One man’s war to save from ruin a once-great Christian institution

David Mulroney would not abandon his beloved St. Mike’s to the ‘party animals’

If history should come to recognize the 21st Century as the era which saw the decline and fall of western civilization– something pessimists like me regard as a distinct possibility– it’s good to see that there are some gutsy individuals who risk their all to prevent such a calamity. One of them made his appearance in the Culture War last week.

His name is David Mulroney. He’s a Canadian, a distinguished diplomat, former ambassador to China. author of a definitive book on Canada-China relations, and a member of Corpus Christi Catholic parish in Toronto. That last connection, he appears to take very seriously; he is what might be called a traditionalist Christian. Nations, societies, cultures, civilizations, all these endlessly change, come and go, here today and gone tomorrow. But God is changeless. To a Catholic, therefore, as to any practicing Christian, his church greatly matters.

And Mr. Mulroney has a lifelong connection with it. He’s a “cradle Catholic,” attended St. Michael’s College School for Boys in Toronto, and St. Michael’s College itself, one of the affiliated colleges which together compose the University of Toronto. In those days, it was hard to become more Catholic than “St. Mike’s.” It had been founded in 1852 and is still run by the erudite Basilian Order of priests, assisted by the tireless Sisters of St. Joseph, both orders obligated to set before the students models for Christian devotion.

Mr. Mulroney spent 30 years in the diplomatic service, holding offices up to the cabinet advisory level. His mother, his aunt, his uncle, his sister, and his daughter had all attended St. Michael’s. It was unsurprising therefore that upon retirement from the diplomatic service, he was named president and vice-chancellor — unsurprising, but also unusual. The post was usually filled by an academic. Mr. Mulroney wasn’t one.

Whether he knew before accepting the position, or was horrified to discover it after, he soon saw that the St. Michael’s for which he was now responsible vastly differed from the St. Michael’s he had himself attended some 40 years earlier. The cultural change which had so transformed the whole society had swept deeply into St. Michael’s.

Deeply, and so far as he could perceive, unresisted. Forms of sexual conduct that would have been in his day rare and well closeted, were now not only accepted, but loudly extolled, even paraded. Where sexual liaisons outside marriage had been known, they were not accorded public approval. But now they were being accepted as an undeniable right and even expectation. Worse still, student social gatherings at St. Mike’s had often become loud and brawling drunks, at which skirts had become so tight and short that they left almost nothing at all for the imagination. St. Mike’s had certainly moved a long way from the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Despite all this, President Mulroney had big plans for St. Michael’s and has been pursuing them. They included bringing in new staff, and investing in student life. Behind his changes, however, lies a controversy that he inherited when he took office. It was described in the Toronto Star by long-time columnist Michael Valpy, who taught at St. Mike’s after his retirement. Valpy writes:

“Mulroney said in an interview that he came to the job in 2015 for a three-year term with a clear understanding that he would be a change-agent. What he found, he said, was a college — the largest of the university’s federated colleges — whose academic and intellectual achievements had slipped behind those of others such as Trinity and Victoria, whose identity as a Catholic institution had become foggy, whose students tended to refer to St. Mike’s as the university’s “party college” and whose student council had been engaged in financial mismanagement that Mulroney called corrupt.

“In addition, the conflict has brought to light allegations of discriminatory treatment toward LGBTQ and Muslim students under Mulroney’s leadership. There are also reports of a struggle for control of the college between Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Catholic archbishop of Toronto, and the Basilians.”

“According to several sources, Collins has asked three times that the Basilians turn St. Mike’s over to him. The dispute was taken to Rome for resolution several months ago where the cardinal’s request was rejected and a Basilian was appointed auxiliary bishop of Toronto, in effect Collins’s second-in-command. The cardinal’s attempt to take over the college has been interpreted by a number of faculty as the heart of the St. Mike’s dispute — with many seeing Collins’s vision as more traditionalist and more interventionist than anything that St. Mike’s has experienced over the past 100 years.

“Added to what one professor has called ‘ecclesiastical turmoil’ at St. Mike’s, Angelo Minardi, fired several months ago as the college’s lay chaplain, has lodged a human rights complaint against the college that alleges Mulroney ordered him to take down a “Golden Rule” poster that declared that the world’s major faiths adhere to the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated. In the complaint, Minardi claims that Mulroney told him Catholics are not equal to other faiths and the poster would mislead Catholic students.”

If Valpy is right, then the following thesis becomes probable: The traditionalist Mulroney, supported by the traditionalist Cardinal Collins (formerly archbishop of Edmonton), is reshaping the faculty to strengthen the traditionalism at St. Michael’s, something against which the non-traditionalist staff vigorously objects.

This would explain the bombshell that burst late last week. More than 20 St. Michael’s staff, including professors, the current registrar, librarians, past deans and a former principal signed an open letter denouncing Mr. Mulroney for a speech he made last month at a Catholic public relations conference in Quebec. Instead of using the speech to emphasize the genuinely magnificent accomplishments of St. Michael’s students, said the letter, he deliberately “shamed” them and portrayed the college as the habitat of “party animals” who scorned Muslims, women and sexual minorities. The letter concluded that the staff had “lost confidence” in his leadership.

With the media running wild on the letter, his critics sat back and waited for his inevitable explanation and apology. They were not forthcoming. He apologized to Musl6ims for the ostensible abuse — a girl was taped singing “My Muslim Boyfriend,” parody on the hit song, “My American Boyfriend”– and for incidental sneering by St. Michael’s students at gays, lesbians, trans-sexuals and other “minorities.”. For what he had said himself, he offered no concession whatever. Meanwhile, a video produced by the Student Union and entitled “Cowboys and Schoolgirls,” was made public, depicting the party animals of St. Michael’s precisely as he had described them. Asked to comment on his staff’s open letter he confessed himself “disappointed, but not surprised.”

What happens next is not yet clear. President Mulroney has served two of his three years, and has already said he doesn’t want or expect to be reappointed. But the open letter has left the Christian convictions of the St. Michael’s faculty open to serious question. Which, one hopes, will have some of tyhe long term consequences Mr. Mulroney envisions.

Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century. a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has recently authored two little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters and The Revolution Nobody Covered. You can order both copies here.

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