The Newman Institute of Catholic Studies (NICS) began as an informal association in 1998, serving as the intellectual arm of the Newman Centre of McGill University. In 2000, it was formally established and incorporated as an independent association of McGill scholars and affiliated colleagues, at which point it played a key role in the creation both of the Catholic Studies Minor program and a research chair.
During the 1990s, there was growing recognition of a gap in the existing programs at McGill University dealing with religious diversity. Despite McGill’s considerable academic strengths in this interdisciplinary arena, there was little or no focused attention on Catholicism, a religious tradition vital to Quebec and Canadian history, as well as global society. The Catholic Studies program was proposed to address this omission.
One fruit of the vibrant intellectual work of the Newman Centre during the late 1990s was a generous gift by Dr. Leon and Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Podles to endow a chair in Catholic Studies in memory of Mr. Kennedy Smith, the late father of Mrs. Podles. The proposed chair would provide the required academic anchor for the Catholic Studies program. The Chair and the Catholic Studies program were designed to work in collaboration with other units dealing with the interface of religion, culture, and society.
A formal agreement was soon struck between McGill University and the Newman Institute of Catholic Studies to establish the Kennedy Smith Chair in Catholic Studies within the Faculty of Arts. Providing ongoing support for the activities of the Chair and the program is one of the core purposes of the Institute.
On October 30, 2000, faculty, students, and academic dignitaries (Principal Bernard Shapiro and Carmen Miller, Dean of Arts), gathered to celebrate the inauguration of the Kennedy Smith Chair, the launch of the Catholic Studies program, and the major endowment by the Kennedy Smith Foundation. David Williams (1939-2015), Professor of English, was invested as the first holder of the Kennedy Smith Chair.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal also marked this significant academic development by a service held at the Grand Séminaire de Montréal over which the Cardinal Archbishop of Montreal, Jean-Claude Turcotte, presided.