the rector and chief executive officer at Saint Paul University (SPU).

“If I were to put a phrase on my mandate, I would say it’s ‘speaking to a contemporary audience.’ Looking at the programs we offer and the issues we’re dealing with, as a society, and making sure they’re connected. It wasn’t very difficult to do because I think it’s in our DNA, at Saint Paul University, to be connected to the issues of the time.”

Unlike other universities, all of SPU’s fields of study are interdisciplinary and based on thematics. The university has eight overarching fields of study: canon law, conflict studies, counselling, ethics, social communication, social innovation, theology and transformative leadership.

The majority of SPU students are registered in Human Sciences programs, including conflict studies, counselling, and social communication. Approximately half study in French, the other half in English.

History of SPU

Originally created as Bytown College in 1848, SPU was founded by Bishop Joseph-Eugène Guigues, who entrusted the college to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1856.

In 1861 the school was renamed College of Ottawa, and in 1866 it was granted university status. In 1889 it was granted the pontifical charter.

The administration revised its pontifical charter, and a new civil charter was approved in 1933 when the school became known as University of Ottawa.

“The next phase of the university started in 1965, when what is now known as Saint Paul University agreed to offer programming in ecclesiastical disciplines only, which included theology, philosophy and canon law,” explains Beauvais.

At the same time, a new institution to be known as the University of Ottawa was created and the two universities became part of a federated complex that offered completely different fields of study. “Since the University of Ottawa has such a wide offering of programs, it’s been difficult not to duplicate,” Beauvais says, “but we’ve been able to find a niche for ourselves. There is also a lot of great collaboration between the two institutions.”

When Beauvais started as rector, only three per cent of Ottawa residents knew of the school.

Since then, the university has been extremely active building relationships with various institutions, school boards, public organizations and government. Beauvais believes that notoriety has increased, and perceptions have shifted.

“If you ask employees, professors and students what Saint Paul University is to them, the language that comes out is very congruent with the language that we articulated when we were working on our new mission and vision statements,” she says.

“So, ‘This is the face of change,’ which is our motto, is existentially rooted in our community.”

The creation of the Élisabeth Bruyère School of Social Innovation stands out to Beauvais as a recent development that gives people who want to have a direct impact on society — and to address the crucial issues of poverty, marginalization and exclusion — the opportunity to do so. SPU also recently created a Centre for Indigenous Learners, which has two knowledge keepers and one Anishinaabe coordinator.

“It wasn’t necessarily easy, as a Catholic and oblate institution, to engage in that dialogue with the Indigenous community and to create that relationship of trust, but we had many conversations and are learning to be more respectful of Indigenous cultures, values and knowledge. It’s an ongoing process, and, as our knowledge keeper says: ‘We walk together,’” says Beauvais.

“The school is on a journey. It has a lot of creative energy and new, young professors with a lot of interesting ideas. My feeling is that the university is going to continue to be very creative and bold.”

Saint Paul University is hosting an open house Oct. 19 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to provide future students with the opportunity to visit the campus, discover the undergraduate and graduate programs offered at SPU and learn more about the scholarships that are available. Click here to learn more.

This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia's commercial content division, on behalf of Saint Paul University.


Institutional Events

On September 19th, members of the University community – including alumni, partners, and past faculty and staff – gathered for an ecumenical celebration.

Presided by Archbishop Marcel Damphousse, the Chancellor of the University, the service was an opportunity to honour and give thanks for the important milestone.
Following the service, attendees gathered for a reception to continue the celebration. While honouring the University’s rich past, the Rector’s speech also focused on the bright future of the institution.

“Not only can we be proud of our past achievements, but we can also trust in a generous and abundant future. Our university has gone through many transformations over the years and we are surely going to welcome many other transformations in the future. Why? Because we are naturally inclined to be attentive the signs of the time, to society’s dilemmas and challenges, and we’ve proven to respond to those with astonishing agility,” said Chantal Beauvais, Rector of saint Paul University. “I am in awe before the creativity of this institution and I marvel at the immense talent at work in our community. A better world is possible, and it is by working together that we will achieve it.”

The 175th celebrations will be continuing through December with corporate and community events.


For more information, please contact:
Julie Bourassa
Communications Officer, Saint Paul University
613-236-1393, ext. 2310


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