Thursday, August 9, 2012

OLSWA?

Over the last week or two I have felt a certain desire or perhaps responsibility to write about my former place of employ, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, in Barry's Bay. I hesitated to do so as I felt that people would read it more as a revelation of the author than of the truth he was wishing - or trying, more like it - to convey. The catalyst of these comments is a post on Catholic Chapter House written by a former student of mine. Read it here.

Most of all what I feel obliges me to write is its terrible fiscal state. Now, a financial predicament is something an institution such as OLSWA is as desperate to hide as it is to reveal. "How will people take this news?" they ask. "Will they abandon us as a lost cause or will they dig deeper and save us?" What if it were the Toronto Maple Leafs? What if you found out that they were going bankrupt - would you help them with a donation or scoff, saying that such a useless 'company' deserves its fate? Back in Nova Scotia we found ourselves asking this very question all the time - about the coal industry in Cape Breton, the fishing industry, etc. The U.S. was asking itself this about GMC  quite recently, and I'm sure still is.

What if OLSWA can't make it after all this time? It is entering it's twelfth year. Shouldn't it be well on its way to financial security, if it has made it this far? I have been involved in a lot of 'church things' over the years and so know how precariously they are financially by nature. When I started there five years ago they had sixty some students, and was just beginning its 'PhD experiment' so as to lay the ground work for provincial accreditation - I was one of the three hired that year (one of these currently remains). All was optimism then. Five years later, the expected enrolment of sixty-some students spells financial disaster from which it may not recuperate. Why? Mainly it is because its staff is much larger now. Another factor lies in the possibility that its donors have used up their reserves.

Very recently it had peaked at nearly 100 students, if you factor in the part-timers. An anticipated drop of 20 students from last year to this year means a loss of tuition revenue of more than $100,000. That is the average salary - I hate to say it - of 3 full-time OLSWA employees. Such a drop in revenue would never have been noticed at any of my alma maters. But perhaps this drop is but a blip on the screen, a statistical anomoly? Yet is it prudent to think so? Personally, I would operate if it were so, but that is just me. I like to take chances. All church institutions need to in order to survive their many seasons of lean.

But is it worth it?

That's the key question. Knowing the OLSWA staff as I do, scarcely any of them would ever doubt it was worth it. I was also one of those who would never question it. I'm writing now to think about it out loud. The blogger I referred to above doesn't seem to doubt it. Are her reasons strong ones? Are they decisive? Let's look beyond the all-too tempting 'superlative' ethos of 'the most Catholic' and 'only school that...' for a few moments.

What is OLSWA doing that makes it 'most' and 'best' and 'only'? The blogger mentioned two things: Catholicity and the liberal arts. I was taught that giving two reasons is often a sign that just one isn't strong enough in itself. For instance, to the question, why is divorce wrong, I might simply answer 'because it hurts children.' A strong reason. But what if the divorcing couple has no children? A weak reason. So, is OLSWA great because it is the best at Catholicism or because it is the best at the liberal arts, or because of both? The answer any half-aware supporter of OLSWA would give you is that it provides good education in an environment that supports and promotes the Catholic Faith - and hardly any other post-secondary institution in Canada can be said to do that. Okay, so no superlatives in that and I definitely find that a more palatable expression.

So, if it is good at this thing and this thing is important - and rare - does it not stand to reason that it should be supported? Seems like a open and shut case. However, one thing that working with Maryvale taught me very quickly is that environment is an extremely important component in economics. Location, location, location. OLSWA was placed where it was and kept where it was, not because of financial reasons, but because of the importance of quiet and seclusion - monastic virtues - in the educational process. There is something to be said for this. Yet is this seclusion what is killing the school? How many more students would be drawn to it were it in Toronto or Ottawa, etc? Is a school properly Catholic when and only when it is in the woods? No one I know would ever argue this. Well, it can't think of anyone who would argue this. Yes, the Madawaska Valley environment is spiritually nourishing. I have been nourished by it, and regret leaving it. I don't deny that. But cannot a good Catholic college exist in a city? Better a city college than no college at all? I love Barry's Bay and being there changed me for the better. Living and serving the poor in Halifax also changed me for the better...

You'll notice that I haven't nit-picked at OLSWA's ability to do what it claims it does - provide excellent academics faithful to the Magisterium of the Church. That strikes as beside the point, since it wants to do this very badly. The question is, should you support it so as to makes this a possibility, or to ensure that it remains doing this? I would never give money to the University of St. Paul's in Ottawa since it has no desire to be faithful to the Magisterium of the Church. OLSWA does desire this and does desire to be academically excellent. Is that not enough? Will, of course, is never enough. Knowledge is also required: you must know what excellence in academics is and what Catholicism is. Money plus good intentions will get you part way there.

I am not asking these questions because I have it all figured out. I am asking them because I care about Catholic education. Is OLSWA special? Is it essential? Is it the only way? If so, then we must pour everything into it. Nothing he has done in the last few years seems to suggest to me that its bishop tends to think so.

I invite your thoughts.

28 comments:

  1. Colin,

    I am surprised by your questioning of the Catholic authenticity of OLSWA. Of course this is the ONLY way (in Canada anyhow), to receive an authentically Catholic, faithful to the Magisterium liberal arts education. Name another school if you can!

    OLSWA is special and essential...special for reasons stated and essential because without it, who will teach the Truth of the Holy Catholic Church? (I'm not suggesting that there are not many individuals within the church, even other institutions [seminaries] that do not teach the faith, but that there is no other school like OLSWA)

    I am of course biased on this topic, because I currently am under the employ of the mentioned institution. I also happen to believe in the mission - our students are formed humanly, spiritually and academically. We seek to form the whole person, which is again something you will not find in any other institution in Canada, or for that matter around the world.

    It follows that of course we should dig deeper - and we have - staff have for years accepted low salaries (as you know), students make sacrifices to help with general upkeep, etc. We also have an extensive donor list which has taken 11 years to develop. You forget to mention that half our budget is provided by these generous donors. So the local bishop hasn't supported us to the nth degree - does that surprise you? A Canadian bishop who is apathetic to an authentic cause? What a shocker!

    Understand, I am not one to criticize or judge our bishops - God bless them in their ministries, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that our Canadian bishops have fumbled for years when it comes to many matters of faith and morals. By the way, our bishop (Bishop Michael Mulhall) does celebrate our opening and graduation mass and he tries to make it out for a game of hockey every year with our students.

    In conclusion, I am defending a school which I know beyond a reasonable doubt is indeed special and unique in Canada, even the world. In the end, Colin you know in your heart that this is a viable institution and an important mission. Students will come from the ends of the earth, (to this end of the earth) to study what they know will be the best Catholic education they could ever receive. Grace is what is needed and graces have been received and will continue to be out poured onto this institution. It's all God's money and under Our Lady's mantle He will continue to provide.

    In Christ,


    Jason Gould

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    1. Jason--

      I would not characterize the bishops as apathetic. Bishops O'Brien, Smith, and Mulhall have all been supportive in various ways that were appropriate given the stage of development of the institution. The diocese, both of itself and through St. Hedwig's, owns the land upon which four of the five non-residential structures that OLSWA uses, in whole or in part, for its facilities. The arrangements for each are different, but without the hospitality of both the Bishop and St. Hedwig's OLSWA would not be able to operate--this is much more positive than apathy.


      In Christ,

      Scott Nicholson,

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  2. I don't know if the bishop's lack of support can be so easily chalked up to apathy, Jason, or to lack of support of OLSWA's mission, Colin. I think that it might have a lot to do with money. Perhaps politics are involved but I don't think that this diocese is rolling in money.

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  3. The fact that OLSWA cannot give degrees is, to me, its biggest problem. It has to have that designation, bestowed by an act of Parliament, in order to be a degree-granting institution. Without that designation, students cannot use govt student loans to attend OLSWA, parents cannot use the education funds they have saved over the years to pay for its tuition. Is this not where the real problem lies?

    If OLSWA could provide the whole nine yards of university, then surely students would go there, stay four years and graduate. And their parents would be thrilled. But right now, OLSWA can only provide 3/4 of the pie and students must go elsewhere to complete their degrees.

    That to me seems to be the biggest obstacle OLSWA faces. So whatever can be done to get that official designation would make this college viable.

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    1. Julie--
      One bit of recent good news is that educational funds now may be used at OLSWA. I agree that degree granting would greatly impact things towards growth--indeed, it would present an entirely new set of challenges.

      In Christ,

      Scott Nicholson

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    2. Christine SchintgenAugust 11, 2012 at 1:38 PM

      Julie-- Just a little correction: the degree is no longer given by an act of parliament. Instead, a government agency called PEQAB (Post-Secondary Education Quality Assessment Board) has to approve us, and then the provincial Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities has to ratify that decision. The whole process takes about a year. Currently the main obstacle is money to hire an academic dean and more faculty with Ph.D.s.

      Christine

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  4. Colin--

    Until September rolls around, no one is going to know the precise state of enrollment. Whatever it is, we are confident of being around at least a few more years, and that is far more stability than we had in the first several years of the Academy. And while pretty well everyone involved in the Academy continues to make sacrifices of varying degrees, at least some of which to some extent are unknown to most, we are a far cry from the first four years of the school where none of the salaried employees made anything close to minimum wage if viewed on an hourly level (many during this time would have averaged under $3 an hour, some well under $3 an hour), and the first outside cook, making minimum wage, was by far the best paid employee at the school.

    While location is important to consider, this location was chosen primarily because a few families in the area wanted to start a school somewhere because there was nothing like what they wanted elsewhere in Canada, Msgr. Pick and Bishop O'Brien were willing to lease a convent on very favourable terms, a dozen or so students, faculty, and staff were willing to sacrifice to give it a try, and by God's grace it has endured through twelve years in this location.

    I would also add that whatever the Bishop might think, given potential (and I believe actual) lawsuits against the diocese, even if the diocese were well off, it would be a sin against justice to allocate resources to the Academy that may be due both in justice and in law to others. While it might be a great deal more pleasant to give money to education than to give it to abuse victims, if there are abuse victims out there that may justly ask for compensation, they are entitled to it.

    While people in other locals have indicated some willingness to support the school in another location, it has grown to the point that relocating it to comparable facilities in Ottawa or Toronto would require millions of dollars, (even without accounting for the expense of moving or replacing faculty and staff) which the institution does not have, and would also pose all sorts of other challenges. No one who suggests that a change in local would improve the financial situation of the school is willing to pony up the money necessary to make that happen. Talk and advice are cheap, but all indications are that this is where Providence planted the seed, and this is where it will live or die.

    I have been privileged over this time to work closely with several dozen individuals, including yourself Colin, who have been willing to make great sacrifices for Catholic education. I am edified in your case to see that you are willing to continue in this vein even after the Academy. I have also been privileged to work less closely with, and be exposed to in various ways, at least hundreds and probably thousands of other individuals who certainly have made at least some sacrifices as well, and undoubtedly some of them have been very great as well, but I am not in a position to judge.

    The job applications that we receive indicate that there are still many quality people who are willing to work very sacrificially at OLSWA. While we cannot employ all of those who are qualified and willing to sacrifice to work at OLSWA, to do so would be greedy as well. There are as yet many places in the vineyard of Canada that need these sorts of people, no doubt including your own new school, and it would be wrong of us to use more than we actually need to the detriment of others.

    Location may be important if there is choice involved--but by God's providence it was not involved before the institution had already taken too deep root to be moved.

    More important than Location, Location, Location are Grace, Sacrifice, and Prayer. By these OLSWA has lived, and I am confident that so long as these endure on her behalf, she will endure. And if they should cease, to quote Flannery O'Connor, "to hell with it."

    In Christ,

    Scott Nicholson,

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  5. Great comments, everyone. Except for Jason, who misreads me as questioning OLSWA's orthodoxy (dingis). I was questioning the excellence of education, which I am convinced requires a great deal of money. There are reasons why it costs a billion dollars to run Notre Dame. Great education is expensive, and while it probably isn't a billion-dollar proposition, at the post-secondary level it is a multi-million dollar one. You need enough experts to fill all the requisite fields of study. It's sad how much of an educational institution's budget has to be used up on bureaucracy. At the very least, 10 professors earning an adequate wage ($70,000) is itself nearly a million bucks, once you factor in all the extras of insurance, etc. And we haven't even thrown in the necessity of good research facilities. How much money does your run of the mill small college spend on its library a year?

    Jason was, of course, right on in his description of the great things OLSWA does for its students.

    One thing that has to be read into my post, which I should have made more explicit, is, is it possible that, if it dies, which I hope it does not, to replicate OLSWA elsewhere, so to speak, in a setting where it can thrive and thus do even more good?

    I agree with Scott that the only thing that has kept it going all this time has been the importance that many people have seen in its mission that has caused them to sacrifice for it. That people would actually be placed in a position that they have worked for $3/hour is itself criminal. People should not be encouraged to do that. But that's a bit of a side point to the main discussion, so I'll leave that aside, other than simply to add that insitutions need to operate with real economics, otherwise they are being falsely presnted as viable. For instance, to say that we have operated for eleven years when 4 of them saw people earning less than half minimum wage is kind of a misrepresentation. Of course, one of Keith's great achievements is to move the School toward 'real economics,' where donations have figured into less and less a percentage of operating costs, and real revenue has climbed to cover much more than half the budget now.

    I was the main griper about the Bishop sacrificing the mission of the Church to sexual abuse lawsuits, but, again, Scott makes a good point about victims having a claim in justice. What about the injustice of not presenting the Gospel to university-aged students? They have a right to the truth. Interesting to think about. Yet to convince me that this is the why - even the whole of the why - of the bishop's position I would have to see the diocese's budget to see how much money is going to totally non-Catholic things, including anti-Catholic diocesan employees. What a surprise it would be if I was wrong! I'd be the first to apologize.

    Keep the comments coming, because I still need some nudging before I press the 'support OLSWA at all cost' button.

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    1. Colin--

      I do not think it a misrepresentation to say that OLSWA has operated 12 years (not 11) even if it has been on the strength of apostolic volunteers, especially in the early years. Many of those involved, including everyone in the early years, were not working for hourly wages ($3/hour would merely be a figure derived from the monthly salary divided by an estimate of hours worked) but for the glory of the kingdom and good of souls. Provided the labor is voluntary, this is not criminal. I am fairly sure that there are still a number of individuals who put in a good number of hours for OLSWA for compensation that makes absolutely no economic sense but does make spiritual sense.

      While in some ways it would certainly help to be bigger and have more economic fluidity, our graduates still manage to go on to other schools that have these resources and, on average, significantly out-perform the bulk of the students who have had the benefits of these resources for the length of their entire higher education. Yes, we do have poverty of various sorts, and maybe our education would be even better if we did not have it, but even as it is, it is a quality education judged on the basis of outcomes.

      We aren't everything that I would like us to be, but from my vantage point, we still seem to be the only game in town as far as an integrated whole-person education goes, and so long as that continues, supporting the survival of an integrated Catholic higher education in Canada would seem to mean supporting us. If another viable institution comes along, then one could support this vision by supporting them.

      A further point about the Bishop. I haven't seen the diocese's budget either, but at least at the diocesean level, I don't think you will find any anti-Catholic diocesean employees, or much in the way of fat. The OLSWA staff (including neither faculty nor students on work-study) is larger than the chancery staff, and after one leaves asside exciting positions like secretary and finance administrator, there are only two positions that would offer a soap-box to anti-Catholics, and from all that I have heard Yvette Bourque and Jason Dedo are not anti-Catholic at all but fine folks.

      Admittedly, if one was fanatical, one could always claim that there was fat--there is another chancery that I called recently and the Bishop himself was answering the switchboard (and I wasn't calling to speak with him). But by all reasonable standards, I do not think we have anything to complain about.

      In Christ,

      Scott

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    2. Scott, I have to second your response re. our diocese and the lack of anti-Catholic employees. Both Jason and Yvette are friends of ours and they are refreshingly Catholic unlike many employees of other dioceses with whom I have met or worked. I am a big advocate of spending only the money that one has - credit is no way to operate - and I think that the diocese is trying to do that especially in light of the sex scandals.

      One question re. OLSWA: are there perhaps too many administrative, custodial (i.e. non-academic) positions that are eating up money? Do profs need to answer phones (much like the diocese which Scott mentioned)? Before you jump all over me about profs answering phone - Dave worked several years at a school where the secretary was only there in the mornings and the teachers answered the phones the rest of the time. Previous to that, his mother also worked there and, as a unionised teacher, was expected to answer phones, do maintenance work etc. in addition to her classroom duties. Perhaps this is all an aside, but practicalities are important.

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  6. Several days ago the thought crossed my mind that I attended OLSWA with numerous men and women who are now in the priesthood and religious life. While OLSWA can't be credited for their vocations, obviously, it can be credited for their formation. That's an amazing fruit that speaks volumes to me about what an education students receive from OLSWA. As well, there are countless students from the Academy who are now living marriage and family life in a counter-cultural, life-affirming way.

    I really believe that OLSWA is an apostolate in Canada that needs to be supported. You said you have doubts whether you should push the "support OLSWA at all costs" button. I believe you should. Should you agree with every decision that is made there? Perhaps not. But the mission of this school is one that anyone who believes in Catholic education, which I know you do, should support.

    Furthermore, the fact that the school is struggling financially ought not to be a reason to stop supporting it. Again, if the mission is worthwhile -- which it is -- than ought we not support it more?

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  7. Okay, everyone, so what if it has exhausted its student base, and this is what is ultimately behind this year's number decline? OLSWA has always drawn heavily from locals - have they been used up; have personal connections dried up; is the hard core Catholic population in Ontario too small? If any of this is the case, doesn't that mean that donations are a waste and should be directed elsewhere, to viable apostolates?

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  8. Ultimately, I think that where we donate our money comes down to personal discernment. Sometimes God prompts us to give money or to spend time on something that goes under the next year (I am not referring to OLSWA.) We don't always know the why about that, but He truly has the big picture. Each of us has our small part to play in building up the Kingdom.

    Jeanette

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  10. A dear friend of mine once told me "the Academy's greatest wealth is its poverty." What a beautiful, striking comment.

    I believe it is through this poverty that OLSWA will continue to grow steadily into the realm of financial solvency. Institutions of all kinds throughout history trend up and down. There are depressions in all things in this world. I know this sounds a but cyclic/teleological. But I believe OLSWA is firmly in God's plan for the future of Catholicism in Canada.

    Our Lord told said "ask and ye shall receive." The OLSWA community takes Him up on this offer, praying often for the school's spiritual and material needs. We have been doing OK. We are far better off than in the early days. Things may dip here and there, but we'll pull through. We just need to keep praying.

    As more graduates start their careers and spread news about "that great school in Barry's Bay", we have a new source of donations (albeit small at first, as these couples are still young).

    Once the Academy gets more money, accreditation will come, then it will be more attractive to prospective students, teachers, supporters and donors. That's why the flow of money can't stop, but instead increase, however that will come about.

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  11. This is a very interesting discussion. I just spent the weekend with one of the finest group of young people you'll find - the Crossroads Canada walkers - who just finished spending three months walking from Vancouver to Ottawa to witness to the prolife cause. And guess what? Of the original nine walkers this year, one is an alumnus, five are current students and one is enrolled for first-year at OLSWA (after hearing so many positive things about the school). Seven out of nine walkers - that says something. What do I think it says?

    It says that somehow, somewhere these young people got the idea that sacrifice means something. It says that they believe that they can rely on Divine Providence to meet their needs, whether it is tuition funds or housing. I wonder how many of these young people learned these things because of their experience at OLSWA, knowing that attending the school involves sacrifices on their part and that of their families. Perhaps they learned it at home. However, the reality of life as a student at OLSWA, or for families sending their children there, is that it requires sacrifice. I don't think a price can be put on this.

    OLSWA does far more than provide students with an authentically Catholic education. It provides them with the opportunities to choose a life of sacrifice, whether it is reputation ("What do you mean you are not going to have a degree after three years?"), finances ("Too bad you can't get OSAP.") or the excitement of a bigger city. Its unique character is a real treasure in the life of the Church. As a parent of an OLSWA student, I am so grateful that the school exists. It met a need that couldn't be met elsewhere, that of a Catholic academic community faithful to the Magisterium, where my daughter never had to apologize for who she is or for what she believes.

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  12. Colin - what does it matter if OLSWA is the only one of it's kind? Are you waiting to be convinced that there is nothing like it anywhere before supporting it? In my mind what makes OLSWA unique is exactly what/where it is...it's location, it's priests and chaplains, it's bishop, it's poverty, etc. Changing any one of these things, changes OLSWA. I don't think you could have OLSWA in Ottawa or Toronto. You might have something similar - but so many things would be different (at least from a student life perspective *shudder*) that it would cease to be what it is (obviously). Same goes for money - if we had millions at our disposal, so much would fundamentally change about OLSWA that it would, again, cease to exist as it is. Some of those changes would be good, but so much of it, in my opinion, would not be good.

    So...if it turns out that we have already exhausted our donor base, well then God will make money fall from trees if it is His Will that we continue. If we never get accredited, then our students will have to continue finishing their education at one of the (growing) numbers of institutions which accept our credits. We can only hope and pray that God will continue to bless and keep us going - we are all at his mercy. Isn't that a good sign?

    Really though, none of that stuff really matters, in my mind. What matters is where we are, now, and what we are supposed to be doing, now. Jenna made a great point - this institution is bearing fruit in the form of increasing vocations to the religious life, priesthood and christian marriage. Not only this, but I am hearing more and more stories of alumnus who are making a difference in the world right where they are - leading catechism groups, working within the new evangelization, going on crossroads or just being who they are meant to be, every day. If you do feel there is another institution that does what we do - the formation of good and holy young people - only better then by all means, throw your support their way. But there can never be another OLSWA...because Barry's Bay just isn't big enough for 2 schools.

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  13. Colin,

    I'm sorry that I insinuated that you didn't believe that OLSWA is orthodox! MEA CULPA! I should read things more carefully before responding to them.

    Scott, I am well aware of the gifts from the diocese to OLSWA over the years - they are many and we are grateful for the use of these buildings. However, it is my understanding that the bishops, past and present, of the Pembroke diocese have not been as supportive as we (the OLSWA community) would like them to be.

    Of course there are matters of justice that need to be attended to, but when will our Church be pro-active, instead of reactive to the very real situation of the decline of Catholicism in Canada? OLSWA is (as evidenced by the above responses) at the center of Catholic renewal in Canada, yet we are stuck with being both independent and self-sustaining. Could our bishops do more? You're darn tootin they could! I think there is more money in the coffers than we think (just my opinion). And it's all God's money anyway.

    Yet after saying all that - at the end of the day, I still believe that our Lady will keep us afloat just as long as our Lord has in mind. Faith is a fruit that comes from working at an institution like OLSWA. It's not about the numbers, location or money - It's truly about things like sacrifice, grace, joy and community.

    In Him,


    Jason G.

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  14. Well said, Jason!

    A number of these comments have got me thinking about how faith is an act of trust. It's our way of life. It's not a matter of succeeding but just a matter of trusting. Ian said that, Jenna, Sarah, Sue... It's all true.

    I am, however, wondering about the growth of a fortress mentality. A university has to be in communication with culture at large. Has enough been done to universalize the university? Can that be done in BB?

    I am really enjoying this discussion!

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  15. The Academy is undoubtedly unique, and it was God's will that I attend for three years. I would've attended for a fourth if I could, but that requires accreditation, which we are assured is coming as quickly as possible (but I have reasons to doubt).

    Whether the fruits of successful students can be attributed to the Academy is another question. It's the whole correlation/causation question. Is it because of the environment/education/je-ne-sais-quoi of OLSWA that student x entered the priesthood, student y was more successful finishing up at Redeemer UC than Redeemer students, etc.? Or is there a certain type of person drawn to the Academy as it presents itself: person x who plans to enter the priesthood, person y who seeks to use his intellectual talents at an institution faithful to the Magisterium, etc.? In other words, more in line with what Colin seems to be wondering, is it OLSWA per se, in its particular incarnation in Barry's Bay that we should continue to support, or rather a solid Catholic higher education in general? (And is it necessary to support OLSWA simply because there is no other option in Canada? I think this, as others have mentioned, above, will come down to individual preference and/or conscience.)

    Probably my biggest criticism of the Academy as a former student is its insularity. And I'm not speaking here of location; as a city dweller myself, going to school in Barry's Bay was like being on an extended retreat. It's too beautiful to complain about the distance from major cities. I am speaking rather of a) an underlying attitude at the Academy that there is one best way to learn (particularly theology) and theirs is it; and b) their reliance on six degrees of separation.

    Regarding a) I will simply say that memorizing and regurgitating information (and not just on exams, but on essays too) is not the epitome of higher education, even if it is Catholic. Let's just say there's not much intellectual creativity going on at OLSWA. To me, that's a negative (and JPII does support intellectual creativity and academic freedom in Ex Corde Ecclesiae), but some may disagree.

    Regarding b) OLSWA enrols students from the same families year after year--not a bad thing in and of itself; all universities have legacies. However, I know there have been years when applicants had to be turned away. And although I have no knowledge of the selection process, I doubt anyone with a connection to the Academy--even to the 6th degree of separation--was turned away; I also suspect that some of the people turned away had more secular backgrounds (it's quite an in-depth application process--maybe one of them said he liked Teilhard de Chardin). Regardless, bringing students back from the same families when you're just starting isn't necessarily conducive to growth. And giving job openings to alumni may not be either.

    Furthermore, people at the Academy have opinions like anyone else, so a student who holds the majority view--e.g. Aquinas is the best! Non-Latin hymns should never be sung! Partying at Prof x's house is the coolest! etc.--is more likely to stick around for more than one year. Unfortunately, the Academy is not as catholic as it is Catholic. But keeping OLSWA small, holding on to the way it was when it started over a decade ago seems to be a perogative. Some people will like that idea; others, who wish the Academy could reach out to the broader Church and gain provincial recognition, won't.

    So re: Colin's question whether OLSWA has done enough to engage the culture rather than close in on itself (my words), I don't think so. Until it does, especially in its pedagogy, I would not recommend high school grads to go there, nor would I financially support it. But there is a niche for it and God-willing, it will continue to flourish. In the meantime, maybe some alternatives for people with different tastes will spring up.

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    1. Dear Anonymous:
      Your speculation in b is rather off. People are turned away for two reasons: (1) They do not look to be a good fit for the Academy or (2) We are full. Provided that the person is a good fit, it is first-come-first serve. I would say that the majority of the people who have been turned away because they were thought not to be a good fit have had close connections to the Academy. This school year we will have exactly one staff member and no faculty who are alumni--which is much more diverse than most schools. Believe it or not, we prefer diversity in non-essential things. In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity.

      And indeed, we are diverse in many ways. At most Ontario Universities, the overwhelming number of students are from the province, with most having been raised in easy driving distance of the school. Most have been through an education system culminating in an OSSD which is fairly uniform. Most are raised in an urban or suburban environment with 0-2 siblings, and most hold the same cultural values that the majority of society holds. The U of T student body, which is fairly diverse as far as Ontario Universities go, is about three-quarters from the GTA, and the remaining third is about equally split between the rest of Ontario, the rest of Canada, and abroad. Trent, which doesn’t break out local statistics, is nearly 95% Ontarians. This upcoming year, 55% of our incoming students come from Ontario (and they come from all over Ontario), and the remaining 45% are from all over North America (with an Aussie thrown in for good measure). Many are homeschooled—many are not. Many are from rural settings—many are not. Students are from diverse family sizes---yes the majority do have more than two siblings, but there is great variety.

      It is true that people who feel they fit in and stick around are more likely to stick around—but that of itself always tends to discourage diversity—the whole Ontario University system is a testifies to that. If, after the first year, a student thinks his time would be more profitably spent if most were used studying Kant rather than Aquinas, he would be less likely to stick around. If he thinks that the Catholic faith shouldn’t shape his life, there are other places that are more hospitable. Within Catholicism, we have diversity represented here, and the student body mix varies over time. I am highly surprised to hear that there ever was a year where the majority were of the opinion that non-Latin hymns should ever be sung. It would not surprise me if there were years where there were two or three people who held this opinion in a very vocal way and everyone else got tired of discussing the issue, but that does not make the position a majority position—and even if it were, diversity would mean that some years it is a majority position, and some years it is not. I think that in the upper-years, our student body remains very diverse, but people who tend to fit in closely with the broader culture in at least some ways do tend to become an even smaller minority. OLSWA is not a place for Babbitt (a book I would highly recommend).

      The short duration of the program necessarily limits academic creativity for the students because there is a need to get a solid grasp of the field before branching out, and the core program strives to give this grasp in a variety of fields. The students in my Koine Greek course are very creative—but they build not only the whole philosophical and theological foundations of the three-year program (which includes two semesters of scripture) but three previous semesters of Greek—getting to the point of being able to be creative at a high level takes a solid foundation, which takes time. While students in an introductory course can be creative, they do not have the same tools and trying too hard to be original saps attention from paying close attention to the various texts and learning the tradition.

      Stay close to Our Lady,

      Scott Nicholson

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    2. Thanks for keeping the conversation going, Scott. As the same Anonymous who had the audacity to say something negative about OLSWA, above, I would just like to remind anyone who cares that I was a full-time student for three years, who saw things from the ground-up rather than top-down. Although I have no invested interest in the Academy, I wish it well--a successful Academy can only be good for its graduates.

      I spent almost 24/7 of my time at OLSWA (since I lived in residence) with other students, so although I didn't have ready statistics, I was well aware of their diversity; however, I was also aware of the opinions they held in common, often influenced by the professors they were learning from. The stance of the professors sets a tone at OLSWA, especially in students' first year--maybe "majority view" was a poor way to describe it. The Acadmey does have a mould, however, as Scott indicates when he says that the selection committee looks for "a good fit for the Academy," and that OLSWA focuses on intellectual formation rather than creativity. Of course, there's nothing wrong with having a strong identity and strong opinions, or with emphasizing formation over creativity. I would prefer a liberal arts education that encouraged students to think for themselves, but that's just MY opinion. And I clearly managed to think for myself while I was there, so it's not like I'm accusing OLSWA of groupthink. Although "in essential things, unity" sounds like it could be problematic. I hope it's referring only to Church teaching in faith and morals.

      Although it's necessary to choose one mould or identity for survival, others are inevitably excluded. I happen to be someone who would fit better in a different mould. The Academy isn't for everyone. I'm not trying to be insulting, just realistic. OLSWA could technically make some alterations to the mould without losing its identity, so that different types of Catholics would "fit". But it may be content as is. The decision is obviously not even remotely up to me, but I think Colin was right to raise the issue. If the Academy is shrinking, is it better to evolve, to be in step with the culture and times--kind of like holding its own Vatican II? Or is it better to stay as it began? I would choose the former, obviously, but again, it's not my call. What I would ask is that the Academy at least be honest about its goals for the next few years. If it was really seeking accreditation as quickly as possible, it wouldn't choose the second option. But as Colin knows, decisions have been made that indicate OLSWA is not committed to evolving. Fine. But not everyone has to like it.

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  16. Colin et al.,

    Just a few comments that I'd like to share:

    1. Have we exhausted our donor base? I'm happy to report that we still continue to receive donations from new donors (as more hear about our mission and are convicted by what they see), and our 200+ alumni are just starting out and settling into jobs. The sacrificial offerings we currently receive from alumni is truly humbling and inspiring.

    2. Have we exhausted our student base? I am always hearing from new families who are excited by what is happening in Barry's Bay and look forward to having their children attend. And last year, more than half of the incoming students were from new families.

    3. It is inaccurate to say that "OLSWA has always drawn heavily from locals." Last year, out of 90 students, only 7 were from within an hour of Barry's Bay. The rest come from across Canada and the US.

    Also, for what it's worth, I've only had students comment on how they appreciate what they received because of OLSWA's location and relative material poverty (we are very rich in other ways!), and I have never heard one student say they wished OLSWA was in a big city.

    To say that OLSWA offers something good, unique, needed, and deeply appreciated by so many, is not to say that it's the only way. But I do think it is a very good way!

    Maria R.

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  17. Righteous engagement, you past two commentators - Maria and Anonymous!

    The only thing I'd challenge is Maria's definition of 'local.' I did not mean just BB local, but the vicinity. But why split hairs? I think at least half of the students comes from Ottawa to, say, London. I think Anonymous is more to the point when he talks about insularity and six degrees of separation. I would offer that OLSWA still has not moved beyond word of mouth. Maybe it's impossible that it would, since I get the feeling that I know every strong Catholic in the Country!

    But really the only relevant point here is its mentality 'universal' or 'insular.' Anonymous levels some pretty strong criticisms here. Of course, all Catholics everywhere are infected by their 'hobby horse' mentality of the Faith, which inhibits them from scarcely even imagining how much greater the Church is than the individual's pet concerns - Thomism, Latin mass, C & L, TOB, Divine Mercy devotions, what have you.

    Of course, I hope Maria's optimism will be vindicated next year with an upswing of applicants.

    I'll have to give Anonymous' statements some more thought. Thanks!

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  18. I don't think there's any disputing that OLSWA lacks resources, and this was my original point. It's a money thing - and so should it be helped to develop, or not?

    Is it, perhaps, not set-up to succeed, being remotely situated, etc? U of T is the largest university in Canada for no other reason than that it is in the largest city in Canada. McGill, in Montreal, UBC, in Vancouver. It's not rocket science. Is Barry's Bay just too remote to have an economically viable college?

    I think it would be silly to contend that OLSWA provides a true representation of Catholicism. Does it provide a sufficient one? That's something that could be debated. Intellectually speaking, does it provide a good undergraduate experience? Clearly not: it doesn't provide BAs. Can it? Again, in my opinion, that's a factor of money. Can enough money be siphoned to it by means of students and donations? Only time will tell.

    Yet I think 'Anonymous' raises an additional question re. freedom of inquiry, at least that's what I'm reading into it. Universities should be places of controversy. But then there is controversy for sake of controversy. Periodically I was bothered by certain elements attempting to pre-empt debate. It's fine when students do this, because, frankly, they don't often know any better. Sometimes they come thinking they know everything already. That's standard fare for students. Admittedly, I was like that as a student - I'm still a little bit like that! But what bothered me was, not that, but the seeming credence such students were given by the faculty. All universities have their backdoor shenanigans, you just expect better from a Catholic school. I found Cassidy gave his teachers a lot of room. I appreciated that. Yet, without him, it could have been dreary. The excellence of all institutions usually hang on the quality of leadership of just one or a very few individuals. In this, the Academy was/is well served by Dr. Cassidy. Yet, it could very easily go the other way, I fear. I'm not convinced that Catholic schools are immune to anti-intellectual forces - some people - some good Catholic intellectuals I know - would find my statement risibly understated, let's be honest here. Some people would say it's Catholicism itself that is the problem. I will never agree with that. Yet I will agree, and this is the net result of my 20 years as a Catholic, most of them spent in academia, sociologically speaking, most Catholics are not committed to JP II's vision of Fides et Ratio, do not understand and live out the Church's teaching on faith and reason. It's the professors' job to acquaint them with this. I always tried to.

    Backdoor shenanigans are part and parcel of university life, you just hope for more from a Catholic college. But, it's made up of human beings, as that's just their way.

    Universality is expensive. OLSWA cannot now afford it. A faithful commitment to Fides et Ratio is not expensive, but is there something in the School - whether de facto or de jure - that inhibits this? I think from time to time the dark forces of Inquisition have arisen. When you have such a small faculty any small thing can create big ripples. That is another reason why you would want to have a larger faculty - need to have a larger faculty: the many sides of our Tradition need to weigh in on any given issue so that the perspectives of a single aspect of it don't cut off debate too quickly.

    I find some of - many of? - all of? - Anonymous' concerns refreshing, and, in a way, kind of self-defeating. What do I mean? After all, is he not living proof that OLSWA creates people who can think, which absence from OLSWA he himself derides? Or is this a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc? - as he seems to suggest. lol.

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    1. Well, you taught me while I was there, Colin ;) but I don't think I was a complete dunce going in, either.

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  19. I simply wished to add that OLSWA is not just for our children, the future students and current ones... It is for our entire culture, north america and beyond. It is a vital idea factory where solutions are planted in the minds and hearts of the future. Seed germination cannot be accomplished in the field of battle. We need to promote this small heart on fire blow on it where it fell on fertile soil. The faith of Barry's Bay and Madonna House is still this fertile soil. Keep pushing everyone, it needs to be 100 times larger.

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  20. Just chiming in to say that my son has just visited the school at their Open House. We live in the United States and learned of the school from The Newman Guide. I think it will grow.

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