“What do you do with a degree in Catholic Studies?”
How many students and alumni dread that question or similar questions and comments, such as “That’s not a very useful degree, is it?” How many people have been afraid to pursue Catholic Studies because they’ve been unable to answer that question for themselves?
Certainly, Catholic Studies isn’t the only degree to raise eyebrows. Many a philosophy major has had to endure jokes about flipping burgers after graduation. But Catholic Studies is a relatively new field of study. Many people have never heard of it and are hard pressed to define what is meant by a major or a master’s program in Catholic Studies. This makes the questions especially urgent. Why would anyone pursue Catholic Studies?
Fourteen graduates of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, undergraduate and graduate alumni from all walks of life, answered questions such as: What attracted you to Catholic Studies? What did you most appreciate about it? How do you use it on the job and in your life?
In many ways, their answers were as varied as their jobs. The alumni profiled in these pages include lawyers, a professor, a teacher, a priest, a seminarian, a pediatric resident, a Ph.D. candidate, a stay-athome mom, a psychotherapist, businessmen and laywomen working for the Church. Some find they are applying their education directly to their careers. Others argue that Catholic Studies shaped them as persons.
But, despite the wide differences in what they have done since graduation, these men and women are also strikingly similar. Many of them came to Catholic Studies to grow as Catholics, intellectually and spiritually. Many spoke of how much they valued the interdisciplinary approach of the program. Those who had the opportunity to study in Rome spoke of it as a life-changing experience. The vast majority of undergraduate alumni were double-majors, strongly encouraged by the Catholic Studies Department. These alumni are hopeful, viewing world events through the lens of Church history. They believe they are called to infuse the world with Catholic thinking. And they said, over and over again that, whether or not it applied directly to their careers, Catholic Studies was a value in itself.
In the words of Erin Dolan ’08, “It prepares you for anything.”
“Catholic Studies Shaped Who I Am”
Tara Anderson ’04, ’07 M.A.
Undergraduate majors: Catholic Studies and philosophy
Associate at Fafinski Mark & Johnson
Tara Anderson’s interest in Catholic Studies began before she graduated from high school. She first came to St. Thomas as part of Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options program, which enables high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit. She began talking to one of the professors during this time, and she liked the interdisciplinary approach that he described. Pursuing both Catholic Studies and philosophy as majors allowed her to combine her interests in philosophy and ethics and explore her faith.
By the time she graduated, Anderson thought, “I haven’t done so much that there is nothing left to do in Catholic Studies.” She also wanted to study more with professors such as Dr. Robert Kennedy and explore the intersection of politics and Catholicism, something which the flexibility of the master’s program would allow her to do. She ended up pursuing both an M.A. degree in Catholic Studies and a J.D. through the joint JD-CSMA program.
Reflecting on the program, Anderson most appreciates the professors. “They made the program what it was.” She also liked the interdisciplinary nature of the program and the way she was able to shape it to explore her different interests.
In her current position as an associate with Fafinski Mark & Johnson, Anderson is responsible for corporate transactions and intellectual property, areas of business law, as well as aviation finance. “I manage day-to-day legal business that isn’t litigation related,” said Anderson, who was not interested in litigation. Her UST Law Mentor Externship connected her with the firm. “They needed what I wanted,” she said. Happy with where she has landed, she noted that the firm has a culture that allows her to make decisions that she feels good about making as a Catholic lawyer.
Anderson doesn’t use Catholic Studies on the job the way a chemist might use her knowledge from her chemistry major, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to her. “Catholic Studies shaped who I am as a person,” she said, “which shapes how I interact with clients and approach different situations. It especially influences my focus on ethics.” She added, “For most people who graduate with a major or master’s in Catholic Studies, it’s not career-training, but it’s applicable to a wide range of fields. I wouldn’t ask someone who was pursuing Catholic Studies, ‘So, what are you going to do with that?’”
An Enthusiastic Messenger
Erin Dolan ’08
Undergraduate majors: Catholic Studies and print journalism
Undergraduate minor: Graphic arts
Communication coordinator for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
For Erin Dolan, deciding to major in Catholic Studies and deciding to enroll at St. Thomas went hand-in-hand. “I was looking for schools that were in a five-hour driving circle of Milwaukee,” she said. She specifically looked for schools where she could learn more about her faith. “My faith was important, but I hadn’t made it my own.” A family member introduced her to St. Thomas. “I was hooked when I knew about the Rome program.”
After some thought, Dolan chose to pursue a second major in print journalism and a minor in graphic arts, because she loved writing and art. She considered Catholic Studies to be a personal interest, and she never planned to work for the Church. After graduation, she landed a job as an editorial associate at a jewelry magazine, where she handled layout and event planning. “It was fun,” she said. Approximately a year into that job, she heard of a job in marketing communications for Catholic schools and St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee. “I could never have created a job like that,” she said. “It was meant to be.” She applied on a whim, not expecting much, since she had so little work experience in that area. To her surprise, she was contacted for an interview and eventually took the job.
She has been there for three years now, and her role has shifted from an emphasis on Catholic school marketing to work with the vocations office. Through the Web, newsletters, ads and radio, Dolan explains the priesthood, its relevance and the need for more priests. She also does development work for the seminary, from organizing golf fundraisers to working on the annual appeal.
For Dolan, Catholic Studies ended up tying into her work far more than she had anticipated. “You can’t underestimate the importance of a solid theological background and solid philosophy,” she said, referring to her position. “I need to know how to effectively communicate Catholic teaching to a broad audience. I need to translate doctrine for the person in the pew.” She has also found that her studies have helped her in an independent, creative venture she has taken on outside of her work for the Church: Second Story Creative. “Many of my clients are small businesses owners, and some are Catholic,” she said. “Catholic Studies has helped me professionally. It has made me more marketable.”
Dolan knows that many Catholic Studies majors don’t end up applying their knowledge so directly in the workplace. “Even if I weren’t working for the Church, I’d still filter what I’ve learned into any job. I may not always have this job, but Catholic Studies is still applicable. It gives value to any path. It prepares you for anything.” One of the ways she sees the power of its influence is through how it prepares young Catholics for positions of leadership and influence. “We need to stand for truth. We have much to say. We have been given the opportunity and the responsibility to be enthusiastic messengers. There is so much to do. We live in an exciting time.”
A Career Grounded in Hope
Gino Lambo ’95
Undergraduate majors: Political science and theology
Undergraduate minor: Catholic Studies
Account executive at Celleration
When Gino Lambo came to St. Thomas, Catholic Studies wasn’t a part of his plan, but the faculty drew him in. He found himself taking first one course and then another. “The faculty members are inspiring,” he said. “That’s one of the department’s strong suits. The faculty are excellent, dedicated and engaging. They’re passionate about learning.”
Lambo ended up in medical sales after graduation, and he has found his St. Thomas education very applicable. “I go into nursing homes, which are not the happiest places, but St. Thomas educates people in the tradition of not losing hope. I know that there’s lots of good in the midst of suffering.” Lambo is grateful for the chance to help people such as an elderly woman with a bad lower extremity wound. Through the medical technology Lambo helped to provide, not only did she keep her limb, but she danced at her grandson’s wedding. Hers is one of many meaningful stories of healing that inspire him. He sees Christ in every human being he meets. “If you do what you love and engage individuals with respect, you will have a fulfilled life. It’s important to live life authentically.”
The friendships and habits that Lambo built at St. Thomas are still a part of his life 17 years after graduation. “I was part of a group that attended daily Mass. I strongly recommend that habit,” he said. He developed a strong understanding of the power of the Eucharist during his college years and has seen it in other people’s lives. Recently he was able to help a friend in Germany whose mother was dying of cancer. Lambo visited the woman, who was in a local hospital, and took her to the chapel. While they were there, she had the opportunity to receive communion. “Her demeanor changed,” he said. Lambo’s own mother was ministered to in a similar manner by his friend and Catholic Studies classmate Father Ryan Lewis, who went to say daily Mass with her during the last weeks of her life. “I cherish the friendships I developed through Catholic Studies.”
Now a member of the Catholic Studies board of advisers, Lambo has been encouraged by the quality of students he is meeting. As he plans for the gala celebration of the 20th anniversary of Catholic Studies at St. Thomas on Oct. 26, 2013, he finds the faculty as appealing as they were when he was a student. “It’s amazing that the faculty has been engaged for 20 years so very passionately. The Center for Catholic Studies is a thriving part of the university. It’s helped many.”
And about that gala? Lambo is looking for volunteers and hopes that readers will mark their calendars!
“I Knew I Was Home”
Irma Montes ’11
Undergraduate major: Catholic Studies
Undergraduate minor: Psychology
Hispanic outreach coordinator at Holy Name Catholic Church
In high school, Irma Montes knew that she wanted to use her college years to be educated about her Catholic faith. “I was looking for Catholic Studies, not theology or religious studies,” she said. A friend recommended two schools, one of which was St. Thomas, and Montes visited campus during her senior year. “It felt right,” she said. “I knew I was home.” She didn’t apply anywhere else.
Montes was excited about the opportunity to study in Rome – so much so, that she spent her entire junior year there. “Rome changed my life. It was a place where I learned how to live out my faith. I stopped being a rule-follower and stepped into a personal relationship with God. It was a romantic time with the Lord. Every day was another surprise.”
After graduation, she decided to join Christ in the City in Denver for a year, where she served on the homeless task force. “I did a lot of street ministry, serving different populations, such as teens or adults, on different days of the week.” She also spent about half of her time doing outreach to the Hispanic community in a poor neighborhood. “When families immigrate to the United States,” she explained, “a lot of them become cultural Catholics. The parents practice their faith in Spanish, and they can’t communicate it to their kids.” Her mission was to re-evangelize, bringing these young people back to the Church.
Montes saw her work with Christ in the City as an important step following graduation, and taking that step immediately was ideal, since she had the time as a young, single recent graduate. “My missionary work was a fulfillment of my degree,” she said. “I learned what it meant to be charitable and to serve the poor. I wasn’t looking for a career. I just wanted to serve in a Catholic way.” She also went back to school at the Augustine Institute in Denver, diving into Scripture classes. “I enjoy intellectual challenge,” she said, adding, “People on the streets want to know who Christ is. I didn’t know Scripture well enough. It’s my duty to become educated enough to share with them.”
Her year of service ended in July, and she was offered a full-time position continuing at the parish where she did Hispanic ministry. “I’m continuing the same ministry in Denver; I’m just not living in community anymore,” part of her experience with Christ in the City. Her main focus will be Hispanic outreach, although she will continue to do some street ministry.
Were Montes to advise young Catholics facing graduation, she would say that it’s okay to take things slowly. “You can take time off for service. We don’t spend enough time building relationships. We live in a me-focused world.” She also noted, “Our plans are not always God’s plans. Have an open heart. He will never be outdone in generosity, will never disappoint. He brought us this far, why would he abandon us?”
“I Didn’t Come to St. Thomas for Its Catholic Identity”
Dr. Greg Murry ’03
Undergraduate majors: Catholic Studies and history
Assistant professor of history at Mount St. Mary’s University
Greg Murry was an agnostic when he came to St. Thomas, and he came for the reputation of the Opus College of Business. “I was going to be a business major,” he said. He had decided that a business education would open doors for employment, and he would pursue history because he liked it. During his first semester, one of his fellow students in a physics class, Luke Meyer, now chancellor of the diocese of Fargo, told Murry that he should take the Newman class with Dr. Don Briel. “That course, late-night conversations with friends and reading Augustine’s Confessions for my theology class changed everything.”
Soon Murry found himself pursuing Catholic Studies instead of business. “It informed my interests as a historian,” he said. Instead of pursuing a career in business, Murry found himself on track to be a history professor. He pursued a master’s degree and a Ph.D. at Penn State University, where he specialized in early modern European history, and religion and the missionary world. “All of the students crossed disciplinary lines,” he said of his graduate education. “That jived with Catholic Studies, and it is what part of what attracted me to Penn State.”
In the fall of 2010, Murry was hired by Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, where he teaches history electives as well as core history courses. “The department is similar to Catholic Studies in that it has an interdisciplinary civilization sequence. We cover not just history but literature and the arts,” Murry said. Murry’s background in Catholic Studies ties in very well to his work at Mount St. Mary’s. “The university is committed to Catholic identity. We want to attract serious Catholic students. When we revised our history core, I had input in the discussion. I bring Catholic content into my classes as much as I can, such as the way in which Catholic ethics can shape our perspective of history.” He also put together an introductory liberal arts class for freshmen. “About one quarter of the students are not Catholic,” he said. “I have to get them thinking about a Catholic vision of the human person.”
Although Murry was heavily into the intellectual side of Catholic Studies, he appreciates most his service work while he studied in Rome and the opportunities he had for contemplative prayer. “People who are really into the intellectual side have a tendency to neglect these things. It’s important to also have lots of community and contemplative prayer. I did my service work with a group. Rome pulled these sides together. It provided me with the opportunity to undergo a spiritual conversion after the intellectual conversion I had already experienced.”
Perhaps because Murry has seen the value of community, service and prayer, he recommends that young Catholics get involved in their communities and churches wherever they live after graduation. He notes that in college, they are generally surrounded by others who solidly support their faith. “The best thing you can do is to re- create a sense of community in your new life.”
The Significance of the Day-to-Day
James Schultz ’08
Undergraduate majors: Catholic Studies and philosophy
Junior associate at Kirkland & Ellis LLP
James Schultz was attracted to St. Thomas because of the strength of its liberal arts programs, including Catholic Studies. Although he most appreciated the intellectual rigor with which Catholic Studies approaches the study of all the disciplines it touches, he was also drawn to the opportunities for personal formation available through the center. “I wanted both a comprehensive exploration of a Christian vision for the world as well as a personal formation,” he said, so he lived in one of the Catholic men’s houses for two years and was involved in the Leadership Intern program. “The intellectual and the personal were important to me,” he said. “I enjoyed Catholic Studies’ serious exploration of various disciplines,” but he also considered the personal aspect of his growth as essential. “I would rank Catholic Studies as one of the top formative experiences of my life. I grew intellectually and personally through various program offered by the department and the center.”
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Schultz took a position with Kirkland, assisting with the negotiation and documentation of different corporate transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions or securities offerings. He finds that his academic training is a source of confidence on the job. “The big questions that occupy lawyers’ minds – the proper goals of punishment, the merits of economic regulation, the just treatment of the child in the womb – are of course questions that the Christian intellectual tradition can be a great help in answering. On many occasions, I have been able to put forward a more complete explanation of the Christian vision on a subject because I explored seriously within Catholic Studies the intellectual foundations upon which the Christian vision rests.”
While his day-to-day work may not always be directly related to his faith, Schultz brings a sense of vocation and significance to his career. Through the eyes of faith, insignificant pieces of his life become significant. “My work has meaning in part because of my Catholic outlook,” he said. “There is a cynicism present today that says that an individual life is destined to be without impact. One of the many things Catholic Studies leaves with students is a deep understanding of the Christian idea of vocation.” He believes that young people would do well to reflect on vocation and think of how they might leverage the gifts God has given them for good. But the work they do does not have to be great in the eyes of the world. “It’s worthwhile to keep in the forefront of your mind that many seemingly insignificant endeavors have meaning. If you’re doing even simple work well, you’re giving glory to God and making use of the gifts you have received.”
“My Experiences Were Very Helpful”
Rev. Mr. Philip Schumaker ’09
Undergraduate majors: Catholic Studies and history
Transitional Deacon for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee
Philip Schumaker hadn’t even heard of St. Thomas when he began to apply to colleges, but his mother had, and she encouraged him to apply. Schumaker visited campus and met Dr. Don Briel to learn more about Catholic Studies. He liked what he saw, particularly when he was allowed to apply to live in the Catholic men’s house, which was just being started. The idea of living in community with other Catholic men and focusing on personal formation was attractive to him. Impressed by what he learned about Catholic Studies and by the campus as a whole, Schumaker was happy to apply.
“When I first got to St. Thomas, I felt very welcome,” Shumaker said. “A lot of what I appreciated about Catholic Studies was the people. I appreciated their care in forming the whole person, not just academically but the whole person.” He felt that faculty and staff “genuinely cared for people. They wanted to make us better people, who were growing in faith. They wanted to help us succeed.”
While Schumaker considered his personal formation important, he wasn’t certain he wanted to head down the path toward ordination. He had been considering the priesthood for years, and started thinking about it more while at St. Thomas. “The thought wouldn’t go away. My spiritual director, Father Peter Laird, helped me discern. There was never one moment when I knew God was calling; rather, as I prayed with my spiritual director, I grew in conviction.”
Schumaker has frequently referred back to relevant papers and knowledge gained while at St. Thomas as he writes papers in seminary or prepares for Masses. “I reference lots of what I learned,” he said. He also finds his experience of living in the men’s house to be important. “As we tried to form community, I learned what works and what doesn’t. That’s been helpful as deacon of my floor at seminary. I’ve learned how to lead these guys to great holiness and to build us up in brotherhood. I continue to learn, but my experiences were very helpful.”
For Schumaker, the sense of community he experienced at St. Thomas was a source of strength and consolation as he tried to live out his faith, and he recommends that young people continue to seek that sense of community even after graduation. “The most important thing in life is holiness. We all have legitimate concerns, but the first thing is to be holy, to pray and to grow closer to God. It’s not easy to be Catholic.” But if you have a community of like-minded friends, they can help you as you strive toward that most important thing: “to grow closer to God.”
Bringing Faith Into a World of Life, Death and Uncertainty
Susan Slattery ’08
Undergraduate majors: Catholic Studies and biochemistry
Resident with The University of Chicago Pediatric Residency Training Program
Susan Slattery attended a Catholic high school where she received an excellent education, so she wanted more of the same in college. “I was looking for a school that had strong science and theology programs,” said Slattery, who considered schools from coast to coast. “When I visited St. Thomas, it was a last-minute decision. I met with the theology chair, who showed me textbooks and gave me a copy of Logos. Those two things validated what I was looking for. They were tangible examples of the authentic nature of Catholic academics at St. Thomas.”
Slattery didn’t know about Catholic Studies before her campus visit, but her range of interests in the sciences, theology and philosophy led her to meet with many department chairs, including then-chair of the Catholic Studies Department, Dr. Chris Thompson. The Catholic Studies curriculum looked exciting, “just the topics themselves,” Slattery said. “One of the philosophy classes was on faith and doubt, whether it was reasonable to believe in God, to be a Christian, to be Catholic. A lot of the classes set up foundational thinking at levels challenging students to think critically.”
Now a resident in The University of Chicago Pediatric Residency Training Program, Slattery finds that Catholic Studies affects how she approaches and relates to people. Working in the neonatal intensive care unit, she has had several conversations with parents. “Being involved in conversations about life, death and uncertainty is not unfamiliar to me due to my background in Catholic Studies,” Slattery said. “There’s still a lot of gray, but I try to bring comfort. It’s as simple as maintaining hope when death is involved.” More practically, she is looking at a couple of research projects with the University of Chicago, one of which is faith-based. “The relation of pediatric medicine and faith hasn’t really been studied,” Slattery noted. “There’s a gap there.”
While residency is, of course, incredibly busy, Slattery enjoys it. “It’s amazing to wake up and want to go at an insanely early hour and on very little sleep. I have the opportunity to work with families, looking out for the health and well-being of their kids, and at the end of the day, even if I’m leaving late, I’m still okay, and I’ll be back in the morning, happy to be there.” On top of all that, she is exploring involvement with the programs at the Lumen Christi Institute, which exists to complement higher education of a secular nature with Catholic intellectual dialogue. “Dr. Briel is on its board of advisers,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being involved.”
One reason she is excited about being involved in Lumen Christi is because she has found that it is important for her to stay engaged with the Church in order to consistently apply her faith to life. Her family emphasized what they referred to as “the four ‘H’s’”: happy, holy, healthy and wholesome. Busy as she is, she lives her life by these guidelines, which means not letting her busyness shove aside active involvement in her Catholic faith. “You need to read, have conversations, listen, dialogue, write, consistently participate in the sacraments. It takes practice.”
“There Are as Many Ways to Be Saints as There Are Saints”
Therese Lewis ’10 M.A.
In 2006 Therese Lewis was a high school religion teacher without children when she applied for admission to the Catholic Studies Master of Arts program for professional reasons and because she simply wanted to increase her knowledge of her Catholic faith. In addition to teaching religion at a Catholic high school, her career path included serving as a campus minister and working as a youth minister and confirmation coordinator. “I loved the feel of the Catholic Studies graduate program,” she said. “During the application process, people remembered me, and I got a wonderful financial aid package. In addition, I could still take classes while working full-time.”
Before she could begin classes, she and her husband adopted Beatrice, now 9 years old. “I deferred for a year, thinking I’d go back to work then.” Her family’s plans quickly changed as they made the decision for her to stay home for a time and adopted a second child, Joyce, now 3. “I came out of all that with different goals,” Lewis said, but her goals are flexible. When she will return to work will depend on her family’s needs. “How will I use my degree? I don’t know the answer, but I use it personally as a mom. I’ve thought about how to help the girls grow up with the sacraments. I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like Catholic Studies has given me strength to forge a path, whatever it is.” She also serves on her parish council and finds that she draws on her background in Catholic Studies in that context as well.
Among the things Lewis most appreciated about the program was the opportunity to study different Catholics in-depth and learn how they influenced culture. “When I studied Cardinal Newman, I wanted to talk about Newman everywhere,” she said. She also enjoyed studying Flannery O’Connor. “She had an unusual way of speaking the truth. It’s inspiring to have such examples. I’ve learned that I need to be who I am in day-to-day, ordinary life and try to protect the uniqueness of what is. I’ve learned there are as many ways to be a saint as there are saints.”
As a Catholic Studies alumna, Lewis would tell young people to be open to the grace of God to move them in unusual ways. “I didn’t see myself as an at-home mom. You can get so planned, but our lives turn out differently, and that’s good.” She added, “Embrace who you are, who you were made to be. It’s important to embrace your identity as a Catholic. You were created to be someone who brings about goodness in our world.” These two ideas – being the person you were created to be and being open to God – go hand-in-hand, and the Church needs people who embrace both. Lewis noted that living your life in this way can be hard, but important. “Keep at it.”
Seeing Things Through the Church’s Eyes
Nathan Metzinger ’06 M.A.
Executive recruiter at Target
Nathan Metzinger heard about the Catholic Studies Master of Arts program before it was launched through his friend John Rodriguez, then administrator for the program. “I was fascinated,” he said. “It was structured for working people, rigorous, interdisciplinary and flexible, allowing me to focus on business or any other topic within the realm of Catholic thought and culture.” He knew that a Master of Arts Degree in Catholic Studies wouldn’t further his career, but he felt it would make him a better husband and father. It would also transform him “from a Catholic American to an American Catholic” as he learned to see things through the Church’s eyes.
“I’m grateful for an environment where an interdisciplinary approach to the Catholic tradition can be taken,” he said of the program. “You can go deep, but the program is flexible. The fruit is well-educated members of the community, leaders who can interpenetrate society at large, who can bring a Catholic vision to any discipline.”
“There’s not a direct correlation between my master’s degree and being a better corporate executive recruiter,” Metzinger said, but he finds that he views things through a Catholic lens. “I abhor the term ‘human resources,’” he explained. “Humans aren’t resources. Really, work serves man.”
Metzinger expected to enjoy the classes related to theology and philosophy, and he did, but he surprised himself by most enjoying history. “I’d often written history off, but I found that my studies in history enabled me to have a perspective on life beyond the American perspective, especially in the political and social arena.” As he looked at the sweep of international events over the course of 2,000 years, he found that history through a Catholic lens had an explanatory power, allowing him to understand the ramifications of things and to have hope. “The Church has weathered bad times,” he said. Studying history allowed him to fight fear and gain hope through a sense of vision and perspective.
Although most Americans today probably think a lot about the economy, Metzinger, as a recruiter, may be more aware than many of how the economy affects American attitudes. Speaking to young people facing graduation, he quotes John Paul II, “Be not afraid.” “Even now,” Metzinger said, “especially now given the economic environment, there’s a lot of fear. If you’re receptive to the movement of the Holy Spirit, there are amazing opportunities. There is so much negativity in the market, but I’m very optimistic. Remain true, be receptive to opportunities and be ready to seize them. Someone once said, ‘Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.’ Don’t let fear get in the way.”
“It’s Critical Not to Lose the Connection Between Faith and Reason”
Father Mark Moriarty ’11 M.A.
Pastor of the Church of St. Agnes and superintendent of
St. Agnes School
Father Mark Moriarty first encountered professors from the Catholic Studies Department while he was pursuing his Master of Divinity at The Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity. “I audited the Newman course, and I also took a class with Dr. John Boyle. I was very impressed,” he said. Wanting to continue to explore the breadth of Catholic thought and culture under professors such as Boyle and Dr. Don Briel, Moriarty applied to the program after he became a pastor.
“My favorite courses, like Europe and the Church: 1789 to the Present, and the History of Western Education, helped me put more flesh onto world-changing ideas,” he said. “Catholic Thought and Culture II helped me most in my understanding of how we got where we are today and how we can help culture remain vital.”
As a pastor and superintendent of a Catholic school, Moriarty draws frequently from his background in Catholic Studies to minister to others. “Part of what a pastor needs to be is a doctor of souls,” he said. This takes place not only as he provides guidance to individuals in his care but also as he ministers to the entire congregation. “You need to know your audience and what their culture is like,” he noted. “Currently there’s a break between faith and reason, as if faith doesn’t belong in the public sphere. I need to understand what led to this and the proper response. Catholic Studies has helped me understand the background to the divorce between faith and the rest of culture – academia, politics, the workplace and public discourse.”
Within the school, Moriarity tries to visit all classrooms as much as possible, not just the religion classes. “It’s critical not to lose the connection between faith and reason,” he said. “Public education has gone more into specialization and secularization. We’re working against that here.” Moriarty believes that education is not just a matter or remembering facts or discussing ideas; instead, a well-educated person will be able to sift through knowledge and culture from the past and present, sort the good from that which is not good. He strives to lead St. Agnes according to that model.
But, even with an undergraduate degree and two master’s degrees under his belt, Moriarty doesn’t believe he is done, and he doesn’t want those under his influence to view education that way either. “Education is a way of life. It’s not just over and done with when you graduate.” He also wants his parishioners and the students in his school to consider what education is for, and for him it is first and foremost about building your character and shaping the culture around you. “It’s not so much about what career you have,” he said, “but about being the best man or woman you can be as a son or daughter of God.” He continued, “No person is meant to be an island unto himself. You are called to be in continual engagement with society. We can provide the underpinning of faith that culture needs.”
The Joy of Seeing Things Through Different Disciplinary Perspectives
Erik Pedersen ’08 M.A.
Doctoral student in philosophy at the Catholic University of America
When Erik Pedersen was an undergraduate student at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, he studied in Rome through St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies/Angelicum Rome program. He appreciated the vision he saw in the Catholic Studies program. He knew that he wanted to attain a Ph.D. and, eventually, teach at a college or university, and he felt that St. Thomas’ graduate program in Catholic Studies would be a good next step along that path.
Pedersen, who had majored in philosophy and political science and minored in Catholic Studies while at Loras, doesn’t believe in hard and fast lines between disciplines – a large part of his attraction to Catholic Studies at St. Thomas. “The lines between philosophy and theology are not always clean. You need a holistic approach. Through Catholic Studies, I was able to get a broad-based understanding of, for example, St. Thomas Aquinas before jumping into more specialized work.” Pedersen is studying Aquinas and other medieval philosophers at CUA. “Aquinas is a great philosopher,” he said, “but above all, he’s a theologian. Getting a base in Catholic Studies has given me insights into his philosophy here. And it’s not just him; it’s all medieval philosophers. The medieval commentaries on ancient philosophy are hugely important, and you get at them through theology.”
“I appreciate the way St. Thomas doesn’t let the artificial bounds of academic disciplines intrude on the natural development of a subject,” he said. “I was talking with a philosophy professor, who invited a theology professor to join us for lunch. Our talk was not confined to just one subject. It’s not good to talk about a subject only with philosophers or historians.” Pedersen noted that by partitioning subjects off into strict disciplinary categories, we can become blinded to other views. An interdisciplinary approach opens you up to seeing things in new ways.
Pedersen suggests that young Catholics who are facing graduation should be open to taking risks. He went to CUA even though it was far from family and friends and he had never visited the campus, because he knew he wanted to work with the faculty. Rather than letting fear of the unknown stop him, he dove right in. “Don’t be apprehensive,” he said. “As young Catholics, you aren’t doing this blindly. Christ will be there with you. Have faith and hope that things will work out. Have faith that, even if it doesn’t go as planned, it will work out.”
Helping People Answer “Where Are You Going?”
Joe Pribyl ’03 M.A.
Licensed marriage and family therapist and founder, Quo Vadis Therapy Center
When Joe Pribyl pursued his master’s degree in Catholic Studies, he didn’t know he would found a psychotherapy center that would allow him to work with people who were interested in integrating their spirituality with their therapy. At the time, he was working with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis as a lay minister. He wanted a more academic background in Catholicism and had seen an ad for the Master of Art’s program in Catholic Studies. Intrigued, he followed up and was among the earliest students to complete the new graduate program.
He continued in parish ministry for a while, but he decided to transition fully into the field of marriage and family therapy to work with people in times of need who were looking for guidance within a professional, therapeutic setting. He returned to St. Thomas, this time for a master’s degree in counseling psychology. As a psychotherapist in 2008, he decided to found Quo Vadis. “There are general Christian counseling centers,” he noted, but it’s still pretty unique to find a counseling center that allows clients to explore issues from a specifically Catholic perspective. Anyone may come and request counseling with Pribyl, but his approach allows those who wish to, to incorporate a religious perspective, including a Catholic perspective, into their sessions. “Whether or not someone wants to bring spirituality into their sessions is up to them,” he said, “but they probably come to me aware of my Catholic background.”
While his Catholic background can be a primary draw for his clients, Pribyl is comfortable working with people of other faiths, especially having studied and traveled abroad, including through parts of the Middle East. Pribyl found the idea of a Catholic culture to be particularly helpful. “Catholic Studies gave me an understanding of Catholicism as a culture and how it influences us even when we’re unaware. I appreciate having the chance to see it in that light as well as its interplay with the larger culture.” He noted that therapy is heavily influenced by post-modern culture, and his background in Catholic Studies allows him to explore where post-modernity and Catholicism agree and disagree.
For Pribyl, Catholic Studies can bring value to any work. “Whatever field you might enter,” he said, “there’s a way to be faithful and observant and to bring Catholic culture with you. You can be a positive influence on people.” He feels that Catholics should have no fear of engaging work that has a secular background. “We need to find ways to enhance the workforce” with our faith, he said. For that reason, Catholics shouldn’t see their career options as limited. “You can engage the world wherever you sit,” he said. “The question is how your Catholic sensibility can be infused into your career.”
Finding New Opportunities Through Catholic Studies
John Rogers ’10 M.A.
Teacher, St. Thomas Academy
John Rogers first heard about Catholic Studies from a teacher while he was in high school. Although he considered it, he ultimately pursued an English major at St. John’s University. After he began working as an English teacher at St. Thomas Academy, he began considering the graduate program in Catholic Studies. He wanted to broaden his horizons and make his classes more holistic, connecting literature to the larger Christian tradition.
Now a graduate of the program, Rogers finds that he uses his education regularly. “I’ve been drawing out themes from the books we’re reading as they relate to Catholic life.” Students confront questions such as: How does Romeo and Juliet relate to Shakespeare’s understanding of love and marriage? In Hamlet, how do we consider what’s moral and when it is right to do harm? Rogers said, “I tie in lots of information about music, art and architecture, so my students understand the setting of a piece of literature. I also help students find the connection between literature and Scripture. I see studying good literature as preparation for reading the Bible. When it comes time for my students to study Scripture, they are ready to do so.”
In addition, Rogers has begun teaching theology courses, including church history. “I pull in a lot of primary sources. We read the Church fathers and early papal documents. We don’t just examine these teaching in a vacuum. We consider them in their time periods and context. We look at social doctrine, examining how it developed and changed. We ask, ‘What duty do I have to people on the other side of the world?’ Teens are naturally fired up over questions like these.”
Rogers has found that people are starting to come to him with questions about doctrine and other matters. “I have had opportunities that wouldn’t have been there,” he said. His students are surprised to find that he loves both English and theology. He encourages them to think about what they will study in college, encouraging them not to focus on just a narrow slice of information. “I push against the modern idea that you have to specialize,” he said. “Catholic Studies helped me see the interplay between things, how all things connect. This is what I want my students to do. I believe it is part of being a well-educated person, and it’s usually lost in a university setting. I encourage my students to make connections instead of deconstructing things.”
Outside of work, Rogers has become more comfortable writing on issues related to the Church and is now writing for the Minnesota Catholic Conference and giving talks at parishes.
“I most appreciate being able to see the Church in context – how it influences culture and how individuals are influenced by it,” he said. “The world is not all that the news cycle says it is. We’re interested in numbers, in that which is measureable, but there’s more to it than that.”
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