It is all due to a most remarkable man.

Norman McLeod Paterson was born in Portage La Prairie.  He began his career working for prairie railway companies, but after six years of experience beyond the family circle, he joined his father’s grain business in 1903.  And from there he grew in stature as an able and astute business man.  Today N. M. Paterson and Sons, the grain and transportation company which he later founded in Fort William, is a Winnipeg based firm with a global reach.

Norman Paterson’s abilities and achievements were nationally recognised by Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who appointed him to the Senate in 1940; and internationally when King George VI appointed him Knight of the Order of St. John in 1945.  When he retired from the Senate in 1981, he held the record for oldest active senator.

Mr. Paterson also served as a member of Carleton University’s Board of Governors for many years, and became the first chancellor of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Beyond the academic sphere he was President of the Victorian Order of Nurses.  He died in 1983, a few days after his 100th birthday.

What was most extraordinary about Senator Paterson is not the length of his life, the responsibilities he accepted, or the honours which he was awarded, but the generosity of his spirit.  Today the evidence of that generosity lives on in three outstanding ways.

Canada’s premier school for the study of the changing world around us is the Norman Paterson School for International Affairs, made possible by his generous grant to Carleton University in 1965.  The NPSIA offers Canada’s only Master of Arts in International Affairs, and has recently added a Ph. D. Program too.

Five years later, Senator Paterson incorporated The Paterson Foundation, a private charitable foundation which continues to be a devoted supporter of community organizations in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, focussing on projects and programs in the areas of education, health care, religion, social welfare and the arts.

But for Presbyterians, what makes Senator Paterson a man to be remembered was a particularly magnificent act of grace and generosity, long before those more public gifts were made.  One Sunday in 1950, he was sitting in his usual pew in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Ottawa listening to his minister preach.  The Rev. Dr. A. Ian Burnett was minister of St. Andrew’s from 1943 to 1960, and was a noteworthy preacher.  But none of his other sermons ever made as much impact as the sermon he preached that particular Sunday.

The concern Dr. Burnett expressed that day was about the spread of the Gospel.  He cast that concern in a specific context.  Although he was comfortably enough off, many of his colleagues existed only on the Minimum Stipend.  Canada had just entered the 1950’s, and that stipend was the not very princely sum of $2,000 a year.  His concern was that many ministers might be distracted – worn down in their task of living and proclaiming the Gospel, because of the very real worries they faced as they scrimped and patched, raising a family on barely $40 a week.

Norman Paterson listened attentively.  And decided to act.  He had prospered.  God had blessed the work of his hands and mind.  He would share those blessings.  An indenture was drawn up and presented.  He would give sums of money to the Church  in $25,000 increments, until the sum of one million dollars was reached.  That sum was enough to pay outright the stipends of 500 ministers on Minimum Stipend.  An equivalent amount today would be almost $16 million.  A remarkable man.  And remarkable generosity.  In fact, he continued to give even after the million dollar mark was reached.

Two particular stipulations were important to Senator Paterson.  One was that the money be used to help married ministers with children.  Those, of course, were the days when all ministers were male, fewer women worked outside the home, and most parishioners would have been appalled to hear that their minister’s wife had gone to work.  The other stipulation was that the Fund be anonymous.  His name should not be used or known.  And thus it was for more than thirty years.  It was not until after his death in 1983 that his family gave their gracious consent to the Fund being renamed The Norman M. Paterson Fund for Ministerial Assistance.

Today the Fund continues its work.  Times have changed, of course.  Not all ministers are men.  Many spouses do work outside the home, and so the simplest definition of “minimum stipend” no longer can be depended upon.  The “Appointors” – the official name of the members of the Fund committee – have moved with the times but still seek to fulfil the main intent of Senator Paterson’s generosity.  As well as “married ministers” the terms have been broadened to include divorced or separated ministers who have financial responsibility for their children.  To keep a level playing field, and recognising that working spouses contribute in many cases, the qualifying limit has been adjusted to “household income not exceeding $10,000 above the minimum stipend”.

In more than fifty-five years of its operation, the Fund has reached hundreds of families.  Some of those ministers went on from their Minimum Stipend charges to serve other more affluent congregations: some became instantly recognisable names in The Presbyterian Church in Canada:  all knew the Fund had blessed them.  But in a day when many congregations are facing financial difficulties, the reality is that (as Gordon Haynes, the Associate Secretary for Canada Ministries, who also serves as Secretary of the Fund once put it) “there are many ministers for whom the Minimum Stipend will be the maximum stipend they ever receive”.

The need continues.  Indeed, drawing on the wisdom of John Knox, the Committee on Church Doctrine recently reminded the General Assembly (A&P, 2005, p.257) that “the primary intent of ministerial payment is to free the minister from worry both for his [sic] own needs and for the needs of his [sic] family, so that he [sic] might serve God and God’s people in the ministry of the Gospel”.  Had he still been with us, Senator Paterson would have said a hearty Amen.
Over the years, as he had hoped they would, others have added gifts to Senator Paterson’s Fund.  Sadly, in these days of reduced income from investments, currently the Fund is distributing its income faster than it is accumulating it.  During the past year all eligible ministers received $750 per annum and $750 was gifted for each eligible child.  These amounts are distributed in quarterly payments.  In the final quarter of 2006, 47 ministers and 109 of their children were recipients.

When funds allow, an extra “bonus” gift is distributed to them all at Christmas, but that amount has had to be cut back because of insufficient income.  Nine ministers on disability also received Christmas gifts.

It should be made clear that although the Appointors determine the principles which will govern the operations of the Fund, none of us know the names of the recipients.  All the administrative work is done through the office of the Secretary for Canada Ministries, who will be glad to receive enquiries from those wondering if they may be eligible: and would be even more glad to hear from those more blessed individuals or families who wish, like Norman Paterson, to share the bounty they have received.

To the end of their days Senator Paterson and his wife Eleanor were moved to read the expressions of appreciation that were received for the help given.  To this day the Paterson family continue that interest, and copies of all letters received are sent to them.

For the Appointors task is not work at all: it is sheer privilege to be able to do what we do in the name of the Church.  And always, we thank God for the faithfulness of God’s servant Norman McLeod Paterson.  And we still stand in awe of his remarkable generosity.

Alan M. McPherson

Alan McPherson is the retired minister of Central Presbyterian Church, Hamilton and served as one of the eleven Appointers of The Norman M. Paterson Fund for Ministerial Assistance