If you really want to know the Church, go to the Church. That isn’t quite how the two new master’s programs being offered this fall at St. Joseph Seminary, Dunwoodie, are being advertised. But it’s how Madison Avenue might sell them.
“I think people like the fact that we’re a seminary. You just walk in the door and you can feel that you’ve entered a holy place. Many people really love that,” said Father Kevin O’Reilly, the academic dean at St. Joseph’s, in explaining the two new master’s degree programs the seminary is offering to seminarians, clergy, religious and particularly to lay people this academic year.
One is a master’s program in theology and the other is a master’s program in pastoral studies.
“The first thing you see when you come up the driveway here is a stature of Our Lord to greet you. It is sort of a visual representation of what we hope an education here will provide; a personal encounter with the Lord,” Father O’Reilly explained. “You know you are studying as part of a school that has been very faithful to the magisterium, that is faithful to the Church and has a very qualified faculty.”
The masters of arts in theology is a graduate program designed for those preparing for professional, religious or ministerial careers or as an enrichment program for those already established in such careers. It has been designed to provide students with a critical awareness of the disciplines fundamental to theological reflection in the Catholic tradition.
The program requires 39 credits of graduate studies. Nine three-credit courses are devoted to an integrated core curriculum in fundamental theology while the remaining 12 credits allow students to specialize in Scripture and other specific disciplines.
The master’s in pastoral studies program is intended to assist students preparing to serve as specialized church ministers. The program requires 48 credits, 36 in areas including Scripture, dogmatic theology, moral theology, history, liturgy and pastoral ministry. There are also 12 credits of electives.
Previously the seminary offered a master’s program to lay students, religious and international clergy in religious studies. Father O’Reilly said lay students in particular had been asking for a degree in theology for some time. He acknowledged that the religious studies program was more general. “You’re studying religion but you could say that about Buddhism. Hinduism, any religion,” he noted.
He said that the new master’s programs were the fruit of the recent merger that made St. Joseph the site for training seminarians from the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
In the fall of 2011 Cardinal Dolan, Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre agreed to collaborate in the education and formation of seminarians and lay leaders, merging their priestly formation programs. Seminarians now begin with philosophy studies at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Queens and then go to St. Joseph’s, the major seminary for theology studies.
The new graduate programs were introduced in July. Classes will be offered at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers as well as at the Long Island extension site at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington.
“It was a vision of Cardinal Dolan, Bishop DiMarzio and Bishop Murphy to really pool the resources of the three dioceses to provide the best possible education for all our constituencies, seminarians, deacon candidates, lay students, religious and clergy,” Father O’Reilly said. “The idea was to really put together the best product possible with an eye to serving the Church. So now with this pool of resources we have programs offered across three different campuses that are part of one school and it’s really brought new life and I think a new enthusiasm to the seminary community.
“We now have over 100 seminarians. Among the lay students we have students cross registering at different campuses. We now have many more options to offer students across the campuses,” he said.
One thing St. Joseph’s can offer that no secular university can is a chance for lay students to study alongside seminarians.
“That’s right, there are certain courses, especially electives, they will be sharing with seminarians and that’s really beneficial to both groups,” Father O’Reilly said. “The seminarians have enjoyed it and certainly the lay students and religious have enjoyed it.”
Dr. Donna Eschenauer, associate academic dean of St. Joseph’s Seminary, added, “It’s so real because that’s who the Church is. It’s everybody together. Everyone can learn from each other. You have seminarians preparing to go out and be ordained and work in a parish. And then you might have somebody in his class, a lay student, who already works in a parish. And there’s such collaboration.
“In a class that I taught, I had a good mixture and they had to do a final project together. And the project was to plan one of the rites of the Church as a team. It was seminarians and lay students together and it was so realistic because it was exactly what they will all have to do in these leadership roles in a parish. And they were learning from each another because some of the lay students are already doing this in a parish and were showing the seminarians, and it was spectacular. It was just such a rich experience for me to facilitate and see happen as a teacher.”
Dr. Eschenauer stressed the two new degree programs are ideal for lay Catholics who now hold or are thinking of taking a leadership role in the Church.
“It’s going to better qualify them to take any leadership role in a parish or in a Catholic school. They will be better qualified whatever ministry they’re in, whether they are a director of religious education or a high school religion teacher, they will be better qualified with either of these two degrees.”
Beyond that, the two educators said the courses are beneficial to anyone who wants to gain a deeper understanding of their Church and wants to grow in their faith. The courses are also open to what Father O’Reilly termed “matriculated auditors,” students who just might be interested in a specific course of study for interest sake. As long as they have a credited bachelor’s degree or equivalent they are welcome to register. The majority of courses are taught at night to accommodate people’s schedules.
“For people who are looking for a deeper experience of their faith, who want to learn more about, not just the history and the great tradition of the Church, but also for their own personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, this program will be incredibly beneficial,” Father O’Reilly said. “When you come to St. Joseph to study you encounter Christ, you encounter the universal Church and you will learn more about your faith and learn the skills necessary for you to answer the way is God is calling you.”
Information: Dr. Eschenauer, (914) 367-8280.