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The Catholic Studies Master's Degree Program

The master’s degree program in Catholic Studies is now in its eighth year. The only program of its kind in the United States, it currently enrolls more than 80 students. The program is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study and advancement of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Through 10 courses and a capstone master’s essay, students explore – from historical, philosophical, theological and aesthetic perspectives – the rich variety of ways in which the Catholic imagination has been expressed, and continues to express itself, in the life of the Church, in art and literature, and in social and political affairs.All students in the program take five required courses. The foundational semester courses, Catholic Thought and Culture I and II, examine the origins and development of the Catholic intellectual tradition from antiquity to the present, studying such thinkers as Augustine, Aquinas, Dante and Newman, in addition to exploring various works ofart, architecture and music. Three other required courses in the areas of history, philosophy and theology acquaint students with the fundamental knowledge and skills required for scholarly study of the tradition. Then, students complete the coursework by selecting five electives, tailoring the program to their own particular interests and goals. Finally, they work independently with a faculty member during their last semester of study on a major research paper, the master’s essay. The essay allows students anopportunity to do significant scholarly research and writing on an area of the Catholic tradition with which they’ve been particularly intrigued.

New to the program this spring is the master degree’s first online course. Titled Great Catholic Minds: St. Augustine of Hippo, the course introduces students to one of the famous saint’s most influential works, The City of God Against the Pagans, and it examines the book in light of Augustine’s distinctly Catholic intellect. The course is presented entirely over the internet. Students interact with the course instructor and master’s program director Dr. Paul Wojda and with each other using the course’s blog, discussion forums and video conferences. Following the model of this first effort, the Catholic Studies master’s program plans to offer more online courses in the future.

Ron Snyder

As a 51-year-old dental specialist (orthodontist), cradle Catholic,husband and father of three children, I have been drawn to learn moreabout the Catholic faith. Over the past twenty years my attempt to piece ogether the depths of Catholicism has been sporadic: Bible study, parish programs, retreats and praying the Liturgy of the Hours. During this timeI only have brushed its richness in absorbing such works as the teachings of Fulton Sheen, the Catechism of the Church, papal encyclicals, great theologians and saints and the early Church Fathers. My desire to learn ever more about the faith, but in an organized and integrated fashion, brought me to the Catholic Studies master’s program. Here I have founda broad curriculum, complete with requirements in theology, philosophy and history and abundant in opportunities to explore personal interests.I also have found a talented, welcoming faculty and staff who have impressed me as being on similar faith and intellectual journeys. I have completed three courses so far: Catholic Thought and Culture II, Introduction to Moral Theology and A History of Western Education. My expectations of the program have been greatly exceeded. The faculty is bright, well-prepared, current and enthusiastic. The program’s blend ofphilosophy and theology is wonderful. I have been challenged and motivated to undertake a lifetime of learning within the humanities. The Catholic Church is in dire need of catechesis. While personally developing my own Catholic faith, I am now discerning some type of future in education. The master’s program is helping me prepare to teach at the parish, diocesan or high school level.

Jessica Zittlow

I decided I wanted to get a master’s degree back in 2005, but I wasn’t sure what degree to pursue. A master’s in business administration or a master’s in communications would have been more in line with my professional background, which is in the field of communications, but both seemed to me more like a task to check off rather than an engaging educational experience. I was looking for something thatwould feed me spiritually as well as intellectually. With this in mind, I entered the Catholic Studies master’s program on the recommendation of a friend.My first class was the foundational course, Catholic Thought and Culture I. It proved to be a wonderful, dynamic experience. I’ve also taken the elective course The Catholic Novel. I was interested in the class because I enjoy reading literature. AlthoughI wasn’t sure how useful it would be, it turned out to be extremely useful in understanding the Catholic tradition as it is expressed through the art of literature. Through the diverse range of courses that the program offers, one sees the magnificent thread of continuity in thought and culture that the Catholic Church hasgiven us. The degree program has greatly enriched my worldview. I also can say that I am a better person because of what I have learned and the people I have met.Ideally, I hope to blend my Catholic Studies master’s degree with my communications background, whether that means continuing working as a media-relations consultant or as a communication director for an archdiocese. Right now, I’m trying not to focus on the end result, though. The plan is just to be open to God’s will, wherever it leads.

William LeMire

I chose the Catholic Studies master’s program to satisfy an everincreasing urge to undergird my Catholic faith with an intellectual foundation. In my late 30s I “reverted” to the Catholic faith in which I was born and raised. Unfortunately, like so many of my generation (I am 45), my Catholic faith formation was seriously deficient. Part of the blame belonged to my instructors, but most of it belonged to me. By the grace of God I eventually did find my way back to the faith. And there followed – and still continues – an almost insatiable hunger for the truth, beauty and vitality of Catholicism and its rich intellectual tradition. The master’s program has helped me immeasurably in feeding that hunger. The thought of being a student again was not without some uncertainty and nervousness. But I am at the halfway point in my coursework now, and the experience has been much more than I could have hoped for. I have especially enjoyed learning about the history of the Catholic Church and the fierce devotion to faith and reason that has always been manifest in her most loyal sons and daughters. Two courses – A History of Western Education and The History of the Reformation – have particularly fortified my Catholic faith and intellect. As a practicing trial attorney in Minneapolis, I entered the graduate program primarily for personal enrichment. I do not plan on changing my career, but, of course, one never knows – the Lord may yet have a different plan for me.Hannah Woldum

Coming from an academically stimulating course of study at a non-Catholic liberal arts college, I felt that I had received a wellrounded education as an undergraduate, with majors in English, philosophy and medieval studies. Although I was accepted intoseveral Ph.D. programs in philosophy, I decided that I would first spend two years immersing myself in the wide and diverse Catholic intellectual tradition. The Catholic Studies master’s program appealed to me because of its interdisciplinary focus, itsopenness to independent study, its reputation for authentic presentation of Catholic teachings and its study abroad opportunities at St. Thomas’ Bernardi campus in Rome.As a convert to Catholicism, I believe that, for the first time in my life, I have now acquired a true “Catholic sensibility,” and this is largely due to the influence of Catholic Studies. Through excellent classes, an independent study on the metaphysics of thehuman person and conversations with faculty members and other students, I have come to realize that all segments of learning and life are united in and oriented toward Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. I have come to see the sacramental nature of the world and of the human person. In class discussions and papers I have learned to better understand and articulate the complex and riveting experiences of every human being in a world disordered by sin but redeemed by Christ. In particular, my semester in Rome last fall, at the heart of the Church, served as a type of “capstone” to all I haveabsorbed from the program. I have now finished my coursework and am currently writing my master’s essay in an area that brings together all these interests: theological aesthetics. Although a Ph.D. in philosophy is still a goal, I am planning to spendnext year working as a volunteer with a Catholic mission organization or for the archdiocese while discerning a possible religious vocation.

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