CCHA, Historical Studies, 61 (1995), 195-214



A Matter of Identity:
St. Thomas More College
at the University of Saskatchewan,


Margaret F. SANCHE


     During the 1960s and 1970s, Catholic colleges in English Canada came under pressure from a number of sources. They found their academic rele­vance and professionalism questioned by secular universities; they found the nature and value of their Catholic identity questioned from within and beyond in light of the changes of Vatican II, and they found their right to receive government grants questioned by those opposed to public funding of religious institutions. As a result of these pressures, a number of Catholic colleges in Canada lost much or all of their autonomy and, in some cases, were fully absorbed by larger, secular universities. Although St. Thomas More College (STM) at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon came under similar pressures during this period, it was able, for a number of reasons, to retain its financial viability, its Catholic identity and the basic elements of its academic autonomy within the university.

     Much of St. Thomas More College’s ability to endure as a Catholic college undoubtedly came from its original agreement of federation. This understanding, worked out by University of Saskatchewan President Walter Murray (1866-1945) and Basilian Superior General Fr. Henry Can (1880­1963) at the time the college was established in 1936, included several key provisions which became foundational to St. Thomas More College’s rela­tionship with the university over the years.

     From the outset, St. Thomas More’s federation with the University of Saskatchewan was to be modeled on the relationship of St. Michael’s College with the University of Toronto. According to this arrangement, qualified students would be able to register through St. Thomas More College, take classes for university credit from the college as well as from the university and, upon completion of the requirements, receive their degrees from the University of Saskatchewan.

     President Walter Murray had favoured the idea of having a Catholic college located on the campus of the provincial university ever since he had first been approached by a group of Saskatoon Catholics, possibly as early as 1913, to consider the establishment of such an institution within the new

Text Box: St. Thomas More College, “the white house”: circa 1936	Source: St. Thomas More College Archives


provincial university. Murray was supportive of such an arrangement, partly because he wanted to encourage the twenty per cent of the population who were Catholic to avail themselves of the provincial university. In addition, a Catholic college would provide an alternative to efforts by the French­speaking Catholic hierarchy to establish a Catholic university for western Canada. Over the years Murray kept an eye on developments at the Univer­sity of Toronto and was well aware of its model of federation.

     Following an initial meeting in Saskatoon early in 1936, Fr. Carr and President Murray worked out the details of the federation agreement in a series of letters between Toronto and Saskatoon.1 Out of their deliberations a number of points of agreement emerged, including the following: the university would recognize the equivalency of the classes and examinations of the college, STM students would have the right to take classes in both the college and the university, and full-time faculty of the college would also be members of the university’s Faculty of Arts and Science. Carr insisted, and Murray concurred, that faculty members of the college were not to come under the authority of the university department heads, but were to enjoy equivalent status in their own college departments with their own depart­ment heads. As for courses, the university agreed to “recognize the instruc­tion


Text Box: Fr. Henry Carr, CSB, St. Thomas More College Principal, 1942-1949,who negotiated federation agreement 1936	Source: St. Thomas More College Archives

given by St. Thomas More College in Classics, French, German, English, Economics, History and Philosophy now offered by St. Michael’s for recognition for the B.A. of Toronto, and such other subjects as may from time to time be agreed upon.”2

     In the initial financial arrangement accepted by St. Thomas More College, students paid their tuition to the college and their student fees to the university. The university agreed to teach them any other courses in arts and science without further adjustment, provided that the same annual tuition fee was required by both the college and the university. Salaries of St. Thomas More faculty were to be paid entirely by the college and the univer­sity offered to let STM use university classrooms “until St. Thomas More College is in a position to provide sufficient accommodation for its lecture courses.”3

     Changes in the funding arrangement occurred in 1951 when the federal government inaugurated grants paid directly to both the university and the college. At that time, at the suggestion of the university president, STM Principal Fr. Basil Sullivan began to turn over the college’s total annual grant to the university.4 In 1956, when the college found itself short of funds for its new stone building, Principal Fr. Joseph O’Donnell requested that the college and university split the college’s grant 40%-60%, in keeping with the arrangement of St. Michael's and the University of Toronto.5 The university agreed and this arrangement, with the college retaining forty per cent and turning over sixty per cent of the grant to the university, continued for the next ten years or so.

     One more thing should be said about federation at this point. In 1936, in his negotiations with President Murray, Fr. Can had been very much aware of the importance of the federation agreement. Carr wrote of this understanding in a letter to Bishop Gerald Murray of Saskatoon:


In all probability the conditions and privileges accorded a Catholic college now by the University of Saskatchewan will endure indefinitely into the future. Once the contract is completed it is very doubtful if any further advantages will ever be conceded to the Catholic college.... Whatever agreement is entered into now will settle for the future what kind of education the Catholics of Saskatchewan are going to receive. There is no need for me to call attention to the great preparation and care that should be put upon these conditions.6


Carr also pointed out, however, that written agreements are not usually enough by themselves. He described the arrangement between St. Michael’s and the University of Toronto as a relationship which had been nurtured over a number of years through respect and goodwill: “It was a case of men living and working together with mutual confidence in each other rather than parties to a legal bargain who stood upon their rights.”7




     At this point we will move forward in time to 1961 and the arrival of Fr. Peter Swan, CSB, as the new principal of St. Thomas More College. It was under Swan’s administration and according to his vision that, during the next decade and a half, STM dealt with many of the difficulties which were swamping other Catholic colleges in Canada.

     Born in England and raised in British Columbia, Swan had studied at St. Michael’s College in Toronto before joining the Congregation of St. Basil in 1938. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1943 and received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1946. From then until 1961 he taught philosophy at Assumption University in Windsor and was registrar there from 1949 until 1961, at which time he became principal of STM. It is important to keep the fifteen Windsor years in mind, because Swan came to Saskatoon having learned a great deal about the vulnerability of Catholic colleges, especially with regard to finances.

     Fr. Peter Swan arrived at a St. Thomas More College which was now twenty-five years old and growing by leaps and bounds. After a slow start, during the 1950s and early 1960s STM student registrations and faculty numbers were on the increase. Whereas in 1951, there were 130 registrants and a faculty of six Basilians, the numbers rose over the next decade-and-a­-half to 375 students and eight faculty in 1960-1961 and 740 students and twenty-five faculty by 1966-1967.8 To accommodate the increase, the college, which had for its first two decades been housed in a building known as “the white house,” began what was to become a three-stage building program, with sections completed in 1957, 1964 and 1969. St. Thomas More College was now housed in a solid greystone edifice which blended architecturally with the other buildings on the university campus – a testi­mony in stone to the college’s standing as a permanent, strong, integral part of the University of Saskatchewan.

     The rapid growth of the college had, of course, made the hiring of addi­tional faculty necessary and the college administration was forced to look beyond the Basilian Congregation for qualified personnel. In 1958 the first lay full-time member of the teaching faculty had been hired for the English department; the numbers of lay faculty increased each year from then on and by 1966-1967, of the twenty-five full-time faculty members, thirteen were lay people.

     The increased numbers of college faculty, and of lay faculty in partic­ular, placed an added strain on finances. The college had survived finan­cially during its first three decades largely because of the contributed salaries and services of the Basilians. With the hiring of lay faculty, the issue of paying a just living wage in line with salaries paid to university faculty had to be confronted and in July 1965 the college moved to full parity with the


Text Box: The new and the old, St. Thomas More College, 1957	Source: St. Thomas More College Archives

university in this area. The Basilians received this higher salary also, but sixty per cent of their salaries continued to be contributed back to the college.

     More students meant more tuition income, but with more and higher salaries, plus the construction expenses, Swan was constantly concerned about the college’s precarious financial situation during these years. In 1963, he tried to alleviate the situation with a request that the university allow the college to retain fifty per cent of its federal grant; this request was politely but firmly refused, and the 40%-60% arrangement continued.9

     The federal budget of 1967 threatened to make the situation even more difficult. Beginning in 1967-1968, federal funding for higher education would go directly to the provinces, which in turn were to provide grants to post-secondary educational institutions. This development proved problem­atic for a number of Catholic colleges in Canada, especially in provinces in which funding for affiliated or federated colleges was now included in the total grant allotted to the parent universities. In such cases, the smaller insti­tutions were forced to negotiate with the larger institutions to obtain a share of the funds, and in many instances they were required to make concessions amounting to a reduction or total loss of their autonomy. Fortunately, in the case of Saskatchewan, this did not happen, and St. Thomas More College began to receive its own grant directly from the provincial government. Under this new arrangement, St. Thomas More College retained the total amount of its provincial grant and instead began to turn over sixty per cent of its student tuition fees to the university.10

     In retrospect, it is not clear exactly why St. Thomas More College continued to receive its own grants while Catholic colleges in many other parts of Canada were unable to do so. The shift in the grant arrangement from federal to provincial jurisdiction certainly caused anxiety for the STM principal, and he kept a close watch on what was happening in other provinces, particularly Ontario. Perhaps because of the cordial relations between STM and the university regarding funding over the years, there was no reason for the university to request the total amount nor for the provincial government to change the basic arrangement it had inherited. In addition, Saskatchewan could not claim, as did Ontario, a long-standing policy “that Provincial funds should not be directed to institutions of higher learning which are under denominational control.”11 Indeed, what threatened to undermine the college and its work was not a matter of which institution would receive and control STM’s grant, but whether the amount of the provincial funding would or would not be adequate.

     At first, the Saskatchewan government promised to maintain the grants to STM at the same level as those provided under the federal grant structure. When the college was asked to report its registration figures for the 1967­1968 year, however, it became apparent that there was a problem with the calculation of student numbers in the formula of funding. The reporting form stated: “For students enrolled in classes at both your college and the University of Saskatchewan, the students should be reported on the basis of only those credits being taken at your college.”12 Over the years, the college had been teaching more university-registered students than STM-registered students; therefore, this new way of calculating the student numbers resulted in funding insufficient to support the college’s academic program. Although this particular problem was eventually ironed out, the new provincial grants were still much lower than the former federal grants.

     Fr. Swan began to appeal to the provincial government for a change in the funding arrangements for STM and the two newer federated colleges (Campion and Luther Colleges) in Regina. The many letters Swan sent to Provincial Treasurer D.G. Steuart between 1968 and 1971 brought about some token increases in the grant, but Swan’s request that the way of calcu­lating the grant be revised to take into account actual operating expenses



Text Box: St.Thomas More College, 1968	Source: St. Thomas More College Archviesrather than the number of students enrolled in a particular college brought no response.13

     During this period, with the peculiarities of the funding arrangements, St. Thomas More College found itself to be extremely vulnerable to fluctu­ations in the numbers of its registered students. In his January 1971 Prin­cipal’s Report to the Corporation, Fr. Swan pointed out some of the painful ironies of the situation. He described the numerical growth of the faculty, the development of several new courses and the increased numbers of students enrolled in STM classes. The problem was that students enrolled in STM classes were not necessarily STM students. Indeed, most of the students taught by STM professors were not registered through the college – the number of STM registrations fluctuated erratically during this period – and the increases in class size and numbers of faculty were not reflected in the funding at all. Funding to the college from tuition and grants was based solely on the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) students regis­tering through STM, and this had gone down from 889 in 1969-1970 to 827 in 1970-1971.14

     A March 1971 letter from Principal Swan to University of Saskatch­ewan Vice-President Lloyd Barber, asking for assistance in negotiating a more equitable grant structure, outlined some of the concerns with the “per student” calculation of grants: “Our staff members are becoming increas­ingly distressed by the large amount of personal solicitation to which we have to resort in order to persuade students to go through the motions of offi­cially registering here, simply in order to meet the government’s specifica­tions.”15 Swan suggested to Barber that a formula should be developed to take into consideration the college’s teaching of students registered directly through the university as well as those registered through STM. Swan emphasized the seriousness of the situation: “The decisions the government makes in the near future are crucial, since they will in effect decide whether federated colleges continue to exist.”16

     The 1971 provincial election brought in an NDP government to replace the Liberals, offering a new opportunity for the college to negotiate adequate funding. Swan lost no time in approaching the new government with a brief entitled “Financial Problems of St. Thomas More College.”17 In response, Swan was invited by the government to join with other post­-secondary college heads in a study of college financing and also to propose a grant formula which would provide for a more equitable apportioning of funds to all the federated colleges. Over the next two years, discussions and negotiations took place between St. Thomas More, Campion and Luther Colleges on the one hand and the Government of Saskatchewan on the other, with a view to improving the grant structure for the colleges. The principals of the three federated colleges emphasized that any new funding arrange­ment would have to take into account the unique status of federated colleges within the university, in order to avoid disrupting the delicately balanced relationships:


The intimate participation of the federated colleges in the total teaching effort of their respective campuses obliges them to maintain the same salary and wage scales, the same fringe benefits and the same conditions of employment, as those maintained by the University itself. Both the University and the colleges prefer to avoid any solution to this problem which would, in effect, make the colleges mere creatures of the University. The colleges, for their part, do not ask for preferential treatment. We only seek revenues which are adequate to support our contribution to higher education in this Province.18


        In 1973, the government agreed to provide grants to St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon and the two federated colleges in Regina according to a formula devised by Fr. Swan. This formula became the basis of the grant calculation for the next five years or so, at which time the grant was locked in and subsequently increased in accordance with the annual increase allotted to the university in the provincial budget.




     Dependence on public funding posed serious problems for Catholic post-secondary institutions in Canada during the 1950s and 1960s, and some were required to relinquish much of their distinctive Catholic identity in order to continue their existence. As noted earlier, Fr. Peter Swan had been at Assumption University during the period when it was forced to change, mainly for financial reasons, from an independent Catholic university to the non-denominational University of Windsor.19 As a result of his Windsor experience, Swan saw the need to establish structures which would place St. Thomas More College on a firm financial and administrative footing with a broad base of community support and thus reduce any threat to its continued existence as a relatively independent Catholic federated college. For this reason, as well as from his personal vision that the Catholic identity of the college must be reforged in light of the new spirit of Vatican II, Swan began in 1966 to implement a series of changes to the inner structures of the college.

     Briefly, the first changes initiated by Swan in 1966 and 1967 involved the splitting of the function of local Basilian superior from that of principal of the college, the formation of both a Basilian Council and a College Council (in place of the single council of the past), the expansion of the college’s Corporation or ownership body to include non-Basilian faculty, and an enlargement of the College Council. In 1968 Swan introduced addi­tional changes, including further enlargement of the College Council and the formation of both a Faculty-Administration Forum and a Collegium.20 It was Swan’s proposed changes to the Corporation, however, which were to cause the most difficulty within the college.

     Following the addition of tenured faculty to the Corporation in 1967, Fr. Swan had introduced a number of proposals which extended Corporation membership to representatives of the students, the STM alumni/ae and the dioceses of Saskatchewan.21 By 1970, Swan had also begun to think about adding distinguished members of the general public to Corporation membership, but found himself restricted by a clause in the Act of Incorpo­ration which stated that members of this body must be Roman Catholic and residents of Saskatchewan. As well as prohibiting the membership of non­Catholic “friends of the college” and alumni/ae from outside Saskatchewan, this clause had implications within the college’s academic community. In effect, it denied membership in the Corporation to non-Catholic tenured faculty members, in contrast to their Catholic counterparts. Swan became determined to open up the Act of Incorporation and change some of the trou­blesome clauses.

     Although Swan had a number of supporters within and beyond the walls of the college in this endeavour, many others who had watched the series of changes in the college over the past few years with increasing unease found this plan to change the Act of Incorporation to be the last straw. They saw the Catholic identity of the college threatened and decided to protest this latest proposal, thus bringing about what is known in STM folklore as “the Corporation crisis.”

     The Corporation crisis was, in fact, precipitated by a number of factors which converged in 1971. One of these was the aforementioned increase in the number of lay faculty members hired by the college to fill the demands of the growing student population. Universities all over North America were hungry for qualified academics during this period and the University of Saskatchewan was no exception. It was difficult to attract scholars to Saskatchewan in the first place and, once attracted, it was then difficult to keep them from moving on to other universities in more moderate climes after one or two years. For a small Catholic college like STM, recruitment of academically-qualified Catholic faculty became particularly challenging.

     In addition to having the necessary academic qualifications, “being Catholic” had, in its early years, been one of the basic requirements for a faculty position at the college. The rapid growth in some academic areas during the late 1960s made it necessary for the college to broaden its criteria for hiring. In particular, with the growth in the social sciences throughout the academic world, St. Thomas More College was finding that it must offer courses in Sociology, Psychology and Political Science or it would be left behind. There were few Catholics with the academic qualifications to teach such courses, and even fewer who were inclined to come to Saskatoon at a time when there were abundant jobs available in universities throughout North America.

     Among the lay faculty hired in the late 1960s there had been a few non­Catholic sessional lecturers in subject areas such as English, History and the Social Sciences. Eventually, however, it became necessary for the college to hire non-Catholic full-time faculty in order to provide the desired program of course offerings. One non-Catholic, a Pentecostal minister, was hired for a full-time position in 1969-1970, and three or four more non-Cath­olics came on faculty the following year. As these individuals became eligible for tenure, the opening up of membership on Corporation to non-­Catholics turned into a matter of simple fairness. This practical considera­tion of hiring non-Catholics because of the college’s need for qualified faculty to teach in particular subject areas was accompanied by Fr. Swan’s desire for the college to be more open to other Christian denominations in the ecumenical spirit of Vatican II, and that it be able to offer to Catholic students opportunities to learn about other Christian traditions and beliefs.

     Over and above ecumenical and social justice elements in the proposed changes, there was also the matter of the college’s image in the eyes of the provincial government. Because Swan was involved in negotiating for addi­tional government grants during this time, he felt it was extremely important that the college be, and be seen to be, an institution with broad community involvement in its operations. If it could demonstrate that, not only did it hire non-Catholic faculty and teach non-Catholic students, but also that it included non-Catholics on its governing body, the college’s claim to public funding would be strengthened.

     As the college community reconvened in September 1971, memoranda and discussions abounded concerning the proposed changes and the prelim­inary votes to be taken both in the Faculty Forum and in the Corporation in October. On October 6, Fr. McReavy, the Chairman of the Faculty Forum, circulated a portion of a report entitled A Commitment to Higher Education in Canada. Published by the National Education Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1970, it seemed to lend support to the point of view of those who favoured the proposed changes. In its discussion on “the essential marks of a Catholic institution of higher learning,” the report included some observations pertinent to the debate at STM:


The most important [mark] is the presence in the institution of a community of scholars who are “intellectually Catholic.” These are committed scholars in the best Catholic (or Christian) tradition – academics fully qualified in their respective disciplines, dedicated to the pursuit of learning through teaching and research and placing these at the service of society, and sensitive to the relevance of spiritual and moral values (to the extent that these are relevant) in their scholarship. Such persons need not be members of the Catholic Church, though in normal circumstances most will be; but they will have wide-ranging interdisciplinary interests and be both conversant with and interested in dealing with religious values as these confront contemporary culture. They will be scholars committed to pursue the totality of truth and to relate intellectual truths and human values (religious and moral, including civic) within a Christian context. Such a commitment is Catholic and universal in the best sense, involving no limitations on academic inquiry and welcoming into the community those who share these ideals and who are willing to be associated with a community pursuing them.22


        Forum discussed the proposed constitutional changes at its October 12, 1971 meeting but was unable to vote on them. Due to the large number of speakers on both sides of the question, the meeting had to be reconvened on October 14 and again on October 19. The speakers focused on their concerns about the Catholic identity of the college, the implications of the changes with regard to the “ownership” of the college, the importance of the “ecumenical spirit” within the college, and the threatened disruption of good working relationships within the college community. When a preliminary or “straw vote” was taken, those in favour of the changes formed a strong majority.

     The proposed amendments came up again at the meeting of the Corpo­ration on October 23, 1971, during which another preliminary vote was to be taken and forwarded to the College Council. This particular Corporation meeting was probably more dramatic than any other in the history of the college; indeed, STM faculty member Jean-Guy Quenneville, who chaired this meeting as well as the earlier three-stage Forum meeting, had invested in a slide-rule version of Robert's Rules of Order to assist him with the intri­cacies of motions, amendments to motions, amendments to amendments and so on. Telegrams and letters arrived at the college throughout the week prior to the meeting and more appeared as the Corporation meeting commenced. The telegrams were read aloud to those assembled and, because they all expressed opposition to the proposed changes, many using the same or similar wording, there were accusations of an orchestrated campaign to attempt to influence the vote.

     Those members of the Corporation opposed to the changes asked for more time before the making of a final decision, in order to inform the STM alumni/ae and the Catholic people of Saskatchewan of what was happening. They felt that it was important for local people who had contributed finan­cially to the college over the years to have some voice in the matter. One faculty member stated that “more effective consultation with our wider community is absolutely necessary. Catholic education is at stake here; we don't have the right to move on this issue at the present time.23 Another disagreed, claiming further delay to be unfortunate and especially embar­rassing for the non-Catholic members of faculty:


We have at STM a unique community where we attempt to embrace all members and where all participate fully. We have accepted non-Catholic students. Non-Cath­olic professors have something to give to us. By all means, of course, we do want to maintain the Catholic character of our College. The non-Catholic teachers will act in the best interests of STM.24


Fr. Swan tried to explain, as he had many times in the past, that he was not trying to undermine the Catholic character of the college, but to challenge it in new ways in the spirit of Vatican II. He stated:


This matter before us today is of grave importance. We do wish to maintain the Catholic character of STM.... There is no intention to develop into an interdenom­inational college. STM is, however, acquiring an ecumenical dimension.... What makes a Catholic college Catholic? There are fundamental characteristics inherent in such a college. It is all important that we have a community of scholars who are dedicated, committed, who have deep spiritual values, who are morally good persons.... A good Catholic college must reflect a pluralistic character.25


        Although only a preliminary vote for the information of the College Council, it was of considerable importance. Following the addresses by all the speakers, there was a final vote: fifteen voted for the motion and five against, with two abstensions. Two members of faculty, one a lay faculty member and the other a Basilian, immediately tendered their resignations from the Corporation, and another lay faculty member announced his inten­tion to remain in the meeting as an observer only.

     In order to clear the air, a motion was presented declaring that the Corporation, notwithstanding these changes, “understands and maintains: a) that St. Thomas More College has not thereby become an interdenomina­tional college; and b) that STM remains a Catholic College, though a Cath­olic College with some ecumenical participation.” This statement was approved by a vote of fifteen to one. Another motion, that “the Corporation instruct the appropriate college authority to inform the Saskatchewan Cath­olic community of the proposed change” was carried unanimously.26 The final vote on the proposed amendments was to be taken, after consultation with the Saskatchewan Catholic community and alumni/ae of the college, at the next meeting of the Corporation in January 1972.

     In November, on the recommendation of the Corporation, the College Council formed a Committee on Structure and Organization to “consult with STM’s constituency regarding the proposed changes to the Act” and to “initiate and carry forward discussions regarding the most suitable structure and organization of the college.”27 During the next two months members of the committee consulted with STM faculty members and alumni/ae and arranged informational meetings of the latter in Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton and Calgary.

     An article written by Fr. Alphonse de Valk, CSB to mark St. Thomas More College’s 35th anniversary was printed in the November 7, 1971 issue of The Prairie Messenger. De Valk made use of the opportunity to outline the proposed changes to the Act of Incorporation, eliciting in response a number of letters to the editor from STM faculty members. Copies of The Prairie Messenger article were sent to all alumni/ae, along with letters of explanation from Principal Swan and copies of the proposed amendments to the Act.

     Among the many differing views expressed by STM faculty in the Letters to the Editor in response to The Prairie Messenger article were two which exemplified the very real concerns on both sides of the issue. One faculty member opposed to the proposed changes claimed that, in fact, the college had always been “ecumenical” in its relationships with other Chris­tians and with the university community. This move to de-emphasize the Catholic identity represented a false kind of ecumenism: “We are convinced that the friends of the college will insist that the values and the outlook of the college are specifically Catholic in substance as well as in name. It is certain that unless we remain recognizably Catholic, neither ecumenism nor pluralism will have any meaning.”28

     In response, another faculty member presented a different view:


I wonder if the way in which we remain recognizably Catholic is to cling together behind an impregnable fortress, untouched by our separated brethren and unaware of the outside world.

Are we, as committed Christians, so afraid that our faith will somehow be compro­mised by the presence on the Corporation of tenured faculty members who happen to be non-Catholic? Are we so unconcerned about the standard of academic excel­lence at St. Thomas More College, that we would wish to see faculty members chosen more for their religious affiliation than for their competence?29


        When Corporation met on January 19, 1972, the members voted overwhelmingly, though not unanimously, to petition the Legislature for the amendment of the Act of Incorporation. To some within the college community, STM had successfully managed to protect and reaffirm its Catholic identity while also providing opportunities for the contribution of non-Catholics who were committed to the goals and spirit of the college. To those of the other view, however, the Catholic identity of the college was being eroded and the institution was in danger of becoming secular in nature and Catholic in name only. Supporters of the change pointed to the provision restricting non - Catholics to no more than twenty per cent of the Corporation as a safeguard of the Catholic identity of STM. Another sign of the college’s desire to maintain a strong Catholic identity was the continuing role of the Basilian Congregation in the college and the reaffirmation that “the offices of principal and treasurer [would] continue to be filled by persons chosen by the Superior General of the Congregation of St. Basil after consultation with the Corporation.”30 The Basilian superior general continued to have a say in appointments to the two highest offices in the college administration, ensuring the Basilian connection with and involvement in the college.

     On October 1972, Dr. David Farmer became the first non-Catholic member of the Corporation and in October 1973, Bernard M. Daly and Justice Emmett Hall, Catholics residing outside Saskatchewan, as well as Senator Sidney L. Buckwold and Dr. Hilda Neatby, both non-Catholics, became members of the Corporation. The controversy died down, with both sides agreeing to disagree on whether the changes would ultimately under­mine or strengthen St. Thomas More College and its identity as a Catholic institution of higher learning.



     During the period in which St. Thomas More College was involved in clarifying its identity as a Catholic institution and in securing its funding base as a small college federated with a large university, it was also faced with challenges to its academic autonomy from within the university itself. With a reexamination of university operations and structures during the 1960s and 1970s, several of the university departments in the College of Arts and Science became more aware of their counterparts in the Catholic college across the way. In addition to the increasing interest in faculty rights and responsibilities in the areas of hiring, promotion, tenure and teaching standards, university faculty began to express various degrees of concern about the amount of autonomy St. Thomas More College exercised in these areas.

     Most of the time over the years the relationship between the university and the college had worked well. From time to time, one university depart­ment or another misunderstood STM’s position as a federated college or tried to override the college’s decisions on matters the university department regarded as legitimately within its own authority. It was really a question of what federation meant in theory and how it worked in practice – and whether it was an arrangement of benefit to both university and college.

     The question of whether and how federation worked would have been answered differently for each of the eight corresponding Arts and Science departments in the college and university during this period. Some, such as the history departments, developed close working relationships. Indeed, a challenge to STM’s autonomy came from that unexpected source in 1969. The two history department heads, overstepping their authority somewhat, signed an agreement in which STM’s department of history agreed to consult with the university department of history in matters of hiring, promotion and tenure, as well as in decisions regarding the teaching of senior courses.31Although sound in the principle of cooperation and, indeed, representative of standard practice over the years, the written agree­ment limited STM’s voice in decisions regarding senior classes and even in the appointment of faculty to its own history department.

     Other tests of STM’s autonomy came from the philosophy department of the university. First in 1963, the new university department head assumed that he was also the head of the philosophy faculty at STM and began to act accordingly. Again in 1974, the university department challenged STM’s proposals for three new philosophy courses, claiming it unacceptable that these courses be taught from a Catholic perspective. In both cases, Principal Fr. Swan and Acting Principal Ernest McCullough were able to point to the 1936 federation agreement as the basis for STM’s autonomy in academic matters within the university.32

     In the 1974 incident, following a series of discussions, memoranda, briefs and so on, the new STM philosophy courses were eventually approved. A new document appeared on the scene on December 30 of that year, however – this time from the dean of Arts and Science. The document was entitled “Proposed Agreement Between the College of Arts and Science and St. Thomas More College Regarding the Teaching of Philosophy” and called for a closer association between the two departments. The document was similar to the history departments’ agreement of 1969. It suggested that the STM philosophy department consult with the university philosophy


Text Box: Fr. Peter Swan, CSB, Principal of St. Thomas More College, 1961-1977	Source: St. Thomas More College Archives

department head regarding proposed new classes, new faculty appoint­ments, renewal of probationary appointments and the award of tenure and promotion. Such consultation would “obviate the necessity for any exercise of veto power by the Senior Committee on Studies, the faculty of the College of Arts and Science, or the dean of the College of Arts and Science.”33 STM’s agreement to such "consultation" would amount to the signing away of much of its autonomy.

     In response to the proposal, Fr. Swan prepared a memo for the dean of arts and science and this was eventually acknowledged by the dean as reflecting “the true state of affairs.” A section of this memo is worth quoting, as it points out the advantages of federation to both college and university. Fr. Swan wrote:


St. Thomas More College is ready at all times to co-operate with the college of Arts and Science in maintaining and strengthening academic standards, and in taking steps to ensure the best use of resources. In so doing, however, we wish to preserve both the principles of federation, under which we have operated so happily since our foundation, and the academic freedom of our staff.

In this connection, we think it pertinent to remark that within each academic discipline there are usually various schools of thought. It is desirable that as many as possible of these schools or points of view be represented in the University. The University of Saskatchewan is fortunate that through federation the representation on this campus of various philosophic schools is wider than it might otherwise be. Hence the existence of two departments of philosophy – each permitted and encouraged to pursue its objectives – should be seen as a source of strength rather than of weakness.34


        Another challenge to STM's status as a federated college took place in 1976 with the university faculty’s decision to form a union. Faced with the possibility of either requesting integration with the university faculty union or doing nothing and thus risking being absorbed by it, the STM faculty decided instead to try to form their own independent union. During this period, on October 21, 1976, a meeting of university department heads with Dean of Arts and Science D.R. Cherry and Vice President R.N. Haslam discussed a number of issues regarding the relationship of STM with the university. Their concerns were outlined in a statement dated October 22, 1976 and included the suggestion that the university should consider inter­vening in STM’s union application.

     Neither informed of the meeting nor given a copy of the statement until December, Swan responded with a detailed memorandum to Haslam and Cherry early in 1977. One portion of Swan’s memorandum focused on the university administrators’ misinterpretation, or perhaps reinterpretation, of the Senate Statutes regarding St. Thomas More College. He wrote:


Senate Statutes XXIII, 6, requires the heads of corresponding departments to work together in co-operation. We are, therefore, astonished to see the word “co-opera­tion” replaced in the second paragraph by the word “supervision.” This one change by itself alone would alter the status of St. Thomas More College from that of a federated college to that of a junior college.35


President Swan and Dean Michael Keenan from St. Thomas More College met with Cherry and Haslam from the university on January 8, 1977 to clarify once again STM’s position with regard to the parent institution. The matter was resolved on a positive note with an agreement by all parties that the relationship was one of cooperation between St. Thomas More College and the College of Arts and Science, with final authority in matters of dispute resting with the president of the university. As well, STM faculty formed their own faculty union without interference and proceeded to nego­tiate their initial collective agreement with the board of governors of the college.

     Of course, the challenges for St. Thomas More College did not disap­pear with the completion of Swan’s term as principal in 1977. Funding concerns for the college still emerged from time to time in the years following, even though new structures had been set in place to ensure the college’s ability to function as a publicly-funded institution. Challenges to STM’s autonomy continued to be raised by those within the university who were opposed to denominational colleges, but the tenets of the federation agreement negotiated by Carr and Murray in 1936 had been affirmed again and again in the 1970s and were now buttressed by a strong body of prece­dents. As for St. Thomas More College’s role as a Catholic institution, there continued to be lively discussions, debates and disagreements – within STM and beyond – about the nature of its identity as a Catholic college and how that identity could best be expressed and lived out in a meaningful way within the milieu of a large secular university.

1St. Thomas More College Archives (hereafter STMA), STM.B.09, Carr-Murray correspondence, 1936.

2Ibid., University Senate Minutes, July 13, 1936.


4STMA, STM.BC.10, Thompson to Sullivan, August 6, 1951.

5Archives of the University of Saskatchewan, Presidential Papers: Series III B-180, O’Donnell to Thompson, December 3, 1956; Thompson to O’Donnell, January 14,1957.

6General Archives of the Basilian Fathers, C.3133 1936(1).21, Carr to Bishop Murray, January 27, 1936.


8STMA, RGI01.1.6, Provincial grant information.

9STMA, RG110.1.2, Principal’s Records, P. Swan, Negotiations re grant formula, 1973.

10STMA, RG101.4.4, P. Swan, Report to Corporation, November 1976.

11STMA, RG110.1.2, W.G. Davis, Minister of University Affairs, Legislature of Ontario, “Statement Regarding Financial Support for Church-Related Universities and Colleges.” n.d. [1967].

12STMA, RG110.1.2, Principal’s Records.

13 STMA, RG110.1.4, Swan to Steuart, January 18, 1971.

14STMA, RG101.4.4, P. Swan, Principal’s Report, January 9, 1971.

15STMA, RG110.1.4, Swan to Barber, March 1, 1971.


17STMA, RG110.1.2, Swan to Rolfes, July 7, 1971.

18Ibid. Swan, Nash and Anderson to R.F. Harvey, Deputy Minister of Continuing Education, October 18, 1972.

19L.H. Shook, Catholic Post-Secondary Education in English-Speaking Canada: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), p. 290.

20STMA. College Council, Minutes, April 18, 1968.

21M.F. Sanche, Heartwood: A History of St. Thomas More College and Newman Centre at the University of Saskatchewan (Muenster, SK: St. Peter’s Press, 1986), p. 121.

22National Education Office, CCCB. A Committment to Higher Education in Canada: the Report of a Commission of Inquiry on Forty Catholic Church-Related Colleges and Universities (Windsor: University of Windsor, 1970), p.36.

23STMA, STM Corporation, Minutes, October 23, 1971.




27STMA, STM College Council, Minutes, November 13, 1971.

28Letters to the Editor, The Prairie Messenger, November 28, 1971.


30STMA, RG101.5.4, Proposed amendments to the Act of Incorporation of St. Thoma; More College.

31STMA, RG101.7.3, Heath-Lambi Memorandum [December 1969].

32Sanche, Heartwood. pp. 143-144.

33STMA, RG101.7.3, Proposed Agreement, Cherry to McCullough, December 30, 1974.

34Ibid., Swan to Cherry, January 7, 1975.

35STMA, RG101.4.2, “Recommendation about the Meaning of the Senate Statutes (1975) as They Concern Saint Thomas More College,” October 21, 1976.