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Boston College’s newest professional school, Theology and Ministry, began life with 130 years of experience
On August 18, students and faculty began moving into 9 Lake Street, the handsomely refurbished hilltop building on the Brighton Campus that is the new home of Boston College’s one-year-old School of Theology and Ministry (STM). Among their number were 154 first-year students: graduates of 96 colleges and universities in 30 states and 31 countries. In all, the school comprises 351 students (162 women and 189 men, ages 21 to 74) and 27 faculty members. It is the first new professional school at Boston College since 1952, when the School of Education was founded.
STM’s academic mission is four-fold: to educate clerical students for the priesthood; to prepare teachers of theology; to train lay and religious students for jobs in such fields as pastoral counseling and religious education; and to offer education to adult Catholics in secular professions who want to be better informed in their faith. These purposes draw STM’s students toward 15 degree programs.
Three existing institutions combined to create STM: The oldest is the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which was founded in Weston, Massachusetts, in 1922 as a graduate school that prepared men for the priesthood. The school moved to Cambridge in 1968 and in 1972 admitted its first lay students on a non-ecclesiastical degree track. With the inclusion of Weston, STM constitutes one of six ecclesiastical faculties in the United States and, together with the program at Santa Clara University, one of two that are Jesuit.
The second tributary in the formation of STM was the 38-year-old Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (IREPM). Created at Boston College initially as a summer institute for training priests and nuns, IREPM, by 1996, had a student body that was primarily lay. STM’s master of arts in pastoral ministry degree program, which is an outgrowth of IREPM, offers, among other options, a concentration in church management and several dual master’s degree programs with other Boston College professional schools leading to combined degrees in pastoral ministry and social work, counseling psychology, business administration, or nursing.
C21 Online, a five-year-old program of non-degree remote education started at Boston College, is the third element of STM. It offers classes such as “Spirituality in the Second Half of Life,” and “Teaching Religion” (the high school edition) that have drawn more than 11,000 participants in more than 115 countries.
Out of Africa
Of the 68 international students enrolled in STM, 17 come from countries in Africa, including Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Guyana, Cote D’Ivoire, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. Unlike many other international graduate students who come to this country, they arrive here with the purpose of returning to their native lands.
The circuitous path of 34-year-old Hermann-Habib Kibangou, SJ, is characteristic. Kibangou left his family in the Republic of Congo at 16 to attend a nearby seminary, having read a story about Jesuits in Africa. “I wanted to be an intellectual; I wanted to know the world; the Jesuit was the man who could be sent anywhere in the world,” he says. At 19 he joined the Jesuits. He studied philosophy in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, taught high school French in Chad, then went to Cameroon, where he earned an MA in anthropology and sociology. He later received a master of divinity (centering on Christian theology and tradition) in Spain.
At STM, Kibangou is working toward a licentiate in sacred theology, the second of three degrees in the ecclesiastical degree cycle and the first that follows ordination. Coming from a country that is 60 percent Catholic, he says, makes him want to see “the Church and civil society work together to help us move ahead.”
Sister Juvenal, age 58, recently stepped down after 12 years as the Mother General of the Benebikira Sisters in Rwanda. The Benebikira Sisters were founded in 1919 as Rwanda’s first indigenous religious order and last year received Pontifical Status, or official recognition, from the Vatican. They educate more than 5,000 children, mostly girls, and operate health clinics, hospitals, orphanages, and guesthouses.
During the 1994 genocide, the Benebikira Sisters remained in Rwanda when many others fled. They lost 20 sisters to the violence. But in the village of Save, the Sisters provided refuge for more than 350 people in their church for two and a half months. In the aftermath, says Sister Juvenal, “we had to rebuild the country, especially to rebuild the people and the society.” Sister Juvenal’s aim at STM is to pursue an MA in pastoral ministry with a focus on pastoral care and counseling.
A distinguishing feature of STM is captured in its title: theology and ministry. According to Richard Clifford, SJ, the inaugural dean of STM, the combination of the “practical and ecclesiastic perspective of Weston and the pastoral, lay ministry programs of IREPM [prepares students] to cope with a great deal of change in the future.”
The school’s curriculum itself reflects significant changes in theological education during the past four decades. Until the early 1970s, Catholic education programs for the laity and vowed religious were kept separate and, in the case of the lay community, were scarce. According to associate professor Randall Sachs, SJ, who was academic dean at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, change occurred because more Catholic lay people began clamoring for ministry education “on a par with the training of priests,” and because Jesuits came to believe it essential that they “study in collaboration with lay men and women.”
This year, the incoming students at STM are 65 percent lay, and 35 percent priests or members of a religious order. Classes throughout the school are open to all STM students (as are classes in the University’s theology department). “You can have the same professor teaching the same material to 30 different people, each with a different reason for being there,” says Sean Porter, assistant dean and director of STM admissions.
The two-year master of arts in pastoral ministry program offers what Clifford calls “a practical theology, rooted in parish and diocesan life.” In addition to church management, one can study health care ministry, spirituality and justice, or liturgy and worship, among other subjects. In the words of Professor Thomas Groome, professor of theology and religious education, who oversees the program, “theological education, pastoral preparation, and spiritual formation of lay ecclesial ministers is our raison d’être.”
The five-year-old C21 Online, under the leadership of Barbara Radtke, who holds a Ph.D. in theology, has as its mission the “ongoing formation of Catholic adults and parish volunteers,” says Radtke, as well as the “professional development of Catholic schoolteachers and professional lay ministers.” The curriculum currently offers 23 courses, including one—”La Muerte de Jesús: Cuatro Narrativas Evangélicas”—in Spanish.
The curriculum of STM is accessible to students of all faiths, in keeping with the Ignatian tradition of being “open to the world,” says Sachs. This year’s entering STM students included Episcopal/Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist, Baptist, Orthodox, and Lutheran students. And international students enroll in STM at roughly twice the percentage of that at other Boston College professional schools.
The many sides of theology
STM defines its master of theological studies (MTS) as a two-year “disciplined course of study in Catholic theology.” In a sense, this is Catholic theology for civilians, distinct from the three-year master of divinity program, which grounds students in the subject as preparation for clerical or lay ministry. In practice, the two programs often share course offerings.
Second-year student Marina Pastrana ’08 says she “always wanted to be a CEO.” As an accounting major in the Carroll School of Management, she involved herself in service programs and volunteer work, leading trips to El Salvador, joining Arrupe missions, running Successful Start, the University’s financial literacy program for Boston College students, and working for the Montserrat Coalition, an organization at Boston College whose goal is to provide low-income children with tickets to cultural events they couldn’t otherwise attend. It’s a situation the Mexican-born Pastrana recalls vividly from her undergraduate years. “I went through what those students went through. I remember other BC students going downtown for dinner and thinking to myself, ‘that would be nice.'” In the MTS program, she says she is acquiring a theological underpinning that she can take with her into the business world. “Whether you’re in investments or real estate, it’s important to give back to your community,” she says.
Pastrana’s classmate Dan Cosacchi has a different goal: He was a theology major at Fordham University, and wants to become a theology professor. Cosacchi sees the interactions between lay and ordination-track students at STM as beneficial for the Church. In the future, he says, “It will be helpful for priests to know there is a depth to the laity, which they can draw on.” Cosacchi will take all his fall 2010 classes on the Chestnut Hill Campus.
A woman’s place
Eleven female students are enrolled alongside 32 men in the master of divinity program, which is intended as training for priestly and lay ministry.
Raised in Kansas, Rebecca Camacho ’07 majored in theology and international studies at Boston College. She also rowed crew, participated in a hip-hop dance group, joined service programs, and studied in El Salvador. After graduation, she volunteered at Annunciation House, an emergency immigrant shelter in El Paso, Texas, then taught freshman religion at the Jesuit Cristo Rey High School in New York City. Camacho enrolled at STM to pursue a dual graduate degree in pastoral ministry and social work. Out of a deepening interest in ministry education and faith formation, she transferred this fall into the master of divinity program. As a woman in a traditionally male subject area, Camacho feels certain tensions: “You have to deal with the reality that many of your classmates are going to go on to be ordained priests whereas you, although you have the same training and education, are not,” she says. “And because many women are going into specifically ministerial or teaching roles outside of the priesthood, they may tend toward a more practical or pastoral theology. . . . Sometimes this approach can clash with more traditional theological understandings held by seminarians.”
In that sense, she says, STM is “a microcosm of the Church, and the world at large,” and she believes the master of divinity degree will allow her to “understand more of what the seminarians are going through. I don’t think I’m called to be a priest, but I do want to be able to articulate what this faith is and to have a grounding as rich and deep as it can be.” After she receives her degree, Camacho would like to work in campus ministry.
Camacho’s classmate Ohio native Jen Grieco graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 2001 with a degree in accounting, then spent a couple of years, in her words, “flying around, trying to see where I fit in.” She worked at the faith-based L’Arche community in Mobile, Alabama, helping developmentally disabled individuals. In 2007 Grieco enrolled at John Carroll University in Cleveland to pursue a degree in counseling but a year later transferred to STM to study for a dual master of divinity and master’s in counseling psychology, because she feels “one cannot separate ministry from a deep understanding and appreciation of psychology.” Of the master of divinity degree, she notes that it will help in her “ecumenical work in the broader world. Also, I’m studying subjects I wouldn’t initiate on my own, like canonical law.”
Like her two peers, Jocelyn Collen brings a background in service to STM. A 2005 graduate of Fairfield University, she spent a year volunteering at FrancisCorps, a Franciscan lay volunteer organization, followed by two years at Fairfield’s Center for Faith and Public Life and the Center for Catholic Studies. She chose the master of divinity degree program because it was the “most complete degree I could achieve.” Collen echoes Camacho and Grieco’s desire to gain the same breadth and depth of knowledge as the seminarians. She says she does feel called to be ordained, but if that remains impossible, she’ll work in the Church doing education and service work.
Dominic Doyle, an assistant professor of systematic theology (the study of the integrated whole of Christian faith and tradition), is, at 37, the STM faculty’s youngest member. Born in England of Irish parents, he received an undergraduate degree in theology and religious studies at the University of Cambridge, after which he spent two years teaching history and literature in Sri Lanka. In 1996, Doyle enrolled at Harvard Divinity School, earning a master of theological studies (and taking a course there from future STM professor Daniel Harrington, SJ, on the Gospel of Mark), before entering Boston College’s doctoral program in theology. At Boston College, he began to study the writings of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, the 20th-century theologian who wrote that “questions are our friends.” Doyle thinks that theology should “leave room for perplexity,” and he sees STM as “a space for people to explore the meaning of their ministry.” Doyle’s most recent book is entitled The Promise of Christian Humanism: Thomas Aquinas on Hope (Herder & Herder, forthcoming). His latest Twitter entry ran: “forgive me, twitter, it has been five months since my last tweet.”
New Testament scholar Daniel Harrington, SJ, age 69, was born in nearby Arlington, Massachusetts, and educated in Boston. He holds five degrees, including a 2009 honorary degree from Boston College and a Ph.D. from Harvard in Near Eastern languages and literature. During his studies, he and Richard Clifford, SJ, current dean of STM, read the Hebrew Bible together. From 1972 to 2008 he was a professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. In addition to serving as editor of New Testament Abstracts, a research tool for scholars that annually synopsizes some 2,100 articles and more than 800 books, Harrington is a prolific author. He doesn’t know the exact number of his books, saying only that it is “more than 40.”
Three religious orders send their men to STM for pre-ordination theological studies: the Jesuits, Redemptorists, and Capuchins. STM offers two degrees that satisfy the Church’s academic theological requirements for ordination: the bachelor of sacred theology (STB), which is the first canonical degree in the Church’s ecclesiastical cycle of studies; and the master of divinity, which in the United States is accepted in lieu of the STB. All 37 candidates for priesthood now studying at STM chose the master of divinity program. Demographically, the students from male religious orders break down into 54 Jesuits, eight Capuchins, and seven Redemptorists.
Among STM students, the course to ordination is rarely straight. Joel Medina, SJ, age 54, spent 20 years as a registered nurse before joining the Jesuits. Richard Mattox, OFM Cap, age 40, was born in Lima, Peru, where he learned English from American nuns. At age 11 he moved with his family to Miami. Mattox earned a degree in sociology at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, a Catholic school focused on educating missionaries, then spent five years in Japan teaching English to high school students. He joined the Jesuits but later felt called to the Capuchins and is now in his second year at STM.
Another second-year student, Aaron Pidel, SJ, is, at age 30, the youngest American Jesuit at STM. Raised in Augusta, Georgia, Pidel studied psychology at a local community college and received a BA in humanities and Catholic culture from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, before joining the Society of Jesus in 2000. He then taught classics at a Jesuit high school in New Orleans. Elton Letang, C.Ss.R., age 35, is a native of the Caribbean island of Dominica. He joined the missionary order of Redemptorists in 2004 and has since worked and studied in St. Croix, New York City, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
Forty-eight students are currently at STM pursuing advanced canonical degrees: 37 of these are studying for their licentiate in sacred theology, the second degree in the ecclesiastical cycle; 11 seek a doctorate in sacred theology, the third and final degree. These programs prepare individuals for teaching and for official work and leadership within the Church.
Read more by Thomas Cooper