Franciscan prof hopes for lay students

January 24, 2011
Fr. David Norman has been teaching at Newman College since 1991.


Fr. David Norman has been teaching at Newman College since 1991.


When Newman Theological College opened its doors more than 40 years ago, its impact on the Church in western Canada was positive. Father David Norman expects the new campus to make a big difference too.

"The fact that the seminary is new, the fact that the bishops are behind the new college and seminary, are most encouraging, and great signs for the Catholic Church in Western Canada," said Norman, a Franciscan priest who has been teaching at Newman off and on since 1984.

For Western Canada, Newman College became a signpost of the Church's decision to send forth the whole people of God into the world. Strongly influenced by the Second Vatican Council, the college has always promoted the ministry of the laity, said Norman.

"You have the commission of the whole people of God to go out and evangelize and witness to Christ and the world. That was what Newman tried to inculcate in its programs, in its ethos, and the way it addressed theology," said Norman.


He credits Archbishop Anthony Jordan for having vision and foresight and for responding to a need when he founded the college in 1968. The urgent need for priests has always been a focus. Efforts were made to encourage vocations for the priesthood, but without denying the validity of lay ministry.

"We know that the bishops are supporting the seminary, and that's an excellent sign of hope for the future. But we need lay students as well in order to thrive. My hope is that we will start to attract more lay students who will find this campus attractive to what we offer," said Norman.

About a third of the students are laypeople, and he would like to see about a 50/50 split between laypeople and seminarians.

Norman was born in Vancouver, raised in a practising Roman Catholic family. After high school he went to Vancouver College, and later the University of British Columbia where he earned a degree in commerce.

He worked for the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), and was set to go to Botswana to help reorganize the nation's freight rail transportation system. About three weeks before he was to depart, the job assignment was given to someone else.


"By that time, I had already started to think about doing something different with my life, instead of working in industry. I started to inquire about entering the religious life," said Norman.

He applied with the Franciscans in January 1974, and was accepted. He entered the novitiate in July 1974.

"Of all the religious orders, the Franciscans are most known for their hospitality, openness and warmth. I had ruled out diocesan priesthood because I felt called to communal living," he said.

His initial foray into Newman was as a student in 1975.

"It was still a young college, not even 10 years old, yet you could see that it was already having a tremendously positive impact on the Church," Norman recalled.

Father Don MacDonald, another Franciscan priest, had been at Newman since Day One. MacDonald was his mentor who encouraged him to pursue studying and teaching theology.


He did his master's thesis at Newman on the Mariology of Balthasar, his understanding of the relationship between Mary and the Church. Norman contacted Hans Urs von Balthasar, a renowned Swiss theologian.

"He would be considered, in my opinion, the foremost theologian of the 20th century in Roman Catholicism. He will definitely go down in history as the one who had more influence than even Henri de Lubac or Karl Rahner. They were great influential theologians, but I think Balthasar's legacy will be even greater," said Norman.

Balthasar recommended that Norman meet with Christoph Schonborn, now the cardinal archbishop of Vienna. In January 1986 Norman left for Fribourg, Switzerland, to complete his doctoral studies, with Schonborn as the director of his thesis.


Upon his return to Canada in 1991, Norman continued teaching at Newman and has been there ever since in the department of systematics.

He teaches an introduction to theology, theology of revelation (a course on how God is revealed to humanity), theological anthropology, and the resurrection of Jesus.

In the winter semester at St. Joseph's College, he has been teaching a course on God in movies.

"Archbishop (Richard) Smith has really emphasized Catholic theological education for both ordained and non-ordained. Without his support, of course, Newman couldn't continue," Norman said. "That is a major factor in our hope for the future."