St Stephen's College
When Henry Marshall Tory, a Methodist minister, expounded on his vision for the University of Alberta, he indicated his desire to create a non-denominational university with provision for denominational colleges on campus. St Stephen’s College, a Protestant theological institution, existed even before the University was founded. The Methodist Church moved to establish a theological college in Edmonton in 1903, which opened as Alberta College in December of that year with some of the fifteen Arts students also taking the first courses in theology.
The vision of this College is described in the Methodist Church Board meeting minutes of May 22, 1903:
Having in mind the present and future educational requirements of Alberta particularly, and the more northerly territories as well, also knowing in some slight degree of the aims and wishes in this connection which fired the heart and mind of our late revered and loved missionary, the Reverend George McDougall, which he so often expressed, and for the carrying out of which he had planned and worked thirty years ago in this place, have formed ourselves into a committee to plan for the furtherance of the same. That this committee, with full knowledge of the conditions existing, believe that the time has arrived for the opening up of a school or college, in Edmonton, to teach such branches as may be considered most needed for the present, with a view in the future of growing into a college having a teaching staff such as may be required to teach a full Arts Course.
In that first year, Alberta College classes were held over the old Johnstone Walker store on Jasper Avenue and, after that, on the ground floor of the Masonic Hall on 102 Street.
When the University of Alberta received its charter, the Alberta College put in for a 99-year lease on several acres of land. When the Alberta College building was opened in 1911, there were 41 students enrolled in the Faculty of Theology.
Today, St Stephen’s College is located on the University’s main campus; it is no longer in its original 1911 building which now houses Alberta Community Development. The building itself has a rich history, having housed generations of students (including a special wing for nurses) and, during World War II, living units for the army and navy. Well-known for its distinctive English Collegiate Gothic Style, the building featured five-storey high spiral tube fire escapes that have never been used to rescue residents from fire, though they have been used, throughout the years, as a tool for froshing and for various other student pranks, including sending students through the tube and dousing them with a bucket of ice water.
When the United Church was formed in 1925 by the merging of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, Alberta College was renamed United Theological College. In 1927, the College joined with the Presbyterian Church’s Robertson College and was renamed St Stephen’s College.
The beautiful chapel, added in 1935, is noted as much for its peace and sanctuary as for its stained glass windows. Since that time, many students have returned to be married and to have their children baptized there.
In the 1950s, St Stephen’s College built another building next to its historic home on land that belonged to the College and continues to be housed there today.
From 1968 to 1971, the College engaged in discussions and research to redefine its mission. In 1972, the United Church phased out its theological program and St Stephen’s College responded by creating a new mission—to offer ecumenical theological studies.
Another change occurred in 1995 when the College reconsidered its role and began to offer online courses in support of programs building Christian foundations, church life, and spirituality and linking with the corporate sector. By 2007, there students from every province and one territory in Canada, from across the US, from Asia, and from four countries in Africa were enrolled.
From 2000 to 2006, St Stephen’s was amalgamated with St Andrew’s College in Saskatchewan to reach out to educate people for various forms of ministry. With the separation of these two colleges, St Stephen’s interim board worked to redefine the College’s mission statement and to look to the future of theological studies at the University of Alberta.
Today, St Stephen’s College operates in partnership with the Winnipeg, Manitoba Centre for Christian Studies and the Jamaica and the Cayman Islands Institute for Theological and Leadership Development.
Alumni fondly remember “St Steve’s” and have taken their education to churches throughout the province and indeed around the world, to the Alberta Legislature, to various universities, to the John Milton Society in New York, and to the World Council of Churches.
Governed by the Board of Governors and the Academic Senate of St Stephen’s College, under the Provincial Charter, the College today offers certificated in Spiritually Informed Postgraduate Art Therapy or Licensed Worship Leader as well as the following degrees in theology:
- Bachelor of Theology
- Bachelor of Theology in Diaconal Ministry
- Master of Theology
- Master of Theological Studies
- Master of Theological Studies in Diaconal Ministry
- Masters in Pastoral Psychology and Counselling – Specialisation in Art Therapy
- Doctor of Ministry
St Stephen’s College is an ecumenical, Christian college of the United Church of Canada for students who wish to pursue theological reflection and spiritual exploration. The College is noted for its non-traditional styles of learning, including distance learning, which allows college courses to be available to anyone with computer and Internet access. Through this style of distance learning, students develop collegiality via email. Other non-traditional programs include intensive one-week on-campus courses, correspondence courses, and regional cluster group courses. Modern values of the College embrace a commitment to social and eco-justice as well as honouring feminist perspectives.
In 2007, there were 274 students enrolled in College programs.
The College is supported by The Friends of St Stephen’s College, formed in 2001 under chair Reverend Aubrey Edworthy. The Friends includes former students, retired ministers, and lay people.
For more information about St. Stephen’s College, visit its website.