The work of preparing and supporting “missionary disciples” for the new evangelization (Pope Francis) continues on during the summer months at Sacred Heart.
Forty-five priest-students have just concluded a five-week summer session, which ended on August 11. The men are studying to earn the Licentiate in Sacred Theology post-graduate degree (STL). Sacred Heart offers the degree in a unique “blended” format: most of the courses are taken online with a required summer residency for four years.
The summer term is academically challenging—the priests take four courses in two mini-sessions of two-and-one-half weeks each, for a total of five weeks of study. The forty-five priests come to the seminary from seven countries, thirty-two dioceses, and nine religious communities. They comprise the largest collection of STL students of any Catholic university outside of Rome.
The 2017 summer roster of priests was all-inclusive, made up of men who began their STL studies four years ago—in 2014, the inaugural year of the blended format (cohort one)—along with those who began three years ago (cohort two), and two years ago (cohort three). They were joined this summer by a “rookie” class: priests who have enrolled just this year and are attending their first summer session (cohort four).
“This summer was significant for the seminary and our STL summer/online program,” says Fr. Timothy Laboe, Sacred Heart’s dean of studies. “Not only was it the first summer that we have a full four cohorts of priests, but also our first cohort will be taking their last summer term for their STL degrees.
“Graduates of the program will be pioneering new ways for the Church to educate her leaders to carry out her mission. The presence of such good priests from around the country and the world,” Father Laboe says, “have made the past four summers at the seminary very vibrant.”
Sacred Heart’s rector, Msgr. Todd Lajiness, calls the STL a “one-of-a-kind” opportunity, as it combines “deep theological and spiritual exploration together with practical application.” At the same time, he says, the summer session is a time of collegiality, as priest-students share meals together, celebrate Mass together, and support each other in their studies.
Fr. Casey Jones summarizes the rewarding educational and communal experience the priests encounter in the program. The priest of the Diocese of Venice (Florida) is active in youth and young adult ministry as a high school and college chaplain.
Because most of the courses are taken online, he says, “The blended STL has allowed me to be a present and active priest in my ministry, so I am actually able to implement the things which I am learning.” Father cites as an example being able to weave what he is learning into his homilies.
“It’s very advantageous to not have to travel abroad or go away for several years,” in order to earn the degree, he adds.
Father praises the “absolutely outstanding professors” who teach the summer session courses. He also enjoys the interaction among fellow priest-students. “We pray with each other, talk with each other, and exchange ideas with each other. I see what other priests are doing to advance the new evangelization.
“There is a lot of networking and exchanging of ideas after hours,” Father Casey says. “That has been just as beneficial as the courses.”
“The main thing is that we’re not alone,” concurs Fr. Joseph Kim. The vocations director for the Diocese of San Jose is part of cohort four, having completed four years of classroom work for the STL degree this summer. “A unique part of this program is that priests come from so many different ministries and areas of Church life, all continuing to reflect in the same way on this new evangelization.
“I’ve got brothers from Peoria, Illinois, from Florida, New York, and all these places that largely have similar situations — low church attendance, weakened faith. All of us being able to come together has been a huge encouragement to me as a priest.”
Sacred Heart’s instructors enjoy the summer session experience just as the students do. Dr. Mark Latkovic, professor of moral and systematic theology, has been teaching during the summer for the past three years.
“I find it a time to explore areas of our program that we don’t always have an opportunity to—in my case, for example, the seminar on technology and the New Evangelization,” Dr. Latkovic says, adding that the students teach the instructors a thing or two, as well.
“I learn from their diverse experiences in parishes across our country or in other countries. I admire their desire to find ever new ways to preach the gospel in a culture often hostile to it.”
Dr. Patricia Cooney taught a course on Vatican Council II this summer. The professor of spirituality and systematic theology says she learned a great deal from the “rich, thought-provoking discussions” and the “engaging” PowerPoint presentations of her priest-students. “I was impressed and inspired by their commitment to the STL program,” she says.
First of Its Kind
The Licentiate in Sacred Theology has a specialization in the theology and methodology of the new evangelization. Popularized by St. John Paul II, the new evangelization calls Catholics into a more personal, life-changing relationship with Christ, while calling the Church to proclaim the basic gospel message to the people of the secularized first world nations. The curriculum stresses social analysis from a Catholic perspective, family and bio-ethical issues, and modern catechetical techniques, so that graduates can express the teachings of the Church in fresh ways.
The STL is a “pontifical” degree, meaning it has the full endorsement of the Holy See through the Congregation for Catholic Education. Sacred Heart’s STL degree is the Church’s first pontifical degree offered with an online component.
To learn more about the blended-format STL in the New Evangelization, visit shms.edu/stl.