Dr. Gerry Turcotte
CALGARY — St. Mary's University College has selected a leading Catholic educator from Australia to serve as its next president.
But Dr. Gerry Turcotte is no stranger to Canada. Originally from Montreal, Turcotte, 50, has degrees from McGill and the University of Ottawa. He went to Australia to do a doctorate in English literature and ended up staying.
"You don't plan these things," Turcotte said in a telephone interview from Sydney. "You get involved in programs and then I met the woman I would eventually marry. The next thing you know it's been 25 years."
Turcotte will take over July 1 as president of St. Mary's from Dr. Terry Downey who has served in the position since 1999. But he's already anxious to get on the job. "The family and I just can't wait to get there."
He currently serves as associate provost and executive dean of arts and sciences at the University of Notre Dame, the only private Catholic university in Australia. He's based in Sydney where Notre Dame has about 3,000 students, but the university also has campuses in Freemantle and Broome in Western Australia.
A literature professor, he has won several major awards for teaching excellence and has been nominated eight times for supervisor of the year for guiding some 50 doctoral, master's and honour students to successful completion of their programs.
Turcotte has published 15 books including a novel, Flying in Silence, and four collections of poetry. His articles and creative writing have appeared in journals throughout Australia, Canada, the United States and Europe.
While he continues to teach, Turcotte has been an administrator heading either a faculty or a school for the past 12 years. "I think being president of a college is very exciting indeed."
Prior to serving at Notre Dame, he was foundation director of the Centre for Canadian-Australian Studies at the University of Wollongong where he also headed the university's largest school.
Joe Ladouceur, chairman of St. Mary's board of governors, said the college examined more than 100 applications and nominations for the president's job from throughout the English-speaking world before hiring Turcotte.
"He is a very, very vivacious personality," said Ladouceur. "He has lots of energy; he has lots of drive. He's clearly an exceptional candidate."
Turcotte said he "fell in love with St. Mary's" when he saw its emphasis on small class sizes and pastoral care.
As well, St. Mary's is at the beginning of "a real growth phase" and has had "fantastic evaluations" for its programs.
Translating his Catholic faith into a higher education environment has been exciting, he said. "It's given me a strong focus on social justice issues and in the way I deal with people, a way that I hope is humble and respectful."
Turcotte will come to Calgary with his wife Kellinde and children Gérard, 13, and Sophie, 8.
While Turcotte's academic expertise is in indigenous and gothic literature, Kellinde has a doctorate in medieval literature. She now works as a research lawyer with the supreme court of New South Wales.
The two met when Kellinde came to the University of Wollongong to teach a course on advanced Viking literature. Much of her academic work focused on 13th century Viking manuscripts on the Virgin Mary, a specialty Gerry described as "a very niche area."
The family discussed the decision to move to Canada at length and made "a serious long-term commitment," he said. "This is not a quick move around the world for a quick gig."
For the family, "this is an embracing of Calgary as much as an embracing of St. Mary's," he said.