Getting together for a meal with friends and family over the holidays is a time-honoured tradition. This year, that circle grew a little wider as a group of StFX international students and members of the local community connected over Christmas through a new program at StFX called Home for the Holidays.
The StFX Office of Internationalization arranged the inaugural Home for the Holidays program to connect international students studying at StFX with families living in the Antigonish community during the holiday season. StFX is home to students from over 40 countries around the world, and many are interested in learning more about Canadian holiday culture, says Donald Rasmussen, StFX’s International Student Advisor.
This year, he says 17 students were matched with eight host families, and reaction to the experience has been positive from all involved.
MEANT A LOT
“I was super excited. I really wanted to engage, and I was a little emotional as I was missing my family,” says Anamika Saxena of India who was one of three international students to spend time with StFX Gerald Schwartz School of Business professor Rhonda McIver and her family, enjoying a meal and a visit at their home.
“It meant a lot for me, to rebalance my emotions, and to have people around me.”
Eshitha Chitla, also of India and taking a master’s in applied computer science, says it was a great chance to meet people, to learn more about Canadian culture and for people here to learn more about her culture.
Both students said they really enjoyed the meal, and the fact their hosts took the time to prepare something that would appeal to their Indian heritage with lots of spices, as well as the chance to spend time with “the sweet little children,” who played games and showed the visiting students their paintings.
“It was really nice. We really enjoyed it,” Ms. Saxena says.Home for the Holidays-01-MyStFX.jpg Home for the Holidays-03-MyStFX.jpg “We loved it,” says Prof. McIver.
She says her family was interested in getting involved in the program as they wanted to know some of the international students better, to learn about their culture, and to help the students feel more at home on campus
“Part of it is making sure students are fitting in and feeling comfortable and at home and that they have some allies. I have a son at university. I know what it is like,” she says.
She says her family hopes to connect again with the students over the term.
Mr. Rasmussen, who the students praised for his strong support of international students, says the program was promoted online and through the local Antigonish radio station and their office received immediate interest from faculty and staff members at StFX, as well as members of the broader Antigonish community.
In most cases, students were invited to their host family’s home during the holidays to enjoy a meal, meet family members, and experience Canadian holiday festivities. Some groups also got outside for winter hiking and snowman-making.
He says the office plans to run the program again next year.
St. Francis Xavier University has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Maritime Launch Services Ltd.
The signing of the agreement took place January 17, 2020 at StFX in the Joyce Family Atrium, Mulroney Hall before a large crowd that included the Hon. Randy Delorey, Nova Scotia Minister of Health & Wellness and Gaelic Affairs and Antigonish MLA; Mary Preville, Director General of Policy for the Canadian Space Agency; as well as representatives from ACOA, Nova Scotia Business Inc., local municipal governments, the local chamber of commerce, and the aerospace industry.
Maritime Launch Services (MLS) has proposed to construct and operate a private commercial space launch site for launching satellites into low Earth orbit. The purpose of the project is to establish a commercially-controlled, commercially-managed launch site that would provide options in North America in support of the growing commercial space transportation industry.
In support of the project, StFX is committed to the pursuit of research and creative works, ultimately contributing to academic discovery and dissemination of new knowledge, providing a lasting positive impact to the community.
“It is StFX’s vision to be a leader among Canada’s undergraduate universities for its research and creative contributions to student experience, community collaboration, social responsibility and growth opportunities,” says Dr. Richard Isnor, StFX Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies. “This agreement certainly fits within that vision. Our faculty and staff will explore new and exciting research. We are also enthusiastic about the new opportunities that this presents for student employment here in rural Nova Scotia in knowledge-based careers that diversify the rural economy.”
Dr. Isnor says he is enthusiastic about opportunities that agreements like this can create and how it’s supportive of the One Nova Scotia Coalition and Ivany Report, which challenged post-secondary institutions to look for opportunities to collaborate with companies being established or trying to contribute to society and the economy in the province.
Minister Delorey and Ms. Preville of the Canadian Space Agency also spoke during the event, offering their congratulations.
This one initiative has so many far-reaching positive implications, Minister Delorey said as he noted possible research opportunities and opportunities to support the local area.
“We are pleased to partner with StFX,” says Steve Matier, President and CEO of Maritime Launch Services, who noted the MOU is a logical next step as their initiative ramps up and with their focus toward the development of the most critical element of their needs to grow, retain and challenge the local talent and expertise here in Nova Scotia.
Possible opportunities for research are in the areas of computer sciences, chemical analysis, environmental monitoring and aquatic resources to name a few.
The proposed site for MLS is located in Canso, Nova Scotia, about an hour’s drive from StFX.
Robyn Maynard, the award-winning author of Policing Black Lives and a Vanier Scholar at the University of Toronto, will be at StFX Feb. 6, 2020 to deliver the 10th Annual Dr. Agnes Calliste African Heritage Lecture Series, organized by the StFX Department of Sociology.
The lecture series, named in honour of the late Dr. Agnes Calliste, a celebrated academic and sociology professor who taught at StFX for over two decades, was established to honour Dr. Calliste’s legacy and to continue her work of bringing esteemed speakers to campus during African Heritage Month to speak on issues of race and racism.
Ms. Maynard, an acclaimed author, activist and educator, will speak on the topic of ‘Black Life, Black Liberation and the Climate Crisis.’ The event begins at 7 p.m. in the Schwartz Auditorium.
The presentation of the StFX Black Leaders Awards will also highlight the evening. A reception will follow, and all are welcome to attend.
Kelsey Jones, StFX’s Coordinator, African Descent Student Affairs, will provide opening remarks.
StFX faculty member Dr. Ornella Nzindukiyimana will introduce Ms. Maynard, who during her time on campus, will also take part in a lunch with black student leaders and a workshop with local youth via X-Project.
Robyn Maynard is the acclaimed author of Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to the present (Fernwood 2017). The book is a CBC national bestseller, currently in its third printing, designated as one of the “best 100 books of 2017” by the Hill Times, listed in The Walrus‘s “best books of 2018,” shortlisted for an Atlantic Book Award, the Concordia University First Book Prize and the Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction, and the winner of the 2017 Annual Errol Morris Book Prize. The work has received glowing coverage and has been published in French.
Ms. Maynard’s writing on race, gender, and discrimination is taught widely in universities across Canada and the United States. Her expertise is regularly sought in local, national and international media outlets and she has spoken before Parliamentary subcommittees, the Human Rights Committee of the Senate, and the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. She has a long history of involvement in community activism and advocacy. She been a part of grassroots movements against racial profiling, police violence, detention and deportation for over a decade and has an extensive work history in harm reduction-based service provision serving sex workers, drug users, incarcerated women and marginalized youth in Montreal. She is currently a PhD student and Vanier scholar at the University of Toronto and is working toward the completion of a new book manuscript.
Ms. Maynard, who won “2018 author of the year” by Montreal’s Black History Month, has published writing in the Washington Post, World Policy Journal, the Toronto Star, TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Canadian Woman Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies Journal (forthcoming), Scholar & Feminist Journal (forthcoming), as well as an essay for Maisonneuve Magazine which won the acclaim of “most-read essay of 2017.”
Please be advised that StFX will delay opening until 4:00 PM today, Thursday, January 9th as the university continues to clear accumulated snow and ice across campus. Essential services will be maintained (Morrison Hall, Security, Facilities Management).
Please be advised that StFX will be closed today, Wednesday January 8th due to the impending storm. Essential services will be maintained (Morrison Hall, security, cleaning, snow removal).
The university will resume regular operations at 6:00 A.M. tomorrow, Thursday, January 9th.
Three nursing faculty from StFX’s Rankin School of Nursing (SON) were recently celebrated for their continued dedication to the SON.
Dr. Cathy MacDonald was warmly acknowledged for her many contributions to the SON in her role as acting director. “Her compassion for others and tireless hard work have made long lasting impressions within the SON, across the university, and within the broader nursing community,” said assistant director Dr. Debbie Sheppard LeMoine.
The school celebrated and welcomed Dr. Patti Hansen Ketchum as the incoming director starting in January 2020.
Dr. Sheppard LeMoine was congratulated as well for receiving tenure and promotion and for her hard work and impact on the ongoing success of the Rankin SON in her role as assistant director, Dr. MacDonald said.
The StFX Rankin School of Nursing recently held a curriculum retreat at Keppoch Mountain and they were honoured to collaborate and have their partners from the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) facilitate the day.
Along with faculty and staff from the Rankin School, in attendance were Cindy MacQuarrie , NSHA senior director of interprofessional practice and learning; Nancy McConnell Maxner, NSHA director; and Sherri Roach, NSHA provincial manager of student placements.
Rankin School assistant director Dr. Debbie Sheppard-LeMoine said the group spent the day examining steps for further evaluation and implementation of the School of Nursing curriculum.
“It was significant to have our NSHA partners with us. They are very committed to supporting our program goals,” she says.
It’s a moment that members of the StFX family say they will cherish forever, and one that aspiring Xaverians look forward to for years.
Today, December 3, 2019, the moment became real for over 900 senior St. Francis Xavier University students, who received their coveted X-Rings during a ceremony in StFX’s Charles V. Keating Centre.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s actually happening!” exclaimed one excited student as she entered into the Keating Centre at the start of the ceremony, alongside other senior students all clad in black ceremonial gowns.
One by one, students processed towards the main stage and received their X-Rings, and the Keating Centre could hardly contain the excitement of the moment. Indeed, the students’ enthusiasm was felt all over campus.
StFX President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Kevin Wamsley began his remarks by noting a bit of irony: he himself does not have an X-Ring.
“I feel naked,” he joked. “But after four-and-a-half years at StFX, I think I have an idea of what makes this place tick.”
“You are students who are engaged in your university experiences. You are engaged in social justice activities, and in helping other students as well as members of our broader community.”
He said this is the power represented by the X-Ring.
“The X-Ring is the symbol of your experience here at StFX. The X-Ring is the symbol of your commitment to community. So give back to your community like the graduates before you, and give back to StFX. Honor your X Ring by serving others.
“The world needs it, badly.”
Dr. Wamsley also extended thanks to all of the family and friends who travelled great distances to be on-campus for the ceremony, as well as those who watched via livestream.
SKILLS THAT MAKE THE WORLD GO ROUND
The ceremony’s guest speaker was Maggie MacDonnell ’02, a StFX alumna who won the 2017 Global Teacher Prize over 20,000 nominees from 179 countries. In her remarks, she offered a reflection on her takeaways from her time as a student, and how they are all encapsulated in her X-Ring.
“When I think about my time at StFX, I realize that while I did graduate with a degree in Human Kinetics, what I really graduated with was an unofficial degree in community building,” she said. “When I remember StFX’s culture, and all of the activities and programs, there were so many times for us as students to practice learning how to connect with each other and how to build community.
“To me, that’s what the ring symbolizes. It conveys something tangible to somehow represent and symbolize all of those meaningful, but intangible, lessons that StFX has taught us.
“So today, when you get your ring, know that it’s your reminder that you come from a special place. A place that values community, and those soft skills that make the world go around.”
Senior class students participated throughout the ceremony. Jonas Lawrence, co-president of the senior class, served as master of ceremonies, while Nicholas Latulippe greeted the excited students and the approximately 2000 family and friends who watched from the Amelia Saputo Centre for Healthy Living.
Senior class co-president Taylor Kennah gave opening remarks, speaking about the unique bond that’s shared by all X-Ring recipients – one that cannot be fully understood by those who are not part of the StFX family.
Samantha Bardwell gave an explanation of the StFX motto, and Maxwell Gauthier read from the writings of Dr. Moses Coady.
Joanna Alphonso introduced the guest speaker and Emma Kyte gave the response.
Students’ Union president Cecil VanBuskirk led the Xaverian Commitment.
The honorary X-Ring is presented annually to someone who personifies the Xaverian spirit of community, leadership, and service. This year’s honorary X-Ring was awarded to Dr. David Cudmore, a general practice physician in Antigonish who has served as the medical leader of the StFX Athletics sports medicine team for over 30 years. During the ceremony, Dr. Cudmore was lauded for his compassion, professionalism, and his outstanding concern for the wellbeing of StFX student athletes.
“There are over 50,000 alumni cheering you on right now, whether they know you or not,” said StFX Alumni Association president Marc Rodrigue ‘08. “They’ve been cheering you on since you arrived at StFX, and now they’ll encourage you to join them in cheering on those who follow in your footsteps.
“No matter what this ring means to you, I encourage you to think of it as being part of something bigger than just ourselves.”
A strong history and a bright future.
That was the sentiment at a celebration of the Coady International Institute’s 60th anniversary, held December 2, 2019 – exactly 60 years to the day from the Institute’s opening.
Special guests and community members gathered for a reception in the Coady International Institute’s Antigonish Community Foyer, where they reminisced about the Institute’s incredible global legacy of sustainable, community-centered growth and development.
With a mural of Monsignor Moses M. Coady, founder of the Antigonish Movement and namesake of the Coady Institute, overseeing the festivities, attendees shared stories from the Institute’s past and shared hopes for its future.
Their hopes are high – and for good reason.
During the ceremony, Gord Cunningham, Executive Director of the Coady International Institute, announced over $1 million in funding from four groups to support and strengthen Institute programs over the coming years.
The funding includes $477,000 over four years for Coady’s work with the Supporting Transition, Retention and Training for Girls (START4GIRLS) program in Zimbabwe. Lead by CARE Canada, and funded through Global Affairs Canada, the project will work with girls, adolescent women, and their communities to promote vocational skills training. It will also place a special emphasis on married girls and teenage mothers who have dropped out of school.
Further funding of $125,000 USD from the Ford Foundation will support Coady’s work with partner group The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. The three-year project will design participatory tools to measure how and where economic vulnerability affects women and their ability to participate in formal and informal employment.
Finally, a $300,000 contribution from the Comart Foundation will strengthen Coady’s ability to work alongside Indigenous peoples and African Nova Scotians, right here in our own province. The funds will be matched by the Jeannine Deveau Educational Equity Endowment, for a total investment of $600,000. The combined investment will strengthen Coady’s capacity to work more closely with Indigenous and African Nova Scotian students, whether through scholarships that bring students to the Institute or by bringing Coady programs into the community.
The diversity of funding announcements reflects Coady’s commitment to work closely with partner groups around the globe, and increasingly, closer to home here in Canada.
“The Coady Institute continues to be a place where change leaders – whether from other parts of the work or here in Nova Scotia – discuss issues, share innovations and develop real, tangible solutions,” said Gord.
“Local leaders are making change happen.”
Among the local programs celebrated at the event was the Centre for Employment Innovation (CEI), an initiative of the Coady Institute and StFX’s Extension Department. Alongside partners within the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, CEI has worked with more than 100 people from underrepresented groups, helping them gain access to meaningful employment as well as training and professional development opportunities.
It was also noted that Coady’s Global Change Leader program, one of almost two dozen programs that will be offered in 2020, recently received over 1,900 applications for just 20 spots. It’s a figure the Coady Institute says supports the need for such programming, and affirms the Institute’s positive reputation around the world.
In addition to remarks from Mr. Cunningham, speakers at the event included Jamie Smith, Director of Social Innovation; Eileen Alma, Director of Women and Indigenous Programming; Anthony Scoggins, Director of Education Programs, StFX President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Kevin B. Wamsley, and two recent graduates from the Coady Institute: Sheila Pelly and Andrea Curley.
Mr. Kerry Prosper, Indigenous Knowledge Keeper on campus, offered a territorial acknowledgement, in recognition of the fact that the Coady Institute is located on Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and un-ceded territories of the Mi’kmaq people.
Spirits were high in the Charles V. Keating Centre as family, friends and loved ones gathered to watch the newest group of StFX graduates receive their degrees and diplomas at StFX’s 2019 Fall Convocation, held December 1.
StFX conferred over 200 degrees and diplomas during the ceremony, spanning programs at the diploma, bachelor, and masters level. The hard work and perseverance displayed by graduates over their course of studies was noted by Dr. John Peacock ‘63, University Chancellor.
“I have no doubt that each of you bring a unique story of struggle, challenge and achievement. I hope as you reflect on your journey, you will also reflect on those who provided you with support, encouragement, and love while you worked to get here. I hope you take the time to thank them.”
He also challenged graduates to consider how they will make the world “a better, safer, and happier place.”
“Your generation is fighting against the destruction my generation has caused,” said Dr. Peacock. “Climate change, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia. I urge you to think carefully about the role you’ll play.
“And I hope that StFX has formed you into the type of person who won’t run away from a challenge.”
Dr. Peacock’s comments were seconded by Dr. Kevin B. Wamsley, President and Vice-Chancellor of StFX, who noted, of all the events that take place each year at StFX, Convocation is his favourite.
“Convocation is a celebration of the belief that an academic degree means something. That the creation and dissemination of knowledge provides hope for future, and prepares us to take on the challenges that confront us.”
Dr. Wamsley also noted many of the new graduates who already don an X-Ring, and implored them to “remember what the ring celebrates.”
“Use your StFX degree to build bridges between people to solve problems in this great country. We are at a time of great polarization and disagreement. Build bridges to help us find our way.”
StFX awarded an honorary degree to Dr. Helen Vari, a Canadian philanthropist and the President of the George and Helen Vari Foundation. Dr. Vari has been a lifelong supporter of education, academic research and the preservation of cultural heritage.
In her remarks to students and guests, Dr. Vari, who identified herself as a “Hungarian refugee,” recalled an act of kindness on behalf of StFX that forever shaped her family’s life.
In the fifties, StFX established a Hungarian Refugee Fund to support newcomers from the country who were arriving in Canada. The Right Honourable Brian Mulroney ‘59, then a StFX student, travelled to Montreal on behalf of the university to disperse the funds to Mr. George Vari, Helen’s husband – and a refugee newcomer himself. In addition to the funds, Mr. Mulroney also took his own winter coat and gave it to Mr. Vari, recognizing he did not yet have one of his own.
It was a small act of kindness that made an enormous impact on the Vari family.
“This is not only generosity – this is humanity,” said Dr. Vari. “This is your university, and this is our wonderful Canada. I cannot thank you ever enough.”
She also encouraged the new graduates to exemplify this same kind spirit in their own lives.
“Be good. Do whatever you can for other people, whether a smile or a dollar. And know that, in our wonderful country of Canada, everything is possible. Whatever you decide, you can do it!”
Also honoured during the ceremony were StFX biology lab instructor Regina Cozzi, recipient of the 2019 Outreach Award, and Lindsey Arnold, Instructor with StFX’s Continuing & Distance Education department and Student Success Centre, who received the 2019 Outstanding Staff Teaching Award.
S.A.F.E. (Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace) received the 2019 Community Partner Award in recognition for their tireless work to give Syrian families displaced by conflict the opportunity to rebuild their lives in Antigonish. StFX and S.A.F.E. are proud to have a strong partnership, which has created many opportunities for learning and the exchange of ideas and talents.
New graduate Kyle Sarka, who is originally from Inverness, N.S. and received his Master of Education at the ceremony, delivered the graduating class address. He noted that when he enrolled in StFX as an undergraduate student, many of the new student facilities developed in recent years were still a dream.
“But the culture of this university is timeless, and what I learned from being part of this culture is that Xaverians are a family. And as you look back, remember that it was all worth it.”
Marc Rodrigue, president of the StFX Alumni Association, extended congratulations to the new graduating class on behalf of entire StFX alumni network. He also encouraged them to use their experiences at StFX to make the world a better place and to inspire positive change, wherever and whenever possible.
2018 Honorary Degree recipient
Dr. Helen Vari
Helen Vari is an eminent Canadian philanthropist and the President of the George and Helen Vari Foundation. Throughout her life, she has supported student scholarships, academic research and the preservation of cultural heritage. Mrs. Vari was educated in both Austria and Hungary. She came to Canada, where she married her late husband The Honourable George W. Vari. Mr. Vari established the engineering and construction company SEFRI Construction International. She has been a lifelong supporter of education, committed to ensuring students of all abilities and backgrounds have opportunities to study. The George and Helen Vari Foundation was created in 1984 to promote education in Canada and cultural and educational exchange, and it has provided philanthropic gifts to a number of institutions. Mrs. Vari is also a primary financial contributor through the Vimy Foundation to the construction of the new Visitor Education Centre at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. She has been a member of many organizations, including the Vimy Foundation; The Canada Council for the Arts, Alliance Francaise de Toronto, Maison des étudiants Canadiens at the University of Paris, the Ontario Heritage Foundation, and the Leukemia Research Foundation of Canada, among many others. She is the Founding President of the World Monuments Fund in France, a Foundation dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage worldwide. Mrs. Vari's contributions have been widely recognized. She is a member of the Order of Canada. She has received prestigious honours, including: Commander, Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur (France), Dame Commander of Merit of the Order of Saint-John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta; Queen Elizabeth II 50‘Anniversary Golden Jubilee and 60" Anniversary Diamond Jubilee Medals; Officier du Mérite National (France); and honorary doctorates from York University, Ryerson University, Victoria University, University of Toronto, and the University of Ontario Institute and Technology.
2019 Outreach Award
Lab Instructor, Biology
Regina Cozzi has been a member of the StFX community since 2000, first as a research assistant and now as a laboratory instructor in the Biology Department. Mrs. Cozzi is extremely dedicated to her outreach work for both the department and the local community. Her efforts have engaged and educated thousands of children in the region. For years she has promoted ocean literacy to youth and adults through numerous outreach workshops, both in English and in French. Since 2013, Mrs. Cozzi has organized the department’s annual World Oceans Day (WOD) event, which promotes ocean awareness to the general public, especially to younger generations. This highly anticipated educational event draws over 1,000 people annually and has lasting impacts. Mrs. Cozzi also launched the Bio-Outreach website for the Biology Department and created an organized online data entry to keep track of the department’s outreach activities, currently benefiting approximately 2,000 youth annually. In addition, she volunteers as a judge at regional science fairs and at the StFX Student Research Day. She contributes to women in STEM, volunteers with the West River 4-H Club as waterfowl leader, collaborates with X-Chem to facilitate ocean literacy activities during Science Literacy Week and helps facilities summer camps and school visits. Ms. Cozzi’s strong community involvement can also be seen through her blog, Country Parent, promoting local activities for children, since 2012. Mrs. Cozzi holds a MSc in environmental immunotoxicology from the Université du Québec.
2019 Outstanding Staff Teaching Award
Instructor, Continuing & Distance Education and Student Success Centre
Lindsey Arnold joined StFX in 2017 as an instructor for the Student Success Centre and for Continuing and Distance Education. She brought with her a student-centered and inclusive teaching philosophy that grew out of research she did in earning her Master of Arts in education at the University of Toronto OISE, and also out of her diverse contributions to the field of education, including running a vibrant tutoring business and developing transformative curriculum overseas. Her accomplishments at StFX include developing and delivering various face-to-face and online workshops and courses as well as one-on-one instruction. Her pedagogy emphasizes student-centered, active and holistic learning alongside direct instruction delivered through multiple modes in order to ensure accessibility, inclusivity, and engagement. As an essay writing and learning skills instructor, she teaches students from different disciplines and backgrounds, many of whom are struggling to succeed at university. One of her colleagues describes the “positive influence” she has on her students and states that, “Lindsey is a particularly favoured instructor at the SSC, and students actively seek her out to work with them. This is because Lindsey is a caring and compassionate instructor who advocates for the academic and personal success of all students who visit the centre.” Her contributions to the intellectual life at StFX and the academic skills of StFX graduates have earned her recognition as an outstanding teacher.
2019 Community Partner Award
SAFE (Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace)
Since its inception, SAFE (Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace), which works to give Syrian families a chance to rebuild their lives in Antigonish, has inspired countless people with the power of community relationships. From the start, StFX and SAFE have had a strong partnership that has created many opportunities for the exchange of ideas, talents and learning. Together, SAFE and StFX have organized or co-sponsored several events for sharing knowledge, creating awareness and building community. These included the presentation of To Eat an Almond, the organization of StFX Refugee Awareness Day, X Talks: Hope and Education and the President’s Colloquium: People in Crisis. What can we do. The work of SAFE and the issues it highlights have been brought into the classroom and into students’ academic, social and personal learning. Presentations have provided unique opportunities for students to learn more about refugee issues. Students involved in fundraising, advocacy and peer education have learned leaderships skills while mobilizing the student body to achieve a goal. Several research studies have come out of SAFE’s work as a sponsorship group and the arrival of refugees in the community. The work SAFE has done on campus, co-sponsoring events such as the Peace for Syria Walk and the Affirmation of Peace/Salam has helped StFX create a more diverse and inclusive campus where students have opportunity to learn from those who have a different religion and life experience.
While researching another project, StFX Celtic Studies professor Dr. Ranke de Vries came across a fascinating text that talked about the use of animal dung in medieval medicine—to treat common ailments like baldness and snake bites.
Intrigued by the information she found, Dr. de Vries has published the text, with translation and notes, in a new article in the North American Journal of Celtic Studies. The text has never before been edited.
“Nobody has looked at this text up to now, which means that these recipes have been hidden away in this manuscript for roughly six centuries,” she says.
She says she came up with the idea for the article quite by accident. “I came across the text as I was doing some research for a completely different article about medieval medicine. When I was looking through the manuscript description for TCD MS 1343, I saw that it contained this short text on medicinal uses for animal dung, which I found intriguing,” she says.
“What type of animal dung was used, and what on earth would that be good for? Did doctors use fresh dung? As it turns out, most of the Irish recipes involve dried and burnt goat dung, which was considered beneficial to cure a range of afflictions, from alopecia (localized hair loss) to bites from venomous animals – but dung from sheep, cows, mice, and birds are also present.”
She says one of the things she did not realize before she did research for this edition was that animal dung was used in medical recipes long after the Middle Ages.
What interested her about the research?
“First of all, I find medieval medicine as a field is utterly fascinating, as the principles behind it are so fundamentally different from modern medicine. To us, most of it may seem idiosyncratic at best, and downright lethal at worst. A modern reader might wonder what the value of studying medieval medicine might be, when so much progress has been made in the field of medicine since then. And that is a valid question.
“When you look at medieval medical recipes, many of them contain highly toxic ingredients, mercury, for example, or various kinds of lead, and you should absolutely never try to make them at home, or use them in any way whatsoever. But there are some recipes, like a recipe for eye salve found in the Anglo-Saxon Bald’s Leechbook from the ninth century, that have been shown to be quite effective against MRSA, caused by a bacterium that is resistant to many types of antibiotics.”
She says in a time when antibiotics are becoming less effective, the thought of maybe coming across a recipe that can be used to cure modern disease is alluring.
She says the topic of medicine in medieval Ireland is something that has not been studied very much until relatively recently, even though there are around 100 manuscripts containing medical material, dated to the 14th century and after, and new texts are found periodically.
Part of the relative lack of research has to do with the fact that the texts themselves are quite challenging – they are filled with technical terms, and the manuscripts contain lots of abbreviations as they were written for use by medical families, who of course knew the material very well.
“I really liked the challenge of editing such a text, and it is always exciting to be able to work on something that nobody has ever looked at before – these recipes have not been studied for 600 years,” she says.
“Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the recipes themselves are also quite interesting – mouse pellets, for example, were thought to help against kidney stones. You have to wonder whether that has anything to do with the size and shape of the pellets…”
Dr. de Vries says she is delighted that the article has appeared, and hopes that students and scholars alike find it useful, and that it will inspire people to take up studying medieval medicine.
Found in a 15th-century manuscript written in Irish Gaelic, the manuscript, titled TCD MS 1343, is currently held at Trinity College, Dublin. The text is essentially a collection of medical recipes that contain various kinds of animal dung, along with an explanation as to what ailment each type of dung cures.
For the edition, she says she first looked at the original text in the digitized manuscript, which can be found on the Irish Script On Screen project.
“As texts in medical manuscripts tend to use a lot of abbreviations, I first had to determine what the abbreviations stood for, which took a while—one particular symbol had me stumped for a couple of months. I then translated it and attempted to explain any particularly tricky or unclear sections. The Irish Gaelic text refers a number of times to Avicenna, a very famous medieval Persian physician who lived in the late 10th and early 11th century. Avicenna wrote, among many other things, a work called the Canon of Medicine. The Irish writer of our text likely did not use the original Arabic text, but a Latin translation of the Canon. This meant that in order to be able to compare the two versions, I had to translate a few paragraphs from the Latin translation as well. I am very grateful to my StFX colleagues Professor Ed Carty and Dr. Donna Trembinski, who were kind enough to assist me in that translation.”
Incidentally, she says, the manuscript has a lot of other interesting material. She is currently working on a few fragments from the same manuscript that deal with mandrake, the number of bones in the human body, rhubarb, and different units of measurement.
Dr. de Vries says she actually took her transcriptions for these latest fragments into the medieval medicine course she is currently teaching, and students helped her find background information for the various sections, which was really useful. She also received help in transcribing the fragments from students in her Selected Topics course on medieval manuscripts.