Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ewart College

Ewart College
Ernescliff College, the former
Ewart College

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Opened: October 11, 1897

Closed: September 1991, when it merged with Knox College, University of Toronto

The standard description of Ewart College provides the barest outline of the College's history:

Ewart College was a historical women's college located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Canada. In September 1991, it merged with Knox College, University of Toronto.

Founded on October 11, 1897, it was then called the Ewart Missionary Training Home, later to be renamed the Presbyterian Missionary and Deaconess Training School. After a new building was constructed in 1960, it was renamed for Catherine Seaton Ewart; that building, located at 156 St. George Street, is now home to Ernescliff College.

Founded by women, the original purpose of Ewart was to prepare women for missionary service. In later years, it focused on diaconal ministry and Christian and lay education. Following the Presbyterian Church in Canada's decision to ordain women as Ministers in 1966, the college admitted male students in the 1970s, and in 1991, along with the merger with Knox College, many Ewart graduates have taken further studies to become ordained within the Presbyterian Church.

Ewart Chapel, housed within the Chapel at Knox College, is named after Ewart College, along with the McKay Educational Resource Room. The Ewart Centre for Lay Education at Knox College, an adult education program, is also named after the institution. It offers a certificate program in Christian Faith and Life.

Pam McCarroll-Butler tells us more about what Ewart College meant for women. According to McCarroll-Butler, women founded the school after "recognizing the Spirit's call to action." They challenged the Church's male monopoly on the "Ministry of Word and Sacrament" by providing women with training in Christian education and other specialized professions such as therapy, social work, and chaplaincy. Until women were finally allowed to be ordained in 1966, Ewart College provided a nurturing place where women could carve out their own niche of influence and power within the church:

The facts remain, however, that Ewart, in its final decades, was in the forefront of Christian education ecumenically, continued to be a safe place for women and was the central institution in the PCC [Presbyterian Church in Canada] wherein reflection on women's ministries occurred.

The extent to which the PCC devalues and patronizes the diaconal ministry, particularly the ministry of Christian education (the most central element to deep and meaningful faith) amazes me. I surmise that the voicelessness within the church courts imposed upon the diaconal order until 1991 was primarily a gender issue. Because the majority of diaconal ministers were women, the church tolerated their silence. This was, at best, a sin of omission for which, I believe, the church must seek forgiveness.

As McCarroll-Butler concludes,

In 1991, when the General Assembly voted to amalgamate Ewart and Knox colleges, the adopted motion read: "That the amalgamated college be known as Knox College." Ewart's gift passed unacknowledged, the name erased. The forgetting of the story had begun.

The story of Ewart needs to be named, celebrated and remembered both in its own right and for the transformative challenges it offers now. It is a story of the prophetic vision of women of the church. It is a story of women's lay and professional ministry within the PCC. It is a story which has shaped Christian education and educational methodology as we now know it. It is a story that witnesses to the Spirit's liveliness here in Canada. It is a story which includes many voices and experiences. It is a story of women who, at times against all odds, dared to heed the Spirit's call.

Once again, we see how critical a women's space was for not only allowing women to pursue their own spiritual path and learning, but in also providing a platform for challenging institutionalized male authority. We also see how by "merging" into a male-dominated institution--which included the erasure of the very name of that former women's space--that platform and that history and energy have been lost.

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