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For the People

For the People: A History of St Francis Xavier University

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 576
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  • Book Info
    For the People
    Book Description:

    Basing his research on documentary and oral sources, Cameron describes the early nineteenth-century migration of the Highland Catholic Scots, the settlement and development of their communities, and the founding of St.F.X. as a means of religious, economic, and social advancement in eastern Nova Scotia.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6585-2
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgment
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    David J. Lawless

    The history of St Francis Xavier University is a story of remarkable achievement. Despite its humble origins in a remote village in northeastern Nova Scotia, this university has gained a national and international reputation.

    From its earliest days three things have distinguished St Francis Xavier University: concern for social justice, the development of strong ties with its students and alumni, and the role its graduates continue to play in public life.

    Concern for social justice takes many forms and is most apparent in the philosophy of the Antigonish Movement, brought to fruition in the university’s Extension Department and the Coady...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xvii-2)
  7. Introduction: Of Scotland and Rome
    (pp. 3-8)

    St Francis Xavier University (St.F.X.) is located in the town of Antigonish, eastern Nova Scotia, Canada. Yet its history, especially the first fifty years, is best understood against the backdrop of the Scottish Highlands and Rome, for the founding fathers of the institution were descendants of Highland Roman Catholics; their aims, aspirations, and achievements in higher education in Nova Scotia can only be understood in the context of their earlier cultural experience.

    The Scottish Catholics who clambered onto the rugged shores of eastern Nova Scotia during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries hailed from the highlands and islands of...


    • 1 Predecessors and Beginnings
      (pp. 11-25)

      Tuesday, 18 September 1855 marked the official opening of St Francis Xavier College/Seminary¹ in the village of Antigonish, its permanent home. Yet the college/seminary had actually operated for the preceding two years in the southeastern Cape Breton village of Arichat. Even before that, several Scotch and Irish clerics had tried to set up advanced schools in the region. Unfortunately, these pioneering educational efforts proved either futile or short-lived. The college in Antigonish was the latest attempt by the Highland descendants to supply their own needs for higher education. It symbolized their cultural growth, and, along with other sectarian colleges, reinforced...

    • 2 Institutional Foundations, 1855–64
      (pp. 26-43)

      The College¹ of St Francis Xavier formally opened in Antigonish, on 18 September 1855. Rather incongruously, the German priest, Dr John Schulte, rose to address the audience of hopeful students and Antigonish respectables; they had assembled at the corner of College and Main streets in the freshly constructed two-storey college and public school building. The native-born priest, Dr John Cameron, was there too, adding to the scholarly grace and priestly tone of the occasion. Cameron was now rector of the seminary perched up on St Ninian’s Street in the newly renovated bishop’s residence. Except for the absence of Bishop MacKinnon,...

    • 3 Advancement and Regression, 1865–77
      (pp. 44-60)

      In September 1865, the start of St.F.X.’s second decade in Antigonish, about fifty students were registered at the college and seminary levels. By December there were twenty seminarians, of whom five were far advanced in their theological studies.¹ These aspiring scholars found colourful personalities within the college walls.² Three of these characters would constitute its greatest strengths and weaknesses; eventually each would help to place in question the very survival of the institution. A public discussion of a central university and the establishment of the University of Halifax would also add to the uncertainty.

      First. there was Rev. Dr Daniel...


    • 4 Institutional Renaissance, 1877–90
      (pp. 63-83)

      When Colin MacKinnon resigned as bishop of the diocese in the summer of 1877, St.F.X teetered on the brink. In the words of a later rector, “the college had reached a very low ebb [and] was becoming moribund.” Fortunately, the enfeebled bishop’s successor, Dr John Cameron, first rector of the college in Antigonish (1855–58), shared with MacKinnon a deep commitment to education. Therefore, he immediately began work to restore St.F.X.’s earlier vigour and reputation. In a few short years early signs of promise appeared; by the end of the 1880s the new bishop and his successive rectors had orchestrated...

    • 5 Political Controversy and Expansion, 1891–97
      (pp. 84-108)

      Bishop Cameron’s politics were Conservative. His unswerving loyalty to the party acted as a two-edged sword, in some ways benefiting his college and diocese, in other ways harming them. For St.F.X., the disadvantages of the bishop’s partisanship for the federal Conservative party appeared unmistakable during the 1890s. A swirl of politically inspired media controversy enveloped the college in 1891 and again in 1897; both times the hue and cry about the bishop’s political cunning had damaging consequences for the college. Nonetheless, the school continued to build on the growth Cameron and his rectors had initiated during its “second spring” in...


    • 6 New Departures, 1898–1906
      (pp. 111-131)

      Bishop Cameron appointed Vice-Rector Alexander M. Thompson to replace the ailing Rector Chisholm. The new rector would remain at the head of St.F.X. for nearly nine years. He would choose, for compelling reasons, to set a decidedly new course for the college, a course some would laud and others would attack. The college, during Thompson’s rectorship, suffered severe growing pains. At times, the cross-fire was deadly as combatants debated how St.F.X. should develop as the new century dawned. Nonetheless, Thompson and his supporters instituted and defended significant new departures, even though some people, both at the college and in its...

    • 7 Soaring Ambitions, 1906–14
      (pp. 132-154)

      Wilfrid Laurier, Liberal prime minister of Canada 1896–1911, predicted that the twentieth century would be Canada’s century. That optimism seemed to infuse St.F.X. through the century’s opening decade and beyond, even surviving the ordeal of war. After Thompson’s rocky rectorship, the controversies evoked by his new departures subsided. And in 1906, St.F.X. acquired a new president¹ who helped to inaugurate a long era of relative stability and incremental change.² He would be assisted by a dynamic vice-president, ambitious for the college and ardent for progress and advance. Indeed, to a considerable extent, the new vice-president inspired the college’s optimistic...

    • 8 War and Resurgence, 1914–21
      (pp. 155-176)

      Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in August 1914 immediately committed Canada to the cause. Eventually she would send over six hundred thousand young men to the killing fields in Europe; more than sixty thousand would never return. On the home front, war created unprecedented ethnic tensions among Canadians. It also had immense consequences for the universities. At St.FX., as elsewhere, the campus became militarized in appearance and mentality, enlistments thinned the ranks of students and faculty, financial resources dwindled, and authorities sponsored a hospital unit to assist the protracted war effort overseas. In spite of the distraction and apprehension...


    • 9 The Challenge of University Federation, 1922–23
      (pp. 179-195)

      In 1922 St.F.X. was nearly seventy years old. By then, the small liberal arts college of about 245 students and faculty had become a venerable institutional fixture of the Diocese of Antigonish. The 92,800 Catholics of eastern Nova Scotia,¹ many of Highland Scottish descent, were grateful that it had protected the faith of their youth and had granted them a standing in the public, professional, and commercial affairs of the country. Any plan for educational reform which threatened fundamental alteration of their college was bound to pierce to the quick of Catholic loyalties and arouse passionate controversy. Such a scheme...

    • 10 Between War and Depression: the 1920s
      (pp. 196-211)

      By the spring of 1923, the university federation proposal was a dead issue for St.F.X., rendered so with finality by the Vatican’s veto. The chancellor and college authorities, no doubt, felt relief that the unsettling question had been closed and the future of St.F.X. ensured. The years ahead, until close to the end of the decade, would be quite placid for their institution. Its staff would remain relatively stable and only a few significant curricular changes would be made — one would be the termination of high school work. Student enrolments would change little, although life on campus continued ever active...

    • 11 A New Agenda: The Beginnings of Extension Work
      (pp. 212-236)

      The St.F.X. board of governors appointed Dr Moses Coady in 1928 to establish a department of extension. It was a watershed development for Coady and the small Catholic college of eastern Nova Scotia which would eventually catapult them both to fame.¹

      By then the St.F.X. faculty knew something of the concept of university extension. From 1900, college authorities had expanded the curriculum and had made temporary experimental forays into extension work. After 1899, Rector Thompson had moved beyond the classical into the professional, technical, and commercial areas by forming departments of applied science, law, and commerce. Before his “exile” to...


    • 12 Stymied Plans, 1936–44
      (pp. 239-264)

      In the fall of 1936, when St.F.X. students returned to Antigonish, they found the Old Rector – a thirty-year stalwart of the St.F.X. community – in retirement. Ill health had finally forced his resignation at age sixtynine and had brought to a close the longest presidential tenure in St.F.X. history. His close friend Bishop Morrison honoured him with the title “President-Rector Emeritus” and invited him to remain in residence at the college.¹ News of the Old Rector’s retirement brought an avalanche of affectionate tribute from the humble and prominent for his many years of service. One friend astutely wrote, “You had become...

    • 13 The Strain of Post-War Expansion, 1944–50
      (pp. 265-284)

      The conclusion of war in 1945 inaugurated a decade and more of rapid, stressful change for St.F.X. Climbing enrolments forced an expensive building program and required additional faculty; an influx of veterans brought a new seriousness of tone and challenged the disciplinary regulations; shifts in student interests brought curricular diversification; a new emphasis on research began to appear; and a change in diocesan administration infused the institution with fresh vigour and spawned a new educational experiment. Throughout, a new president, Rev. Dr Patrick J. Nicholson, stood resolutely at the helm, assisted in financial matters by his competent bursar, Dr Somers....

    • 14 Bishop and University, 1950–54
      (pp. 285-304)

      Bishop Morrison died on 13 April 1950; he was eighty-eight years old. Thus ended a dignified and staid thirty-eight-year episcopate. His diocesan college had undergone crucial change during his ecclesiastical reign. Throughout, the bishop-chancellor had been a faithful defender and advocate of the college. Perhaps his earlier experience as rector of St Dunstan’s College, Charlottetown (1892–95) had made him sympathetic to the special needs of such institutions; of course, as bishop a healthy college favoured him with a steady supply of clerical candidates. Morrison had saved his college from the university federationists in 1922–23. Financially, he had done...


    • 15 A Broadening Mandate, 1954–64
      (pp. 307-331)

      The seeds of change sown at St.F.X. after the Second World War grew with astonishing rapidity during the 1950s and would eventually lead to a striking institutional metamorphosis. During this decade diverse pressures forced St.F.X. to broaden its mandate. For most of its history, St.F.X. had served the Catholic constituency of eastern Nova Scotia as a small, residential, diocesan, undergraduate, liberal arts college. Now it was growing into a bigger, more professional university with a wider sense of responsibility for meeting the demands of a broader public interest. This stretching of its institutional mandate was caused by the combined pressures...

    • 16 Campus Extensions, 1954–70
      (pp. 332-359)

      “For the people” had been an important emphasis in the work of St.F.X. from its beginning. The extension department and Xavier Junior College best symbolized this Xaverian sense of responsibility for serving the whole constituency of eastern Nova Scotia. By 1960 there would be another offspring added to the existing Xaverian family of institutions. Through the 1950s and 1960s the development of these incarnations of St.F.X. would be fascinating in themselves; moreover the interplay between them would prove intriguing. The extension department would experience a rather prolonged sense of anticlimax in its adult education mission; the junior college would rapidly...

    • 17 Institutional Metamorphosis, 1964–70
      (pp. 360-382)

      Webster’s dictionary defines metamorphosis as “a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances.” The definition accurately describes the transition St.F.X. underwent between 1945 and 1970. Its president from 1964 to 1970, Dr Malcolm MacLellan, oversaw the initiation and culmination of changes which had great consequence for the institution’s future. The key phases of university life were substantially modified. These changes altered the university’s identity and radically transformed the St. F.X. undergraduate experience. The local transitions occurred against an eventful national backdrop which witnessed Canada’s centennial celebrations, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, a royal commission on bilingualism and biculturalism, and the...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 383-386)

    By 1970 St.F.X. had travelled nearly twenty years into its second century. If the first rectors and students had revisited their institution that year, it would have appeared to them a place alien except in name. Succeeding generations of eastern Nova Scotia Catholics had altered and adjusted the original project until they had fashioned something quite new. After almost 120 years, only a faint whisper of the old St.F.X. remained. What Bishop Colin MacKinnon had begun in 1853 as a small, intimate, classically oriented, liberal arts, Catholic, diocesan seminary/college had become a much more elaborate, professional, residential, semi-public university. Its...

  15. APPENDIX ONE: St.FX. University Hallmarks
    (pp. 387-391)
  16. APPENDIX TWO: Enrolments, Finances, and Population Statistics
    (pp. 392-399)
  17. APPENDIX THREE: Contributors to the History of St.F.X. Project
    (pp. 400-401)
  18. Abbreviations
    (pp. 402-404)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 405-542)
  20. Index
    (pp. 543-551)