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Sacred Heart Major Seminary Professors Reach out to Urban Parishes with Speaker Series

Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Black Catholic Ministry co-op for lecture series that focuses on the black Catholic experience

by Dan Meloy

Sacred Heart Major Seminary professors are heading out to inner-city Detroit parishes for a lecture series where the theoretical will meet the practical.

“Disciples on Mission 2019” is a four-part speaker series that is a collaboration project between Sacred Heart’s Institute for Lay Ministry and the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries, and parishes in the city of Detroit.

The series centers on seminary professors giving theological lectures at parishes to Catholics who normally don’t have the time or resources to take classes at the seminary, but still want to come into contact with the rich philosophical and theological truths of the Catholic Church.

The series is a response to Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron's call in Unleash the Gospel to bolster the Church's outreach to the African-American Catholic community, said Leon Dixon, director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

“We’re trying to change the way the seminary is able to expand its reach to the black community,” Dixon said.

by Dan Meloy

Dixon said at times in the past, the seminary could seem inaccessible to black Catholics. Despite Sacred Heart’s location in the Boston Edison Neighborhood on Detroit’s west side, the fenced-in seminary could often feel worlds away from inner-city parishioners who are looking for sound Catholic theology.

Dixon said an event last October at Sacred Heart showed the black Catholic community in the archdiocese is looking for more access to topics discussed in Catholic academia.

“We had the Black Catholic Theological Symposium here in October, and that got rid of the myth that black Catholics don’t have the desire to know a great understanding of their faith,” Dixon said. 

On February 2, Sacred Heart professor Dr. Patricia Cooney-Hathaway gave a presentation on prayer at St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish on Detroit’s east side.

Dr. Cooney-Hathaway’s lecture followed a Mass celebrated by St. Augustine and St. Monica pastor Msgr. Dan Trapp, who is also a Sacred Heart professor. Dr. Cooney-Hathaway lectured on the terms Catholic academics use when discussing praying and what it means to enter into a relationship with God through prayer.

“Many don’t know the terms our own Church uses when talking about prayer to God,” Dr. Cooney-Hathaway told the conference attendees. “God thirsts for us to be in a relationship with Him, and it is God who takes the initiative in this relationship. When we pray, we take the time for God to be in a relationship with us. God is the one knocking on the door, but we have to be open to letting him in.”

Dr. Cooney-Hathaway told the audience a key component to prayer is the openness to receiving God’s message, an acknowledgment that prayer is not meant to be a laundry list of requests for God, but rather an opening of a channel to ask for, and to receive, guidance from the Lord.

“God doesn’t want us to pray as we think He wants us to pray; God wants us to pray as we are,” Dr. Cooney-Hathaway said. “We’re not going to God as we should be, but as we are. Because that’s where healing occurs. We’re not going to God for consolation, but we are going to God for God. We always choose to believe in God’s presence, and through prayer, to find out where God wants us in the world.”

Conference attendees took home a study guide from Dr. Cooney-Hathaway’s talk, and a raffle took place to give away more materials to supplement to talk.

Before Dr. Cooney-Hathaway's talk, Donna Jones, spiritual director at St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish, delivered a testimony on what it means to approach God through prayer with an open heart.

"Because God wants the love of mankind and wants an intimate relationship with us," Jones said, "through the great sacrifice He gave us, God wants us as who we are. We bow to His perfect will, not coming to Him with our own plans, but His will."

Jones detailed her own experience in encountering God through prayer, and how prayer is not meant to be focused on asking God for favors or assistance, but being open to what God wants to communicate. 

"Let us not approach God and His presence as a routine," Jones said. "Let us come to Him and be excited. Because He has great things prepared for us. So let us approach God, ready to appreciate His plans and act according to His word, as a good Father. Because our thoughts are not His thoughts."

The February 2 talk at St. Augustine-St. Monica is intended to be the first in a series of talks, with Dr. Matthew Gerlach, dean of the Institute for Lay Ministry at Sacred Heart, invited all to attend the next talk, March 2 at St. Charles Lwanga Parish on Grand River Avenue in northwest Detroit, featuring Dr. Mark Latkovic on “Catholic Social Teaching.”

Other talks will feature Dr. Michael McCallion on “Taking a Knee: A Catholic, Intercultural Perspective” at Corpus Christi Parish in Detroit on May 11, and September 14 at the seminary with Dr. Daniel Keating leading a panel of Christian leaders in Detroit on “Unleashing the Gospel in Our Neighborhood.”

“One of the nice things that has come out of this series is the importance of collaborating between the Institute for Lay Ministry, the Archdiocese of Detroit's Office of Black Catholic Ministry and the pastors of predominantly African-American parishes,” Dr. Gerlach said. “We came up with this speaker series to carry out the overall action steps in Unleash the Gospel to advance the new evangelization in the African-American communities, and to do this, we needed the cooperation of all three entities.”

Dr. Gerlach added the series aims to present the material in a way that is accessible to all Catholics, regardless of academic background, but also to tap into any potential interest for Catholics in the African-American community in the Archdiocese of Detroit to further explore taking courses to learn more about the faith.

“One of the great myths out there in the archdiocese, and even in the Diocese of Lansing, is that Sacred Heart is really just a place for priestly formation,” Dr. Gerlach said. “But we do have between 350 to 500 active students taking classes for many different reasons, from ministry preparation to just learning more about the faith for self-enrichment.”

Beyond that initial goal, Dr. Gerlach added having seminary professors go out to the parishes gives the teachers a better understanding of how to transform the lessons from theoretical to practical, which in turn strengthens their ability to teach.

“The professor are benefiting when they have this kind of interaction in the parish setting, feeling connected to the lives of everyday Catholics,” Dr. Gerlach said. “For me as a professor, giving talks not just in a formal classroom setting, but taking the lessons and seeing how they play out in the parish, it does wonders and really shows what the seminary can offer the archdiocese.”

Dan Meloy

Dan is a staff writer for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

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Sacred Heart Major Seminary is a Christ-centered Catholic community of faith and higher learning committed to forming leaders who will proclaim the good news of Christ to the people of our time. As a leading center of the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart serves the needs of the Archdiocese of Detroit and contributes to the mission of the universal Church.