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Ruth Evans and Hanny Hassan to Receive Honorary Degrees

Mar. 14, 2024


An early advocate for a more inclusive role for women in the United Church of Canada and a longtime promoter of better understanding between cultures and religions will each receive an Honorary Doctorate from Victoria University in the University of Toronto.

Ruth Evans, of Toronto, will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, which is conferred on people who made a significant contribution to the United Church or its mission. Hanny Hassan, of London, Ont., will receive an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, which is given to people whose outstanding contribution to society exemplifies the values that Victoria University seeks to cultivate in its members.

Chancellor Nick Saul, a renowned food and social justice activist, will confer the degrees on May 16 as part of the Victoria University Convocation and Emmanuel College Graduation.

“I was struck by the genuine humility of both recipients when I called them to let them know they would be receiving honorary degrees,” said Dr. Rhonda N. McEwen, president and vice-chancellor of Victoria University. “Ruth Evans’ first thought was how to include her sons in her celebration. Hanny Hassan’s immediate response was what more can I do for Emmanuel College? I have great appreciation for people for whom service is not work, but rather part of who they are and their vocation.”

Ms. Evans, who was born in England, earned an MA in history at Oxford University before emigrating to Canada. She has been at the forefront of women’s issues since the 1970s. In 1975, she was a founding member of the Movement for Christian Feminism, a national organization dedicated to raising awareness of the perspectives, needs and gifts of women in the United Church. She helped found a counselling and referral service for women with unwanted pregnancies. She was a member of the United Church committee on the ethics of therapeutic abortion and helped write the 1980 report in which the church declared that abortion in the early weeks of pregnancy should be a private matter between a woman and her doctor.

After studying at the Toronto School of Theology, where she was the Mary Rowell Jackman Scholar at Emmanuel College in 1979, Ms. Evans received a second MA, in feminist theology, in 1980 from St. Michael’s College at U of T. She taught the first feminist theology course at Emmanuel, which influenced a generation of religious leaders and scholars.

From 1980 –1995 Ms. Evans served as director and then deputy secretary of the Office of Christian Development of the United Church General Council office in Toronto—one of the first women in the council’s senior leadership. “It’s gratifying to see this work recognized, to which so many women contributed,” Ms. Evans said of her honorary degree.

Mr. Hassan, former partner with Dillon Consulting, Inc., and president of Alef Consulting, Inc., has been involved in interfaith and community service work for 60 years. He supported many organizations in their efforts to bring people of different religions and cultures together, so that they may better understand each other and to remove the conditions that lead to poverty, violence against women and xenophobia.

He played an important role in launching a Muslim focus of the Master of Pastoral Studies program at Emmanuel College. He was director of the Canadian Dawn Foundation that gave Emmanuel College the seed money for the program as well as a Muslim prayer room and ablution facilities. He is the longest-serving member of the college’s Muslim Advisory Committee.

Mr. Hassan has a Bachelor of Engineering Science degree from the University of Western Ontario and a Master of Engineering from Dalhousie University. He was exposed to social justice issues, particularly those around Africville in Halifax, in the mid-1960s.

Mr. Hassan was named to the Order of Canada in 2011 for his community work and contributions to promoting understanding between cultures and religions. He was made an honorary fellow at the University of St. Michael’s College at U of T for his work in advancing Catholic-Muslim relations. He received an Honorary Doctor of Laws honoris causa from Western University in 2023. Western’s Alumni Association also gave him its highest award, the Dr. Ivan Smith Award, in 2019 for significant and sustained contributions to the Alumni Association, The University of Western Ontario and society in general.

“For many years, the United Church of Canada has been a leader in reaching out to and working with other faith traditions for the common good,” Mr. Hassan said. “In 2004, it published That We May Know Each Other, a book for ‘a United Church of Canada understanding of the relationship between Christianity and Islam.’ Victoria University and Emmanuel College have continued this legacy by creating a Muslim focus in their Master of Pastoral Care program. By granting me this honorary degree, it acknowledges my efforts and that of many others who have worked with the United Church and Emmanuel College for the fulfillment of meaningful and genuine interfaith collaboration. It is an important demonstration of our shared humanity, particularly at a time when voices of division are so loud.” 

About Emmanuel College 

Emmanuel College was established in 1928, a few years after the formation of the United Church of Canada in 1925. Its intention was to continue the tradition of theological education established earlier by Canadian Methodists and Presbyterians who founded Victoria University. Rooted in the ecumenical heritage of the United Church of Canada, shaped by its context in Victoria University and in relationship with Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and other religious communities, Emmanuel College equips leaders and scholars for rigorous theological inquiry and for inclusive practices of justice and care, contextual analysis, creative activity and interfaith engagement. 

Emmanuel College is the largest theological school associated with the United Church of Canada, one of seven federated theological colleges within the Toronto School of Theology, which is part of the University of Toronto, and a fully accredited member of the Association of Theological Schools.   

About Victoria University in The University of Toronto 

Victoria University, federated with The University of Toronto, was founded in 1836 and is one of the oldest universities in Canada. As a recognized leader in undergraduate education in the arts and sciences and in graduate education in theology, Victoria University creates an environment where students discover how to match their distinctive talents to some of the world's most pressing issues. It is home to two outstanding colleges. Victoria College—with its small class sizes, its distinctive first-year programs, and its exceptional students—is recognized as one of the most rewarding places in Canada to pursue an undergraduate education. Emmanuel College prepares students from many faiths and backgrounds for leadership roles in religious contexts. The iconic campus is located on the east side of Queen’s Park, south of Bloor Street, in Toronto. 

Media Contact: 

Leslie Shepherd, Interim Director, Communications 
Victoria University in the University of Toronto

**Photos of the two recipients are available

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