I’m not ashamed to admit it. I was nervous. But I am so glad that I was a part of it.
Twenty-four new students were gathering in our satellite classroom at St. John Vianney Catholic Church on a warm September evening, and as each new face appeared, I had that nervous first-day-of-school energy coursing through my veins. My mind was racing, and my stomach was in knots. I closed my eyes, said a prayer of thanks, and welcomed the chaos of newness for a moment.
Never mind that I am a 46-year-old who has spent almost every year of my life taking or teaching courses. It didn’t matter. All of the jitters and anxious thoughts came flooding back like it was my first day of school all over again. Not because I was worried or ill-prepared. In my role as Director of Admissions, I had worked with all of these students as part of their application to Sacred Heart Major Seminary—I had learned their stories and heard how the Lord had brought them to this next step in their growth as disciples. And now, as their instructor, I felt the weight of the moment that was about to take place.
But not long after those first moments passed, the anxious uncertainty of this new beginning for all of us was replaced with grace, understanding, broader thinking, and deeper faith in Christ and his Church. The jitters gave way to laughter and thoughtful nods. The nervous energy was channeled into our passion to come to a deeper appreciation for God’s divine revelation and to unpack it, like a treasure chest, discovering the layers of richness beneath the surface.
This past fall, in partnership with many neighboring parishes, Sacred Heart Major Seminary began offering satellite courses at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Shelby Township, a parish in the northeast suburbs of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Over the next three years, Seminary instructors will teach the six introductory theology courses that comprise our Certificate in Catholic Theology.
This latest venture is part of a decades-long tradition of Seminary faculty traveling to local parishes to offer courses for college credit, giving parishioners, staff, and clergy a chance to study close to home and to grow in their ministry and their own discipleship. Though not the first of its kind, this particular partnership could not have come from a more ideal place: a pastor’s heart.
“Seminary courses give people confidence in their own discipleship—a chance to ‘connect the dots’ of their faith and understanding,” Father Jim Grau told me recently. In March 2022, I approached Father Grau when he was only months into his ministry at St. John Vianney. I led the meeting with the question, “Is there more the Seminary can do to support you in your ministry?”
He needed little time to think. “I have several staff and parishioners that would be perfect for seminary courses if we could host them here. Online opportunities are great. But I believe this community needs to gather again.”
About six months later, through the collaboration of many parishes and the Seminary administration, this pastor’s vision was realized.
But this isn’t just a story about ecclesial partnerships, success in logistical planning, or even the realization of a pastoral plan. This is a story about people who had an opportunity to meet Christ anew and experience the Church in a more profound way—people who, before this opportunity arose near their home, would not have had that chance.
Judy, a lifelong educator and self-proclaimed “perpetual student,” is clear in her opinion about these courses. “I had been considering Sacred Heart courses for about two years,” she said, “but the drive was always the biggest deterrent. What I like most about this experience is that I’m learning with others and forming new relationships—a community.” Judy desired to understand the connections between Church teaching, scripture, and history. “I’ve learned amazing amounts.”
Over the past few years, Michael had sensed a “deep yearning for more” when it came to understanding his faith. He was reading Catholic books and websites and watching videos, but he was still hungry to put the full picture together. “I’m already reaping the rewards,” Michael said when I last spoke with him. Even basic truths were being explained in new ways—like the fact that God, the Trinity, is in himself a relationship. “It was so simple, like I should have known it a long time ago,” but the way it was explained in class, “I think about that every day now.”
Jon, a doctoral candidate at a protestant seminary, was speaking to a local priest about returning to the Catholic faith. He had been raised Catholic as a young child, but his family later connected with a different denomination. Now, 35 years later, that same priest encouraged him to consider the satellite classes. As Jon says, these courses are helping him “graft my theological understanding to a Catholic lens.”
Sure I’ll admit it. That first night of class I was nervous— I think we all were. But every student I’ve spoken to reiterates the same idea—whatever jitters, doubts, or uncertainties we had going into the class were eclipsed by how glad we are to be a part of it. To quote Paul, a St. John Vianney parishioner enrolled in the courses, “I learned more than I had in my entire life.”
Sacred Heart Major Seminary plans to launch two more satellite programs at parishes in the Fall of 2023, one at St. Thomas More Parish in Troy, Mich., and the other at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Mich. To learn more information about these satellites, you can visit www.shms.edu/troy or www.shms.edu/plymouth.
If you or someone you know would like more information about future satellite course options, contact our admissions team at (313) 883-8696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.