How Canon Hugh Puxley motivated my life

The Rev. Canon H. L. Puxley. Photo: Dalhousie University Archives, the Dalhousie Gazette (Vol. 95, Issue 12; January 9, 1963; MS-1-Ref, Box 25 ; Box 166)
Published February 10, 2020

Several years ago, I wrote an Anglican Journal column entitled “Enlarging Our Faith Communities.” In it I described my experience as a young Lutheran theological student from Waterloo Seminary (now Martin Luther University College) in Waterloo, Ontario, and my encounter with what was then known as the Ecumenical Institute, St. George Street, Toronto. At the time I knew it best, the institute was “under the guidance of the inimitable Canon Hugh L. Puxley”—affectionately known to his contemporaries as “Pux.”

I would like to dedicate this column to him, an affable Englishman become Canadian, who greatly Influenced my career. It is only now at this later stage of my life that I more fully appreciate his impact on me personally.

While much of the ecumenical movement and its great influence on many people around the world may be recorded in terms of august conferences, important statements and significant church leader biographies, I want to offer some thoughts about “Puxley’s unique personality” and how that inspired and continues to influence Canadian church organizations and their successors.

Puxley was born in England in 1907—at the epitome of empire. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, specializing in economics, and then proceeded to Yale on a scholarship. In 1932 he married Mary Sedgwick, daughter of an Ontario Supreme Court Justice. Mary and Hugh moved immediately to India where they worked with the Church Missionary Society of Great Britain. He taught economics for eight years at St. John’s College, Agra, and then served in the Indian army. The Puxleys were learning a lot—early in their careers—about cross-discipline studies, international and ecumenical affairs and a world that was changing.

Finally settling in Canada, Hugh studied theology at Trinity College, Toronto. He was ordained deacon in what was then the Church of England in Canada (1947) and led the Student Christian Movement and the Department of Overseas Missions of the Canadian Council of Churches.

For almost ten years he was involved in leadership roles at the University of King’s College, Halifax (later to become affiliated with Dalhousie University). He resigned in 1963 to assume leadership of the newly formed Canadian Institute of Ecumenical Affairs, soon to be named the Ecumenical Institute of Toronto.

It was during the following years that I became friends and was influenced by Hugh Puxley. Until 1967 I worked with him and a number of other student colleagues from southern Ontario theological schools as the Waterloo Lutheran representative that planned the annual Canadian theological students’ conferences. These events attracted participants from French and English Canada, ranging from the Atlantic provinces to British Columbia.

Puxley lent his considerable support and influence to my student application at the World Council of Churches’ Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies, Bossey, Switzerland (1967-68). This introduced me to one of the most important times of my personal/
spiritual growth.

Now, many years after his death, I look back to the 1960s and my time with “Pux” as part of the most formative in my life. He was indeed an “ecumenical personality”—genuinely open, accessible,engaging, non-judgemental and always attempting to “continue the conversation.”

At the Ecumenical Institute I made my first contacts with Roman Catholic and Evangelical Protestant friends. This beginning encouraged me to take my next first steps of inter-faith dialogue.

All this happened more than fifty years ago, but it continues to motivate my life.


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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