Michael W. Higgins

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Michael William Higgins (born October 24, 1948) is a Canadian academic, writer and vice president for Mission and Catholic Identity at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. Higgins and his wife Krystyna, a professional piano accompanist, liturgical musician and freelance editor, have four children.[1]


Born in Toronto, Higgins attended St. Thomas Aquinas School for his primary education, and received his secondary education from the Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute, where Higgins is now on the school's "Hall of Fame".

Higgins earned his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in English and Philosophy from St. Francis Xavier University (1970), an MA in English from York University (1971), a Bachelor of Education (Theatre Arts specialization) from the University of Toronto (1973) and a PhD from York University (1979) with a thesis entitled Thomas Merton — the Silent-Speaking Poet: A Study of his Poetry.


Higgins also did graduate work in Theology at the University of St. Michael's College (Toronto), later teaching Religious Studies there before moving to St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, Ontario (1982–2006). From 1989 to 1995 he served as Associate Dean, before becoming Academic Dean and Vice-President (1995–1999) and President and Vice-Chancellor (1999–2006). In 2006 Higgins became President and Vice-Chancellor, as well as Professor of English and Religious Studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, New Brunswick. In August 2009, eighteen months after a controversial lockout (before the faculty union had taken a strike vote) and subsequent strike, Higgins announced his resignation as President of St. Thomas, effective December 31, 2009.[2] Four days later, on January 4, 2010, he commenced as a Visiting Senior Executive in Residence at Sacred Heart University (SHU). Since July 1, 2010, Higgins has served as Vice President for SHU's Mission and Catholic Identity department. In this role Higgins is responsible for leading initiatives that preserve, promote and integrate Catholic mission, vision and values throughout the University. He directs such programs at the Spidlik Center for Ecumenical Understanding as well as the new and developing Institute for Vatican II Studies.

He has been a monthly columnist for The Toronto Star (1986–2006), as well as a commentator for CBC Television, Commonweal, and The Globe and Mail.[3]

In 2009, Higgins spoke out about the lifting of the excommunications of the bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, saying bishop Richard Williamson must apologize for his negationist views or be expelled from the Roman Catholic Church.[4] As a radio documentarian for the CBC, he has prepared more than 60 one-hour scripts for Ideas, Celebration, and Testament, and has been a regular contributor to Morningside, This Morning, Sunday Edition, as well as to CTV's Canada AM and to TV Ontario's Studio 2 and Agenda. Several of Higgins' programmes have been nominated and short-listed for public-broadcasting awards. Higgins was the main consultant for John McGreevy's six-hour television series, Sir Peter Ustinov's 'Inside the Vatican', and for John Bailey's film version of Ron Hansen's novel, Mariette in Ecstasy. He has also served as a consultant for CBC's Man Alive.[5]

Higgins was working on a CBC documentary series, when, in April 2010, it was announced that he would be serve as biographer of Henri J.M. Nouwen, the only biographical account of Nouwen's life and works to be authorized by Nouwen's Legacy Trust.[6]

In November 2010, Higgins released Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Sex Abuse Scandal, which was co-authored with Peter Kavanagh. The book deals with the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse crisis and the media. The authors describe it as "an exploration of the modern sexual abuse scandal from a number of perspectives".[7] The authors go beyond simply chronicling the issue and its players. They also carefully scrutinize how the media have both reported on and influenced the crisis.[8][9] In June 2011 The Catholic Journalist, the newspaper of the Catholic Press Association of the United States & Canada, awarded the book first place in their category for gender issues. With the award the CPA stated that "The gift of this book is its clear, story-telling language and its richly nuanced entry into deeply troubling but necessary questions that involve media coverage, social mores, systemic and cultural factors, legal procedures, theological understandings, and institutional demands."[10]

Trudeau's Spirituality[edit]

Higgins has been noted for his research on the spirituality of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Trudeau was a Roman Catholic and attended church throughout his life. While mostly private about his beliefs, he made it clear that he was a believer. Trudeau maintained, however, that he preferred to impose constraints on himself rather than have them imposed from the outside. In this sense, he believed he was more like a Protestant than a Catholic of the era in which he was schooled.[11] Higgins found that Trudeau's spirituality incorporated elements of three Catholic traditions. The first of these was the Jesuits who provided his education up to the college level. Trudeau frequently displayed the logic and love of argument consistent with that tradition. A second great spiritual influence in Trudeau's life was Dominican. A third spiritual influence in Trudeau's spirituality was a contemplative aspect acquired from his association with the Benedictine tradition.[citation needed]

Trudeau was convinced of the centrality of meditation in a life fully lived, according to Higgins. He took retreats at Saint-Benoît-du-Lac, Quebec and regularly attended Hours and the Eucharist at Montreal's Benedictine community.[12] Trudeau's spirituality, according to Higgins, "suffused, anchored, and directed his inner life. In no small part, it defined him."[12]


Among his awards are an Ontario Arts Council Award (1988 and 2001), Faith Today's God Uses Ink Award for Non-fiction (1999) and recognition as a 'notable alumnus' of St. Michael's College School. He has been listed in the Canadian Who's Who (1997), and was named among TVO's 'Top Ten Lecturers of Ontario' (2005). Higgins was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Human Letters from Sacred Heart University (2008),[13] and has been nominated for the Governor-General's Award in non-fiction (1990, My Father's Business).

Dr. Higgins was Knighted by Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic as a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre at St. Michael's Cathedral in September 2004, and was promoted to the rank of Knight Commander in October 2008.


Higgins is the author or editor of over a dozen books, including:

  • Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Inquiry into the Clerical Sex Abuse Scandal, co-authored with Peter Kavanagh, Ottawa: Novalis Publishing, 2010.[14]
  • Stalking the Holy: In Pursuit of Saint-Making, Toronto: House of Anansi, 2006.[15]
  • Power and Peril: The Catholic Church at the Crossroads, co-authored with Douglas R. Letson, Toronto: HarperCollins. 2002.[16][17]
  • Soundings: Conversations About Catholicism, co-authored with Douglas R. Letson, Ottawa: Novalis, 2000.[18]
  • The Muted Voice: Religion and the Media, Ottawa: Novalis, 2000.[19][20]
  • Heretic Blood: An Audiobiography of Thomas Merton, (CBC Audio Cassettes) 1999.
  • Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton, Toronto: Stoddart, September, 1998. [U.S. edition in 1999; Sangue Eretico: La Geografia Spirituale di Thomas Merton (Garzanti) Italian (2001) and French edition Thomas Merton: La voie Spirituelle d'un hérétique (Bellarmin) (2000)].[21][22][23]
  • The Jesuit Mystique, co-authored with Douglas R. Letson. Toronto: Macmillan, 1995; London: HarperCollins, 1995; Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1995.[24]
  • Catholic Education—Transforming Our World: A Canadian Perspective, co-edited with Trafford, McGowan and Murphy, Ottawa: Novalis, 1991.
  • My Father's Business: a biography of G. Emmett Cardinal Carter, co-authored with Douglas R. Letson. Toronto: Macmillan, 1990.
  • "How Can We Sorrow"?--Essays on the Resurrection, edited by Michael W. Higgins, University of St. Jerome's College Press, Waterloo, 1989.
  • Women and the Church: A Sourcebook, co-edited with Douglas R. Letson. Toronto: Griffin House, 1986.
  • Portraits of Canadian Catholicism, co-authored with Douglas R. Letson, Toronto: Griffin House, 1986.
  • Thomas Merton: Pilgrim in Process, co-authored/edited with Donald Grayston. Toronto: Griffin House, 1983.

Higgins has also published over 60 articles, essays, film reviews and book reviews (general and academic). He is credited with over 75 published interviews, documentaries, dramas, and radio and television commentaries (including appearances on CTV's Canada AM, CBC Newsworld, CBC Radio's Ideas and a CBS Washington Special. Higgins also provided the ethical and humanistic perspective on the Discovery Channel's @discovery.ca twice per month, along with Dr. Pauline Mazumdar, Dr. Kee Dewdney, Rob Sawyer and Jay Ingram.[25]


  1. ^ Higgins' biodata, Canadian Catholic School Trustees' Association, Annual General Meeting and Convention
  2. ^ St. Thomas University president resigns CBC News August 12, 2009
  3. ^ "Cardinal John Henry Newman: a modern Christian", The Globe and Mail
  4. ^ "Holocaust-denying bishop must apologize, scholar says"
  5. ^ Biography at Canadian Catholic School Trustees' Association, Annual General Meeting and Convention
  6. ^ "Dr. Michael Higgins Named Authorized Biographer of Henri J.M. Nouwen"
  7. ^ "Michael Higgins examines the clerical sex abuse scandal"
  8. ^ http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/salon/article/1294431
  9. ^ http://www.novalis.ca/Product.aspx?ids=3967547&lang=eng
  10. ^ The Catholic Journalist, June 2011, P.27, http://www.catholicpress.org/resource/resmgr/journalists/b11_june_journalist_2011.pdf
  11. ^ Pierre Trudeau#Spirituality
  12. ^ a b Higgins, M. 2004. “Defined by Spirituality”, in English, J. Gwyn, R. Gwyn and P.W. Lackenbauer, eds. The Hidden Pierre Trudeau: The Faith Behind the Politics. Ottawa: Novalis. pgs. 26–30.
  13. ^ http://www.sacredheart.edu/pages/24756_shu_to_honor_canadian_college_president_and_catholic_scholar.cfm
  14. ^ http://www.amazon.com/dp/2896462333
  15. ^ http://www.amazon.ca/dp/0887841813
  16. ^ http://www.amazon.ca/dp/0002557452
  17. ^ http://catholicinsight.com/online/reviews/books/kennedy_powerperil.shtml
  18. ^ http://www.amazon.com/dp/2895070776
  19. ^ http://www.amazon.com/dp/2895070385
  20. ^ http://www.quillandquire.com/reviews/review.cfm?review_id=1693
  21. ^ http://www.amazon.ca/dp/0773761535
  22. ^ http://www.amazon.ca/dp/2890078906
  23. ^ http://www.antigonishreview.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=352&Itemid=65
  24. ^ http://www.amazon.com/dp/0829408657
  25. ^ Dr. Michael W. Higgins Curriculum Vitae, St. Thomas University, July 20, 2009, accessed at http://w3.stu.ca/stu/administrative/president/_content/pdfs/DrMichaelWHigginsCurriculumVitae20090720.pdf on March 4, 2010.