An ongoing presence

Mary MacKay
Published on January 14, 2013
Erica Ross, above, of Clyde River, graduated from UPEI with a bachelor of arts degree with honours and no debt, thanks, in part, to four $5,000-scholarships from one of St. Dunstan’s University board of governors’ many bursary and scholarship programs.


More than 40 years have passed since the nameplate at St. Dunstan’s University (SDU) in Charlottetown officially switched over to the University of Prince Edward Island when it and Prince of Wales College were amalgamated by the provincial government into a single educational institution in 1969.

However, SDU lives on in the form of the SDU board of governors, which, from 1970 to date has invested more than $20 million dollars in the Island community, including in excess of $4 million in educational scholarships, bursaries and awards.

One of those happy recipients is Erica Ross of Clyde River, who is now in her first year at the University of Toronto working toward her masters in speech language pathology.

She received four back-to-back $5,000 SDU scholarships during her four years of undergraduate work at UPEI.

“It made it really easy because I worked a part-time job and did some volunteering and I played field hockey at UPEI, so time was a precious thing. I never had a lot of free time to work enough to pay for tuition,” Ross says.

“So it was huge that I was able to be such a part of my community and volunteer and work and still have a social life and keep my marks up. In retrospect, it contributed to me getting into grad school because speech is a really competitive program so if you want to get in you have to be smart, you have to volunteer, you have to be the best you can be.”

St. Dunstan’s was originally established in 1831 as St. Andrew’s College by missionary Bishop Angus MacEachern at his home in St. Andrews to educate prospective seminarians and lay leaders.

It was the first post-secondary institution in the pioneer colony.

In 1844, Bishop B.D. MacDonald began construction of a new, larger college in Charlottetown on what is presently the UPEI campus. It opened in 1855.

“Somewhere in that time period it became St. Dunstan’s College,” says George Morrison, executive director of the SDU board of governors.

By the mid-20th century, the college had expanded into a small liberal arts university.

“In 1969, when UPEI was formed through the amalgamation of SDU and Prince of Wales College, the government bought the assets of St. Dunstan’s University for approximately $5 million, and SDU also kept about 100-plus acres of land, some of which we still own,” says Morrison, who was actually part of the second last graduating class of St. Dunstan’s.

“After (UPEI opened in September of) 1969, St. Dunstan’s continued not as a teaching university but primarily as a foundation with the objective of sponsoring Christian education.”

Since 1970, SDU has awarded bursaries to residents of P.E.I. who are practicing Roman Catholics and are enrolled in post-secondary education. These $500 bursaries are renewable, based upon a certain level of academic success, for a maximum of four years.

The Board of Governors Award, which was put into place two years ago, is a non-renewable award of $1,500 and is available to students attending UPEI, Holland College or College de L’Acadie. Five are given out annually.

The SDU board also supports a few other scholarships and awards.

In 2005, the board added a scholarship program for incoming full-time undergraduate students at UPEI who are practicing Roman Catholics. Up to three $5,000 scholarships are awarded annually. The grant is renewable and can also be held for a maximum of four years.

“The criteria are a little more stringent. In order to apply for the scholarship, you have to have an 85 per cent average in your last two years of high school. And in order to put yourself in the running to receive one, you have to have made a contribution to the community in terms of volunteer work or whatever and a contribution to the church,” Morrison says.

Scholarship students must maintain a minimum grade level over the course of their UPEI academic career and successfully complete four courses on the Catholic studies minor program. SDU finances $100,000 of the cost of UPEI offering five to seven Cathlolic studies courses per year.

“Basically, we wanted to provide the opportunity for students to take some courses that would assist them later on when they got into the work world and in leadership positions to make sound moral and ethical decisions,” Morrison says.

Last year, more than 200 bursaries were given out, and this year it’s expected that number will be about the same.

Steve Dunne, president of Dunne Group, which is a Charlottetown-based marketing and consulting firm, was the recipient of the $500 annual SDU bursary from 1985 to 1989.

“It was huge. It was very significant,” he says of the amount that covered about one-quarter of his annual tuition. I chose to live at home and go to university and between the bursary and what I was able to earn working part-time and some help from my grandmother I got through university with no debt,” adds Dunne, who is now consultant to the executive of the SDU board.

“I know that’s not an option for everybody, but (as my children) get close to university age, any assistance that parents or organizations can provide to them to minimize the debt when they graduate is huge.”

Until recently the SDU board had an office at the Diocesan Pastoral Centre in Charlottetown. Then in 2008, it purchased the Saint Dunstan’s Basilica Rectory, formerly known as the Bishop’s Palace. The building was extensively renovated and is now known as SDU Place.

“Now we’re trying to get the word out that we’re here,” Morrison says.

Right now, SDU’s assets stand at $18 million and 65 acres of land. Its website is being revamped to put students more in the forefront as the SDU board of governors moves forward. The board hopes more students will apply for the bursaries and scholarships that are available.

“I was able to graduate without a student loan, which is really nice just going into this degree (in speech language pathology),” says Ross, who hopes to return to P.E.I. to start her career here.

“Filling out the student loan process this time it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh I have to pay all this back.’ And all my friends are saying, ‘Yeah, you were spoiled the first time,’” she adds with a laugh. “I am so fortunate in that way.”


Fast facts

St. Dunstan’s University board of governors presents a bevy of bursaries, scholarships and awards to practicing Catholic post-secondary students on P.E.I. annually.

For more information, contact SDU at 393-3441, email or visit