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Redeemer Pacific College: new life for Catholic higher education in Canada.

Canadian Catholics are used to reading about the courageous attempts "south of the border" to renew Catholic higher education. Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, Christendom College in Virginia, and Ave Maria University in Florida head the list of well-known American institutions seeking to be fully faithful to the Church's Magisterium and maintain academic excellence, while providing students with formation in authentic Catholic faith and morals

Redeemer Pacific

Less well-known is the fact that Canadian Catholics are beginning to accomplish the same goals. Since 1999, just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, and with the support and encouragement of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Redeemer Pacific College, an independent Catholic institution, has joined forces with Trinity Western University to create a full program of Catholic Theology and Philosophy, as well as courses of study in English, History, and Art History--taught from an authentically Catholic perspective.

One of the strongest supporters of the Redeemer Pacific College (RPC) initiative is Canadian Senator Gerry St. Germain. A Catholic and prominent 'family values' Conservative, Senator St. Germain was the keynote speaker at RPC's first annual fundraising dinner. Addressing the topic "The Crisis of Moral Leadership," Sen. St. Germain decried the lack of moral leadership in Canadian society today. But he sees Redeemer Pacific College, with its stated mission of developing "dynamic Catholic leaders," as part of the solution: "Redeemer Pacific College is renewing the lost art of moral education and the lost art of virtue," he said. "[RPC] fosters an environment where Catholic values are fostered in everyday life.

Similar accolades for RPC come from noted Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft, who visited the College in January of 2006. Summing up his impressions of the College, Kreeft stated: "Yours is a unique and wonderful institution." Among the things that make RPC unique is its vision of developing "dynamic Catholic leaders" who can have a major impact on our secular world.

College founder and President Tom Hamel explains that this vision arises in part from the special nurturing that RPC has received from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Two FUS theologians, Dr. Stephen Militec and Dr. Andrew Minto, are members of the College's Board of Governors, and the famous Catholic author and speaker Scott Hahn is a College advisor. Paraphrasing the College's "Core Purpose" statement, Hamel says: "We want to be used by God to enable students to know and love Jesus Christ personally; to know and love His Church and its Apostolic Tradition, and to know and love the Bible as the Word of God. Catholics who receive this formation come away from their university years with a burning passion to bear witness to the world about these great gifts from the Father."

Hamel notes, sadly, that such a result is a far cry from what happens to many Catholic students at college and university in North America. He states emphatically: "Catholic students all too often lose their faith when they go off to university. Here at RPC, they find their faith--sometimes for the first time in their lives. They 'catch fire,' and begin to seek for ways to bring the world closer to Christ."

Redeemer Pacific grad Paul Gianoli (class of 2005) is a good case in point. Paul spent his first year following gradutation as President of the National Campus Life Network, an inter-denominational pro-life group for university students. Another RPC student from the same class, Joe Bjornstrom, is now following a vocation to the priesthood.

Trinity Western University

Perhaps the most surprising of the "unique" features of RPC is its relationship with Trinity Western, the largest Protestant Evangelical University in Canada. The college is located just outside the front gates of TWU. Hamel himself is a graduate of TWU, and he notes: "Although not a Catholic institution, God is an integral part of the TWU experience. TWU provides a welcoming environment to all Christians, where Catholics and Evangelicals can share with each other their faith-perspectives, remaining true to their own traditions while discovering common ground--and even, on some issues, a common cause."

Hamel claims that, in general, Catholics and Evangelicals have been forced to drop some of their prejudices about each other in recent years, given the way all Christians have been under assault in Canada by the rapid advance of secularization and "political correctness." He cites the fact that Catholics and Evangelicals today stand shoulder to shoulder on pro-life and pro-family social issues, and work together for the protection of freedom of religion.

"The same dynamic is at work between Catholics and Evangelicals at RPC and TWU;" says Hamel. "We do not wash over our differences, but we have learned the truth of what Blessed Pope John XXIII once said: 'There is more that unites us than divides us.'"

Students at RPC take courses at both RPC and TWU, ultimately receiving a TWU undergraduate degree. This enables Catholic students to have access to the full range of Trinity Western's university programs. (TWU presently has approximately 3,000 students and 39 academic majors.) The courses they take at RPC automatically count toward their TWU degree, and RPC has an array of course offerings, especially in Theology and Philosophy, all taught from a Catholic perspective. Senior theologian at RPC Dr. Robert Stackpole, explains: "At RPC, students can take courses in everything from Sacred Art to the Metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas, from Catholic Spirituality to the Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II. In fact, it is the dynamic orthodoxy of Pope John Paul the Great that really inspires us here."

Catholic students can also gain credits toward a Catholic Liberal Arts Certificate and a Catholic Theological Studies Certificate. "In effect," Dr. Stackpole says, "you can do a minor in Catholic Studies, or in Catholic Theology, even while pursuing a major in any university subject." The College also has an ever-increasing number of student scholarships available. Hamel exclaims: "The generosity of Catholics in our area to RPC has been amazing, and continues to grow. We have about 60 students at RPC now, most of them assisted both by RPC and TWU scholarship programs."

Faith and reason

Dr. Stackpole insists that students do not have to sacrifice academic excellence in order to get a faith-based university education. "Quite the contrary," he exclaims. "TWU is a highly respected educational institution. In addition to a full array of liberal arts subjects, TWU includes programs in nursing, education, and a top-notch School of Business. TWU also runs the acclaimed 'Laurentian Leadership Centre' in Ottawa, where student interns gain valuable experience on Parliament Hill."

"It is a myth that a faith-based higher education is necessarily second-rate academically," Stackpole says. "In fact, 80 percent of our professors have doctorates in their field, and several are published authors. But we believe that academic excellence alone is not enough: excellence plus energizing faith in Jesus Christ is what we shoot for." In fact, the spiritual formation program at Redeemer Pacific is also one of its special features.

Assisted by the local clergy, the College has Mass on campus three times per week during the semester, and Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction on every First Friday of the month. The students can also take monthly day-retreats at the Benedictine Abbey in Mission, B.C., less than an hour's drive away. Meanwhile, weekly student "Discipleship" groups meet together for fun and fellowship, and to read the Scriptures and pray together. "The result is a close and mutually supportive Catholic community," Hamel says, "where nobody is just a student I.D. number, and everybody 'matters.'"

Faithful Catholics in Canada, therefore, have reason for hope. Reports of the death of 'orthodox' Catholic higher education in Canada have been premature. Redeemer Pacific College is a sign of new life from the West.

For more information about Redeemer Pacific College, please see the College website at, or call 604-888-7727 (toll Free at 1-877-477-7212), or send an e-mail to Visitors and inquirers are always welcome.

C. S. Morrissey, Ph.D. teaches Latin and Philosophy at Redeemer Pacific College, where he also organizes the Thomas Aquinas Study Circle (which is available at for virtual participation).
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Author:Morrisey, Christopher S.
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:May 1, 2007
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