Some consider it to be one of the best-kept secrets in theological education. For others, it is a valuable resource in furthering an education or a spiritual journey. In any case, the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity is a welcoming environment where lay men and women can acquire the knowledge and skills to better serve their Catholic communities. At present, 60 lay students are enrolled.
“There is great need for lay leadership in the church and the wider community,” said Dr. Jeanne McLean, academic dean of the school. “A vital part of our role is providing quality programs in theological education for lay people.”
Lay students can choose from a variety of degree programs that focus on church ministry and leadership, Catholic education and theological research. Most of the programs operate as cohorts – a group of students who progress through a program at the same time. Students in a cohort can establish strong friendships and develop an academic and spiritual support system.
Students in the School of Divinity benefit from having instructors whose backgrounds, interests and education vary widely. The 22 full-time faculty members, comprised of priests, nuns and lay people, have interests ranging from Second Temple Judaism to Christian marriage to Hispanic ministry. “For me, the faculty members were by far the A+ part of this program. They taught us to think theologically. They were always available for questions and discussions and whatever help we needed,” said Master of Arts in Theology graduate Julie McCarty.
McCarty came to the School of Divinity after working in parochial schools and parish ministry. She entered the program with “a hunger to learn more about God and matters of spirituality and faith.” As she progressed through the program, she found a new calling – in written ministry. Now a free-lance writer, McCarty credits the program with providing the educational and theological foundation for her new vocation. “It is my hope that I give readers something more than just facts,” said McCarty. “I hope to nurture their faith life in a way that will encourage them to draw closer to God and love each other a little more each day. Whether or not I accomplish that is rather difficult to estimate, but I find that writing challenges me to be something more than I am.”
Her monthly column runs in the Catholic Spirit and other diocesan publications, and she has published articles in Spiritual Life, American Benedictine Review and New Theology Review. McCarty recently won the New Theology Review’s annual Prize in Theological Reflection, an award that recognizes articles showing new insight into pressing pastoral issues.
Many of the lay students enrolled in the School of Divinity are part-time and come to their programs already having found their vocations. Some teach in Catholic schools, serve as chaplains, work in parish-centered ministries, prison ministry or justice and social services.
That diversity made McCarty’s experience at the School of Divinity that much richer: “I enjoyed interacting with students from a variety of backgrounds. Some were studying for priesthood, others for parish ministry, teaching, hospital chaplaincy or personal enrichment. They came from all walks of life and their rich experiences contributed to discussions in the classroom or in the lunchroom.”
They may come to the School of Divinity to strengthen the spiritual and educational needs of their jobs, or to fortify their own spirituality; often, the two happen simultaneously. For instance, students in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies come to the program with past ministry experience – the point of the program is to enhance students’ theological understanding and focus on leadership. In the Master of Arts in Religious Education, students often are teachers or administrators in Catholic schools and Catholic education programs. This program “provides theological foundation that is important to their jobs and their schools, interwoven with courses in education – theology and teaching together,” explains McLean.
In 1986, the School of Divinity was established through the efforts of Archbishop John Roach, Father Charles Froehle and Monsignor Terrence Murphy, three priests who led the archdiocese, the seminary and St. Thomas in the 1980s. The Roman Catholic tradition and the nature of the educational institutions played an important role, as did the vision of ministry of the Second Vatican Council. Common goals emerged as the seminary responded to the directions of the council by extending its resources to the laity, and St. Thomas pursued graduate programs in pastoral studies.
Today, the programs of the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity, considered a graduate school of St. Thomas, continue to collaborate with the archdiocese, academic programs at St. Thomas (including the Theology Department, the School of Education and the School of Social Work) and other seminaries in the region.
The School of Divinity also supports a series of continuing education programs for those who seek further theological and ministerial learning. Some of these, open to ministers, pastors and parish workers, aim to explore the necessary administrative, financial and organization skills for managing a church, its staff and parish.
“There will always be a need for theological education, whether for personal growth or for vocational preparation. We know the need exists. The St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity has the programs, so now we need to make that connection,” says McLean.
For more information on the School of Divinity, visit www.stthomas.edu/sod or call (651) 962-5050.
Degree Programs:Master of DivinityMaster of Pastoral StudiesCertificate in Pastoral LeadershipMaster of Arts in Religious Education, through the Murray InstituteMaster of Arts in Theology, a joint degree with the Theology DepartmentDoctor of Ministry, in association with Luther Seminary and United Theological Seminary