In Memoriam



Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour (1939-2019)

SSC News Story (27 May 2019; rev. 15 May 2024)

With profound sadness and in celebration of her exceptional life, the faculty, staff, and students of St. Stephen’s College mourn the passing of Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour, chair of the St. Stephen’s Board of Governors. Margaret-Ann passed peacefully this past weekend, at dawn, surround by friends and loved ones from her various communities.

The impact of Margaret-Ann upon St. Stephen’s College is indelible. Her association with the College stretches back to 1986, when she first joined the Board of Governors. Since that time, she served in various capacities on either the Board and/or the Senate, and since 2006 as Chair of the Board of Governors. Over more than three decades of service, she has been both a fixture and a centerpiece in the life of the College. Margaret-Ann always spoke of the College as a hidden gem, a diamond in the rough, often saying that one of her main goals was to help uncover and polish that diamond just a little bit more. It is hard, now, to imagine St. Stephen’s without Margaret-Ann. As I reflect on her passing, I cannot help but feel the College itself has lost a jewel of immeasurable beauty.

Margaret-Ann possessed an incredible mixture of talents and personality. On the one hand, her sweet kindness and compassion extended to all without prejudice. For example, each year at convocation graduating students from St. Stephen’s were guaranteed three things: (1) their degree, (2) to be hooded, and (3) to receive a hug from Margaret-Ann. At the same time, however, she possessed an ironclad will coupled with perennial optimism. No challenge was too big for Margaret-Ann, and no hurdle could not be overcome. She never backed away from an obstacle; rather, when faced with impossibility, she welcomed the opportunity to find novel and unimagined solutions. For Margaret-Ann, creativity always triumphed in the face of impossibility. It was precisely her stalwart disposition of iron-willed optimism which made her an exceptional leader and board chair at St. Stephen’s College.

Of course, Margaret-Ann is best known for her work outside of St. Stephen’s, which has been celebrated this past weekend by articles from the Edmonton Journal, the University of Alberta, and the University's Faculty of Science. Margaret-Ann studied first in Edinburgh before coming to the University of Alberta where she received a PhD in organic Chemistry (1970). The vast majority of her career was here at the University, where she served as Assistant Chair for the Department of Chemistry (1979–2005) and then as the University’s first Associate Dean (Diversity) in the Faculty of Science (2005–2019). In 2006, she was named to the Order of Canada; she is the recipient of seven honorary degrees from the University of Edinburgh, UBC, and others; she is a recipient of a Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case; and she was twice named one of the top 100 most powerful women in Canada.

Margaret-Ann is best known for her tireless work of promoting women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: the “STEM” disciplines. This was her life’s work, and it occupied her attention since 1981 when she was one of a handful of Canadians who began investigating the low numbers of women in the STEM fields. Running parallel to this life’s work—and I suspect interwoven in ways that only Margaret-Ann could have articulated—are her years of service to St. Stephen’s, years which began (in the mid-1980s) not long after that 1981 investigation. I find it curious that, as Margaret-Ann poured so much of herself into diversifying the STEM fields, she simultaneously was pouring so much of herself into the leadership of a small multi-faith college that seeks to enrich the spiritual and intellectual capacities of its students through training in theology, arts, and counselling therapies. Her more than 30+ years of service to St. Stephen’s indicates that she had a full and complete educational vision, one that was not confined only to STEM but which more broadly embraced STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics. Margaret-Ann understood, clearer than most, that the nurturing of one’s intellect requires also the nurturing of one spirit; that the aptitude of the human being to solve complex, impossible problems is expanded when one’s imagination is cultivated through the creativity that comes from reaching for that which lies beyond ourselves (what is often called, “the sacred”). Margaret-Ann was a person of Spirit in every way, and she embodied a vision of education that attended to the formation of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.

Of course, Margaret-Ann’s work was not just about STEM, but specifically about women in STEM. Here too, her leadership in the public sphere was contagious at St. Stephen’s. Like the STEM disciplines, the world of theological education is dominated by male personalities. Yet, despite this fact, St. Stephen's currently employs women at a rate of 8 to 1 in its core faculty and staff! Since the early 1980s, feminist perspectives and theology have been a mainstay at St. Stephen’s, and some of our most faithful supporters are the many United Church Women’s groups from across the province. It should come as no surprise that all of this has happened during Margaret-Ann’s years at the College. In many ways, the history of St. Stephen’s is a history of spiritually-informed women seeking to challenge and to transform the religious institutions in which they grew. Margaret-Ann was one such woman, a true dynamo whose leadership opened opportunities for women across the breadth of STEAM fields.

At St. Stephen’s we speak a lot about spirituality. We encourage our students to delve deep into their own worldviews and traditions, not only to better understand themselves but also to be better caregivers and ministers in their fields of practice. About a year ago, Margaret-Ann shared with me a definition of spirituality that particularly resonated with her: “[Spirituality is] the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to each other by something greater than us and something that is rooted in love and compassion. … it cannot be severed, but it can be forgotten” (Brené Brown). May the love and compassion that tied Margaret-Ann so tightly to the lives of many continue to do so now after her passing; may that vision of Spirit that she so clearly embodied never be forgotten; and may the memory of Margaret-Ann never be severed from the people and the causes that she championed throughout her life.

Fred Tappenden
Principal and Dean, St. Stephen's College

Obituaries and Media: WISEST, Edmonton Journal, Legacy, The Quad, Folio, Medium: The Champion, Chemical Institute of Canada, UAlberta Faculty of Science, Government of Canada, Canadian Journal of Chemistry, Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour School, and Wikipedia.

Rev. Dr. Charles Bidwell (1935-2022)

Remarks from Bidwell Celebration of Life Service (11 December 2022; rev. 15 May 2024)

I am very honoured—and humbled—to be asked to share a bit about Charles today as we all have gathered, near and far, to celebrate his life.  I have been asked to share memories from the community of St. Stephen’s College … memories about Charles and his involvement at the College.  And I will do the best I can, particularly sharing from the past five years and the wonderful joy I have had getting to know Charles. 

The candle of curiosity … what a very fitting and appropriate descriptor, both for Charles and for St. Stephen’s College.  At the College, “curiosity” is one of the five core values we hold, next to “openness,” “engagement,” “relationships,” and “imagination.”  As I think on these five values, which shape and underwrite all of what we do at the College, I cannot help but see Charles woven throughout the tapestry that is St. Stephen’s College.  For Charles is indeed someone who was “open,” someone who was “engaging,” someone who valued and prioritized his “relationships,” and someone who exercised immense, creative, and expansive “imagination.”  And, equally so, Charles was filled with “curiosity;” filled with the compulsion to pursue unimagined paths, and to create space—sacred space—for people and ways of being that previously had not possessed space to be.

Charles told me once, in a passing comment, that he first encountered St. Stephen’s College through (I believe it was) a weekend workshop on Sexuality and Spirituality.  This would have been in the 1980s or early 1990s; I believe the workshop would have been hosted by Dr. Garth Mundle, one of the College’s previous principals.  The College represented for Charles a progressive, open, and inclusive space in which the fullness of the human person could be engaged; a place where the most intimate dimensions of human identity were fully commensurate and integrated with the depths of human spirituality.  The two—sexuality and spirituality—need not be parsed out and separated, like oil and water.  Charles was both Reverend and Doctor (PhD), and though he and I never spoke of this, I suspect that the College presented to Charles an inviting and safe space in which he could explore, theorize, and more fully articulate the complexities surrounding sexuality and spirituality.  And indeed, he did such exploration through his teaching at the College.  From 2001–2014, Charles either taught or co-taught a course titled “Contemporary Issues in Sexuality and Spirituality.”  For Charles, SSC was an expansive space in which one’s curiosities could run wild.

Charles’s contributions to the College were many, they were varied, they were deep, and they were always meaningful. 

  • One of the lesser-known details of Charles’s life: I am told that in the mid-1990s, Charles was the webmaster for the SSC website; I imagine this would have been the College’s first web-presence, and so we have Charles to thank for getting us going on the World Wide Web. 
  • Between 1999–2014, he was an Associate Faculty member who taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in contemporary theology, pastoral care, and as just noted, Sexuality and Spirituality.  During this same period, he also hosted a number of workshops on issues of ethics and faithful living, worship, and maintaining integrity in the midst of conversations about faith.
  • Over a period of more than a decade (2006–2018), Charles was one of a handful of editors who worked to gather together a series of Non-Theistic Liturgy Resources, which are openly available on the College’s website.  Like Sexuality and Spirituality, the development of this resource is a testament not only to Charles’s curiosity, but also to his courage to pursue unimagined paths, and the creation of spaces–sacred spaces–for ways of being that previously had not possessed spaces to be.
  • Charles was a longstanding member of many of the College’s governance committees, serving as convenor of the Theological Studies Program Committee for 24 years (1997–2021), as a member of the Awards and Honorary Degrees Committee for 17 years (2005–2022), as a member of the Academic Senate for 20 years (2001–2021), including 13 years as Chair of Senate (2005–2018), and serving 17 years on the Board of Governors (2005–2022).  It is in these contexts where I personally got to know Charles, experiencing his kindness, imagination, and embrace.  

Personally, I experienced Charles to be an individual of great encouragement and support.  Three memories are noteworthy.  I am wearing a purple shirt today, in memory of Charles, because he would often arrive to College events wearing a deep purple shirt with a bright golden tie; purple and gold are the College’s colours, and he loved to wear them on his person at formal College events.  I recall also, just after I began at SSC in 2018, several moments in which Charles “checked in” with me, just to see how I was doing, to express his support of me and my work.  A third memory that stands out; it was the Edmonton Pride Parade in about 2018 or 2019, and SSC was walking along with many other United Church congregations.  Even at that time, Charles’s capacity to walk long distances was being tested, but I recall so clearly the focus and singular determination in his eyes; that he was going to complete this parade, no matter the effort it might take.  To that point in my life, I am not sure that I had ever seen such pure and righteous focus.  Inspiring is too light, too easy a word to express what Charles instilled in me that day. 

Standing in the St. Stephen’s courtyard is a sculpture titled, “Disciples” (Wood, Steel, and Paint, 1984).  This sculpture was crafted by Charles’s late partner Patrick Morin, and gifted to St. Stephen’s by Charles in Patrick’s memory.  The natural surroundings of the SSC courtyard have begun to age and weather this wooden sculpture, which stands approx. seven feet, erect, and facing northwest.  In 2021, Charles expressed the importance that the sculpture remains in the courtyard, engaged in its environment, so that each change of season might shape and form the sculpture just a bit more.  “From dust to dust,” Charles remarked about the sculpture and its eventual trajectory.  For Charles, the natural rhythms of life carried a sacred, mysterious beauty, with all parts of the life cycle inviting recognition and celebration.   I cannot help but sense that Charles’s curiosity was alive and vibrant in each stage of his life; even here, in the last chapter, Charles’s curiosity compelled him to find beauty in the midst of natural decay.

The entire community of St. Stephen’s celebrates Charles’s beautiful life.  We will miss him–and do miss–him dearly.  Charles was one of those rare luminaries whose very presence filled our community with light.  Though the wind and weather will age the “Disciples” for many years to come, the presence of this sculpture in the St. Stephen’s courtyard will forever remind us not only of Patrick, but also of Charles and his impact upon the College’s community.  This wooden sculpture will remind the College—just as Charles always did—of the mystery and beauty of Spirit that infuses the natural rhythms and trajectories of life.

Fred Tappenden
Principal and Dean, St. Stephen's College

Obituaries and Media: Celebration of Life Service, Edmonton Journal, and Edmonton Queer History

Rev. Dr. Garth Mundle (1935-2019)

SSC News Story (31 January 2019; rev. 15 May 2024)

With great sadness and reflection, the community of St. Stephen's College mourns the passing of Garth Mundle, former Principal of the College from 1979-1994. Garth passed away earlier this week in Ottawa. All our love and thoughts go out to Garth's partner, Dorothy, as well as to his children Carol and Jim, and to their families and friends.

Principal Mundle was a visionary within the history of St. Stephen's College. In the 1970s and 1980s it was a rather novel idea for a theological college to place at its centre anything other than the training of ordered ministers. But this is exactly the path that Mundle ventured, and he was successful at it! By the mid-1980s, enrolment at St. Stephen's was almost split 50/50 between lay students and ordered ministers. He understood the mission of St. Stephen's as fulfilling the words of the late theologian, Heinrich Ott: "life for each person should be a permanent ongoing education without trying to make specialists of people." Under Mundle's guidance, the College matured into a centre of advanced theological education and continuing lay education.

In his own words, Principal Mundle saw St. Stephen's College as a "place of possibilities." Under his leadership St. Stephen's hired its first woman faculty member, it branched out into the then innovative areas of feminist and liberation theologies, and he established new programs such as the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) and the ever-popular Study Tours to places such as Israel, Egypt, Central America, Europe, India, and Korea. All in all, the "Mundle years" at St. Stephen's were marked by vibrancy and ambition, all of which flowed directly from the principal himself.

Yesterday, at our MTS Program meeting, we took a few minutes to swap stories about Garth and his tenure as Principal at St. Stephen's. There was much joy and fondness as we recalled his time at the College. I myself am deeply saddened that, in my capacity as the new Principal at St. Stephen's, I will not have the opportunity to dialogue with Garth one-on-one. As we reflect on his life and legacy, we uphold his memory and pray it will be a blessing for all who think on him.

A service to celebrate Garth's life will be held on Saturday, February 16th at First United Church in Ottawa, ON.

In sympathy,
Fred Tappenden
Principal and Dean, St. Stephen's College

Obituaries: Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa and Legacy.

Rev. Dr. George Rodgers (1938-2021)

SSC Convocation (1 November 2021; rev. 15 May 2024)

Rev. Dr. George Rodgers completed his Doctor of Ministry degree at St. Stephen’s in 1983.  Dr. Rodgers went on to serve in 2003 as the Interim President of the amalgamated St. Stephen’s College and St. Andrew’s College, and he taught Christian Scriptures from 2004 to 2013 as part of the College’s Lay Worship Leader Certificate Program.  In addition to his work with St. Stephen’s, Dr. Rodgers served in pastoral ministry for many years in both Saskatchewan and Alberta, and also was the former Executive Secretary of the Alberta and Northwest Conference of the United Church of Canada.

Obituaries: Edmonton Journal

Roxanne Tootoosis (1961-2021)

Email to SSC Community (2 September 2021; rev. 15 May 2024)

The community of St. Stephen’s College mourns the loss of one of our students, Roxanne Tootoosis, who passed away suddenly earlier this week due to COVID-19.  Roxanne was a much appreciated and loved member of our learning community, both as a current student in the Master of Psychotherapy and Spirituality program, and also a 2020 graduate of the Graduate Certificate in Spiritually-Informed Psychotherapy.  In addition to her studies at St. Stephen’s, Roxanne was a social worker who made important contributions to the field of indigenous spiritual care at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.  A noted and well-respected leader in her Cree community, Roxanne was particularly known for her work at MacEwan University where she served as the university’s first full-time Indigenous Knowledge Keeper.  All of us at the College are profoundly saddened to learn of her passing.

Next week, the College will host a drop-in, open-studio gathering on the St. Stephen’s campus.  This will be a time to remember Roxanne and to reflect on her life.  Art materials will be available for individuals to use and contribute to a collective project.  Details will be announced in the coming days.  COVID measures in effect, so please bring your masks and stay tuned this week for information about testing/vaccination requirements. 

In sympathy,
Fred Tappenden,
Principal and Dean, St. Stephen’s College

Obituaries and Media: Dignity Memorial, CTV News, CBC News, and MacEwan University.