On November 8 at St. Basil’s Church, Dr. Ellen Leonard CSJ received the degree of Doctor of Sacred Letters, honoris causa. She was given a standing ovation at the Convocation ceremony for the Faculty of Theology and the Continuing Education Division of the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC). Professor Anne Anderson CSJ, President and Vice-Chancellor of USMC, described the purpose of this honorary degree in a letter as a way to recognize Sr. Ellen’s “many years and invaluable presence and participation both on campus at St. Michael’s and the Faculty of Theology and to the most generous donation of her time to the greater Toronto community.”
“St. Michael’s honours me by asking me,” said Sr. Ellen. “And this encourages other women to study theology.” Her path brought her to the Faculty of Theology of St. Michael’s College in 1977. Sr. Ellen was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 1979, one of the first awarded to women theologians in Canada. She described St. Michael’s as a “welcoming place, an exciting place to come to do theology.”
For 22 years, at USMC and Toronto School of Theology, Sr. Ellen grounded students in theology in the areas of Christology and sacraments, helping them integrate the perspectives of ecumenism, feminism and ecology. In her work with students she had a great impact. One of them, Dr. Moira McQueen, also on the Faculty of Theology as well being recently appointed by Pope Francis to the International Theological Commission, had this to say about Sr. Ellen:
“I first met Sr. Ellen when I was enrolled as an MDiv student in her Christology class. She made an already interesting topic even more fascinating, and she was an open and encouraging teacher as well as being warm, good humoured, patient and knowledgeable – all that it takes to be an excellent professor. Sr. Ellen later steered me through the PhD process as Chair of my committee, and I am indebted to her for giving of her time and encouragement yet again.
“Sr. Ellen has made such a wonderful contribution to the Faculty of Theology in many ways: academically through her teaching and research, and personally through her caring commitment to the development of her students.”
Sr. Ellen is an accomplished writer, having written three books, George Tyrrell and the Catholic Tradition, Unresting Transformation: the Theology and Spirituality of Maude Petre,
and Creative Tension: the Spiritual Legacy of Friedrich von Hugel.
She contributed numerous articles on theology and spirituality to many publications and journals.
Between 1975 and 1989, she served on the Roman Catholic United Church-United Church National Dialogue, an appointment of the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops. She also served on the Churches Council for Theological Education. She was a founding member of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality.
In 2004, she received the Ann O’Hara Graff Award given by the Women’s Seminar in Constructive Theology of the Catholic Theological Society of America. She was recognized by the YWCA in 2005 as a woman of Distinction for her work in religion and education, “a life devoted to women’s equality.” In 2013, she celebrated 60 years as a Sister of St. Joseph.
During the conferring of the honorary degrees, Dr. Dennis O’Hara, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Theology of the University of St. Michael’s College, presented the following citation
and requested the Chancellor to confer the degree of Doctor of Sacred Letters.