Dr. Mary Reichardt has been away this past academic year on sabbatical and teaching in Rome, and I have been asked to keep an eye on things until her return. As a relative newcomer to the program, my role as interim director of the Master of Arts in Catholic Studies has kept me on a pretty steep learning curve. I have taught for many years in the Catholic Studies program as a member of St. Thomas’ Philosophy Department, but this has been my first exposure to Catholic Studies from the inside. It has been a treat to be involved in such a vibrant and promising program and I’d like to pass on some of what is happening.
The master’s program is engaged in a number of innovations, perhaps the most interesting of which is a new Rome program option for our graduate students. Many of you are aware that for a number of years, Catholic Studies undergraduates have had the opportunity to study in Rome. Now, we are able to extend a similar opportunity to graduate students. These students will be able to attend a specially designed graduate seminar offered through the University of St. Thomas in Rome— more commonly known as the Angelicum. Other upper-level courses will be made available to them as well. They also will be given the opportunity to live at the Bernardi Campus. I know from personal experience that living at the Bernardi Residence is an important feature of the Rome program. It provides abundant opportunities for discussion with others about the rich spiritual and cultural aspects of life in Rome and for spiritual renewal in the on-campus chapel.
Another innovation worth noting is our summer graduate program–now in its second year of operation. This summer program is designed especially for students who otherwise would be unable to study in Catholic Studies because of the demands of their schedules. Secondary and parochial educators are showing special interest in our graduate offerings and through the summer program we have found a particularly apt way of responding to that interest. Among those students planning to attend our summer program in 2004, we are particularly proud of the six female religious educators from the Dominican province of Nashville, Tenn. They are coming to us for a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition. For some of them, this will be the second year of studying with us. This year we are offering two summer courses: Catholic Thought and Culture; and Philosophical Foundations of the Thought of John Paul II. Classes began June 21 and continue until July 31. Courses are offered during daytime hours, each meeting twice a week. Through the summer program students may complete course requirements for a master’s degree over five summers. Those who study in our program during the regular academic year are also welcome to take our summer offerings.
We have also put together an interesting set of courses for the upcoming academic year. These include new courses on Scripture and the philosophical aspects of the problem of evil. We are also happy to have professors new to Catholic Studies teaching graduate courses next year. I take this as another sign of our outreach efforts. For more information on these courses and other graduate matters, please visit www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/masters/.
Before I close, I want to share with you what has surprised me most about the Catholic Studies graduate program. Simply stated, it’s the quality of our graduate students. I’ve discovered that they are a diverse collection of women and men of various backgrounds and talents. Yet, in virtually every case, they are serious, faith-filled persons committed in a serious way to the studies they have chosen. Their enthusiasm about studying the Catholic intellectual tradition under the guidance of their teachers has been inspiring to me as an educator and life-long student of Catholic thought.
I am convinced that there is growing interest in the academic aspects of Catholicism. This year, eight students in the program have written their master’s theses. Students from around the country and from overseas have been making inquiries and applications. Some of them will study in our joint degree program with the St. Thomas School of Law. We have students from Japan and Europe currently enrolled in our program. Sixteen new applicants are awaiting next year’s classes to begin. We see this growing excitement about Catholic Studies as a sign of an emerging intellectual movement. Let me close by asking you to keep all of us in your prayers as we continue our work in Catholic Studies.