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A former resident’s tale — of lightning, love, and laundry

By Mark Summers, Knox resident 1994–1998

Mark, Perrine, Louis, and Amelie Summers

From my first year as an undergrad at the University of Toronto, I had always admired Knox College in passing. It looked so nice, I couldn’t imagine engineers like me being allowed to live there! But when a Civil Engineering classmate who lived at “Wart” told me it was possible, I put in my application for the start of grad school.

I’ll never forget moving in, late August of 1994. I hadn’t yet unpacked my suitcases and was gazing out my tiny attic window at the heavy rain in the Quad – when the Chapel tower took a direct bolt of lightning! At the time I assured myself that lightning striking the Chapel – and dislodging chunks of masonry – must be a common enough occurrence…. This was not at all the case, but I clung to this misconception during my Knox residency.

In those first few weeks living at Knox, identifying my fellow engineers was easy enough. But this was my home, not my faculty, so “shop talk” stayed on the far side of the parking lot. Instead I gravitated towards writers, artists, and a number of theology students. I used to love the open discussions at the big tables in the dining hall. Suppers were the best times – and often the noisiest.

In my second year, a typo in the Knox Resident Directory listed my degree of study as “M.Div.” This clerical error, together with the company I tended to keep, left some people guessing for several weeks – until I was exposed as an M.Civ., and my shocking absenteeism from Ancient Greek and Hebrew was suddenly explained.

Apart from the Christmas banquet (which was not to be missed), another highlight of each year for me was the Coffeehouse or Talent night. Those were always great fun and featured everything from jugglers to flautists. Sadly possessing little talent myself, I teamed up with fellow resident and artist Curtis Macdonald. I soon discovered that with the right blend of subterfuge, props, and attire, the audience would only question our sanity and my overly skinny legs – rather than my complete lack of accomplishment. This became a format we would stick to.

In the summer of my second year, my life was about to change forever. As I entered the third floor common room to pop a potato into the microwave, I met a young student named Perrine, just over from France. This lovely girl was sitting alone and eating corn from a tin – and although her English was not completely fluent, it didn’t hold her back. Wow, could she talk!

That summer I was a Don and helped out at reception, so Perrine and I kept running into each other. Since she played the piano, I showed her the Steinway in classroom four, and a recital of my full piano repertoire did not dissuade her. Several weeks later we seemed quite inseparable, but the summer was over, and sadly she had to head back to Europe.

Although email existed, we preferred the personal touch of handwritten letters, two or three a week for two years – adding up to hundreds! Telephone calls were far too costly at that time, but we did manage the odd trip across the Atlantic before I finally packed my bags and left Knox and Canada behind.

We had decided to meet “halfway” in the UK. (I’m still not sure about that distance calculation!) We settled in central London where we’ve lived for 18 years, now with our 11-year-old son, Louis, and our daughter, Amelie, age 8. To this day, whenever possible, our anniversary dinners feature tinned corn and microwaved potato.

Last summer marked the 20th anniversary of Perrine’s and my first meeting at Knox as students, so we and the kids returned for a visit. It was our children’s first time in Canada, so we did a fair bit of travelling around – perhaps a bit too much down “memory lane” for the kids.

Returning to Knox, I found it mostly the same – except for the washrooms, which are of course now quite amazing, and those sinks in the hall, very snazzy with the seemingly mindreading paper towel dispensers. Otherwise it looked and felt much as it did back in the mid-1990s. It was great to see Daniela still there. We shared a laugh about the past, and we heard many about new shenanigans.

Daniela managed to give me my former room for our stay; sleeping there again so many years later was an incredible and surreal experience. Perrine and I delighted in showing our kids around. After a week, I felt like I had never been away. But the most extraordinary part of the visit happened while doing a load of laundry in the basement. Another middle-aged man walked past the door – and then did a double-take. It was former resident (and my co-performer) Curtis Macdonald. The look on his face, running into me out of the blue after 18 years, was well worth the $1.25 I lost behind the washing machine. After he steadied himself and checked for signs of dreaming, he was able to ask, incredulously, “What are YOU doing HERE?”

I responded calmly, as though no time had lapsed since 1996: “Just doing my laundry, Curtis. You alright?”   

Knox was always, and still is, so full of surprises. I wonder what will happen on our next visit? We’re already looking forward to it.

Mark Summers lived at Knox from 1994-1998. Perrine Werner lived at Knox in the summer of 1996. They reside in London, UK.


Reverend Dr. John Vissers nominated as Principal of Knox College

John Vissers

Knox College’s Board of Governors is pleased to nominate the Rev. Dr. John Vissers as Principal of Knox College to the 143rd  General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada, effective July 1, 2017.

The Board of Governors appointed a Search Committee, chaired by Board member Peter McKinnon, to represent the Knox College community. The committee included members of the Board, Faculty, senior staff, alumni/ae, and students – plus representatives from the General Assembly Council Executive and the Toronto School of Theology. It circularized presbyteries to make them aware of the search and to request nominations; fifteen nominated Dr. Vissers.

The committee conducted a rigorous and time-consuming international search, reading materials submitted by applicants, conducting interviews of four strong candidates, and checking references. The committee asked Dr. Vissers to present a public lecture at the College, after which committee members met with each of the groups in the Knox community to hear their general comments and feedback. Peter McKinnon submitted a report to the Board, recommending that Dr. Vissers be nominated as Principal of Knox College, and the Board approved the recommendation unanimously.

Raised in The Presbyterian Church in Canada, Dr. Vissers was ordained as a minister of Word and Sacraments by the Presbytery of West Toronto on May 24, 1981. From this date forward, he has been an active and supportive Presbyter, holding many offices and serving on many committees, both at the presbytery and national level. In the year 2012-13, he was Moderator of the 138th General Assembly. He has also served the church as senior minister at Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto and as professor and Principal of Presbyterian College, Montreal. Currently he is a full professor (Historical Theology) at Knox College and the Toronto School of Theology and he is the Director of Academic Programs at Knox College.

Dr. Vissers graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Victoria College, University of Toronto, followed by a Master of Divinity degree from Knox College and a Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. He earned his Doctor of Theology degree from Knox College, University of Toronto: his doctoral dissertation is titled, ”The Conception of Revelation in the Theology of Walter W. Bryden.”

Throughout his career, Dr. Vissers has written extensively, mainly in the theology and history of the Reformed Protestant tradition and its effect on the Canadian context. He wrote The Neo-Orthodox Theology of W.W. Bryden and co-edited and contributed to Calvin at 500: Theology, History, and Practice and Studies in Canadian Evangelical Renewal: Essays in Honour of Ian S. Rennie. In addition to these books, he has written numerous journal articles, chapters in books, book reviews, and magazine articles. He has received several awards for the quality and relevance of his research.

His teaching has focused on his deep knowledge of and passion for theology, which he has shared through courses such as “Principles of Christian Theology,” “Christianity in a Global Perspective,” “Church, Ministry, and Sacraments,” “Theology of John Calvin,” and “Reformed Theology in Dialogue.”

Dr. Vissers has broad interests, as demonstrated by his writing and his contributions to our national church. In recognition of his contribution to ecumenical theological education, the Montreal Diocesan Theological College at McGill University awarded him the degree Doctor of Sacred Theology, honoris causa.

Join with the Knox College Board of Governors in celebrating the Rev. Dr. John Vissers’s contributions to The Presbyterian Church in Canada. His strong faith and well-endorsed character, demonstrated passion for theological education, and leadership qualities led the Board to recommend Dr. Vissers as Principal with enthusiasm and confidence.


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