Gruchy Chair

The Dr. Lydia E. Gruchy Chair of Pastoral Theology 

Lydia Emelie Gruchy (September 5, 1894-April 9, 1992) was a French-born Canadian who became the first woman ordained to the ministry of The United Church of Canada in 1936. She was the first woman to enroll in theological studies, and to graduate from Presbyterian Theological College (which would later become St. Andrew’s College). Lydia was also the first woman to have an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree conferred upon her, right here at St. Andrew’s College in 1953. 

Lydia is one of the trailblazers of St. Andrew’s College.

Your donation to the endowment fund for the Dr. Lydia E. Gruchy Chair of Pastoral Theology will strengthen the education of leaders for The United Church of Canada and honour the ministry and legacy of this amazing person. Your gift of trust will support central aspects of the prairie ministry of Lydia Gruchy including worship and preaching, Christian education, and practical theology. These are essential components of education for our church leaders.  Help us bring strong leaders into the future. 

Following in her footsteps…

Dr. Becca Whitla,
Professor of Practical Ministry &
Lydia E. Gruchy Chair of Pastoral Studies

I’ve been reflecting lately on the legacy of Lydia Emilie Gruchy, the first woman ordained to ministry in The United Church of Canada. In 2036 it will be the 100th anniversary of her ordination. It is both humbling and inspiring to occupy the chair position at St. Andrew’s College named in her honour.

Reverend Doctor Gruchy was a remarkable woman! A leader in theological education and pastoral care, she was a ground breaker on several fronts. In addition to being the first woman ordained to ministry in the UCC, she was also the first woman to pursue theological studies and then to graduate from a Presbyterian theological college—in 1923, from the college that was to become the United Church of Canada’s St. Andrew’s College. The Rev. Dr. Gruchy began her career as a teacher, a vocation she continued once ordained through her leadership as the Secretary for the Deaconess Order and Women Workers of the United Church and as the acting principal of the Deaconess Training School between 1939 and 1943. In 1953, Gruchy was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree from St. Andrew’s, another first since she was the first woman to be awarded the degree in Canada.

As a newcomer to Saskatoon and the Prairies, I find it fitting that Gruchy found her pathway here. The Prairies are the birthplace of the Canadian Commonwealth Federation, forerunner to the New Democratic Party, and seedbed for the Canadian Social Gospel Movement. As a descendent of United Church founders and Social Gospel movers and shakers myself, I was very excited to move here in the fall of 2019. One thing led to another, and I am still year here, beginning my fifth year in sunny, friendly—and often quite chilly (!) Paris of the Prairies—Saskatoon, following in Gruchy’s footsteps. Here at the College, on the banks of the beautiful South Saskatchewan River, people have been discerning how to bear witness to the liberationist, justice centered vision of Jesus of Nazareth for more than 100 years. Here on Treaty six territory and the homeland of the Métis, we at St. Andrew’s are building robust and vibrant pathways for the future of the College, along with our colleagues of the Saskatoon Theological Union.

We do so mindful of the brokenness of our world due to the issues we know so well—colonialism, the pandemic, poverty, war, the climate crisis, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, etc. These are our contexts! They are also the realities of our students and their communities. So, with a commitment to praxis—reflection on our lived realities, with a view towards transformation—like Gruchy, we are forging a program to equip students for meeting the needs of the church and our communities into the future.

When I contemplate the challenges ahead of us, I am moved and inspired by Gruchy’s witness, determination, and passion. Like the persistent widow in Luke’s gospel, she never gave up (Luke 18:1-8). She answered her call to ministry before The United Church of Canada was even formed—before “union” in 1925—by applying for ordination to the Presbyterian Church of Canada. This first denial was followed by repeated refusals by the General Council of the UCC every two years for thirteen years until 1936, even though she was supported by her presbytery. That is persistence! And it speaks to a cloud of witnesses in Saskatchewan who stood by her as well.

I wonder where and when we might be called to be persistent like Gruchy in our struggles for justice, like the widow in Luke or like Lydia Gruchy. And I wonder whose struggles we can put our muscles behind in bold and daring acts of justice and solidarity like her Saskatchewan ministry colleagues. After all, ours is a faith journey of persistence against the odds for which we can draw courage and hope from our forbears! In that vein, I’d like to close this reflection on Lydia Gruchy by quoting another feminist leader and United Church minister, Sylvia Dunstan. 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of her death, far too young, at the age of 38. Yet she leaves us a legacy of internationally renown hymnody. One of her hymns was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ordination of the first woman to The United Church of Canada—Lydia Gruchy!

Here’s the entire text of “For the Faithful Who Have Answered”. It is available in a new volume of Dunstan’s collected works published by GIA this year.

For the faithful who have answered when they heard your call to serve, for the many ways you led them, testing will and stretching nerve, for their work and for their witness as they strove against the odds, for their courage and obedience we give thanks and praise, O God.

Many eyes have glimpsed the promise many hearts have yearned to see. Many ears have heard you calling us to greater liberty. Some have fallen in the struggle, others still are fighting on. You are not ashamed to own us. We give thanks and praise, O God.

For this cloud of faithful witness, for the common life we share, for the work of peace and justice, for the gospel that we bear, for the vision that our homeland is your love– deep, high, and broad  for the different roads we travel we give thanks and praise, O God.