“The [Spiritual] leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.”
(– Henri Nouwen)
These remarks on spiritual leadership were penned by Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic theologian and priest. After having accomplished a much celebrated career at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, Nouwen left the academy to spend the last decade of his life in the community of L’Arche Daybreak, just north of Toronto. It was at Daybreak—in this most acute of ministry contexts—that Nouwen uncovered the heart of what makes an effective care-giver. What mattered at L’Arche were not his professional accomplishments, but rather the depth of his character; not the sophistication of his theology, but rather the quality of his person; not his towering intellect, but his openness simply to be and to embrace the other. Certainly Nouwen possessed all of these things in spades, and they undoubtedly contributed to his own formation as a care-giver. But in the end, Nouwen found that, in the context of care-giving ministries, one’s “own vulnerable self” is the most vital of offerings.
Nouwen’s comments on spiritual leadership revolve around two key points, both of which resonate deeply with St. Stephen’s College. The first is a strong emphasis on community, and the educational potential that comes when individuals give themselves to each other. The second is an acute focus on formation and the development of spiritual care-givers who embrace the whole human being (physical, mental, and spiritual).
As Principal and Dean of St. Stephen’s College, I find myself reflecting again on Nouwen’s words, both as an expression of the College’s current identity, and as an articulation of the College’s ongoing mission. As a multifaith community of learners, St. Stephen’s College provides open educational spaces in which people of various faith commitments learn and grow through mutually giving themselves to each other. As a theological college affiliated with a research university, St. Stephen’s seeks to shape ministry and therapeutic practitioners by fostering personal transformation in the midst of academic excellence and professional training. To these ends, the students and faculty of St. Stephen’s embrace educational pursuits that engage the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.
Nestled on the main campus of the University of Alberta, St. Stephen’s College offers graduate degrees in Theology, Psychotherapy, and Art Therapy. The College is an Associate Member of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS), and an Approved Training Program of the Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA). As an affiliated college with the University of Alberta, St. Stephen’s offers credit undergraduate and graduate courses for University of Alberta students.
Frederick S. Tappenden, PhD
Principal and Dean, St. Stephen’s College