Dispatch from Cairo
Dr. H. Wilbert Norton ’36, now 97 years old, is just as good-humored, wise, and valiant as when I knew him in the mid-1960s when I worked in the office of Graduate School Dean Dr. Merrill C. Tenney. On February 20, 2012, I was with Dr. Norton as he did a video interview here on campus—this missions statesman, relating memories as a Wheaton student, graduate school professor and dean, and worldwide ambassador in Kingdom work.
In this issue of Wheaton, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Wheaton College Graduate School—which by most accounts hearkens back to a trustee meeting in October 1937 that authorized faculty to develop courses leading to a master’s in theology. (Interestingly, Wheaton College had granted master’s degrees as early as the late nineteenth century.)
Dr. Norton, however, believes the founding year was 1936. It seems that he should know; he was, after all, there in September 1936, when Registrar Dr. Enock Dyrness ’23 announced the opening of a graduate school. And the next spring, one of Dr. Norton’s classmates, Helga Bender ’36, who would become the wife of theologian Carl F.H. Henry ’38, M.A. ’41, graduated with a master’s degree.
Will Norton was a Wheaton senior in February1936 when “one of the greatest things that ever happened to Wheaton occurred.” During midwinter services, a revival broke out, and “the Spirit of God seemed to fill [Pierce Chapel]. . . . The whole student body went to their knees in prayer” (The Record, 2/12/36, reported by Ken Taylor ’38, LITT.D. ’65).
Dr. Norton recalls:
Faculty, administration, and students responded in humility, confessing sin and asking God’s forgiveness. In that context God began new things in Christian higher education at Wheaton, including the founding of the Grad School—in the midst of the Great Depression. This was a miracle! The coordination of this [through the Holy Spirit] was the seed that God sowed. What comes to my mind with great force is Philippians 2:13: “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” The events of that era resulted in a new missionary thrust, unrecognized by Christian church historians. What happened at Wheaton during the revival changed the global witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.
For those of us who like to celebrate milestones, Dr. Norton helps us remember that what is truly important is not the exact date of the founding. Rather, it is the glorious fact that both the beginning and future of the Wheaton College Graduate School were seed-bedded, as Dr. Norton says, through the work of the Holy Spirit of God, bearing fruit for the gospel of Christ through the lives of its students and alumni in service and witness around the world.
Georgia I. Douglass '70, M.A. '94
To view the magazine, please visit Wheaton Magazine Spring 2012 >>