Handing on the Faith
It’s easier now more than ever to earn a master’s degree in theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary.
Master’s classes are on Saturdays and in the summer, and a scholarship program called “Handing on the Faith” offers tuition remission for one course a semester to college students, laypeople and deacons working in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Current scholarship recipient Jeffrey Hines, 38, a teacher at Archbishop Rummel High School, applied for the scholarship online by clicking the link for the master’s program, completing the form and submitting two letters of recommendation.
“I couldn’t do it without it (the tuition remission),” Hines said. “I teach in Catholic schools and my wife teaches in Catholic schools. It would be too expensive. The Handing on the Faith program allows people like me to earn a master’s. And, it’s convenient to take classes on Saturdays since we teach Monday through Friday.”
As administer of the HOF program, Dr. Chris Baglow, a professor and director of the master of arts in theological studies for lay students at Notre Dame, reviews the applications and awards the scholarships. He said students in the master of arts in theology program at Our Lady of Holy Cross College, St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary are eligible.
The scholarships are crucial in guaranteeing that lay leaders in Catholic schools, parishes and institutions are well-trained in the faith, considering fewer religious hold these positions today, he said. Many lay leaders serve without formal, institutionally accredited preparation.
“More and more lay people are fulfilling positions of leadership in catechesis and ecclesial ministry,” Baglow said. “This (education) is the most essential thing we offer – a well-trained catechist and lay ecclesial minister. Handing on the Faith provides that.”
The program began in 2001 when Dominican Father Neal McDermott, former director of the Department of Christian Formation, established a fund with the Donum Dei Foundation to offer tuition remission to full-time employees (lay leaders, deacons and religious) of Catholic archdiocesan parishes and schools pursuing theology degrees at local Catholic institutions of higher learning.
In the fall of 2011, Archbishop Gregory Aymond approved a $1 million endowment within the Catholic Foundation to sustain the program.
So far, no one who has met the requirements has been turned down.
“My major goal is to never turn a qualified person away,” said Baglow, who joined the seminary staff full-time in 2009 after six years at Our Lady of Holy Cross College as chair of the theology department.
Program is working
Men and women are taking advantage of tuition remission. In the spring of 2012, Baglow said eight women and 12 men were studying on scholarships worth $27,000. As of 2011, a total of 79 people received scholarships. Reviewing scholarship recipients from 2006, 27 had earned a master’s; 42 were at various stages of master’s completion; and 36 have served or are serving in the archdiocese.
By accepting a scholarship, recipients commit to three years of full-time service in the archdiocese after degree completion. The program is flexible, Baglow said, if a woman has a child and doesn’t immediately return to work, if someone is ill or in the military.
“We figure they are going to serve the church sooner or later,” Baglow said. “In the meantime, participants can already use what they are learning” on the job.
If a student can’t fulfill the three-year requirement of working in the archdiocese, tuition is repaid, Baglow said.
Like Hines, 15 are Catholic high school teachers, department chairs or campus ministers or administrators; 13 are ecclesial ministers within 10 archdiocesan parishes; eight serve archdiocesan elementary schools; three are at archdiocesan institutions of higher learning such as St. Joseph Seminary, and two direct archdiocesan offices – Deacon Ray Duplechain, Office of the Permanent Diaconate, and Todd Amick, Office of Eucharistic Renewal.
“The primary recipients are already working in the church,” Baglow said.
And occasionally, Baglow said, a vocation is born from the studies.
The master of theological studies at Notre Dame Seminary offers three tracks: a basic master’s requires 36 hours (12 3-hour courses); a master’s with a concentration in sacred Scripture, moral, dogmatic or historical theology requires 42 hours; and it’s 45 hours with a thesis. On average, it takes about 4 1/2 years to fulfill the requirements for a master’s.
“We have a good enrollment,” Baglow said about the master candidates at Notre Dame Seminary, who include doctors, lawyers and teachers who come from as far away as the dioceses of Lafayette, Mobile and Biloxi. “The caliber of (the students’) dedication is amazing. It’s a profound honor for the professors.”
As the master program has grown at Notre Dame, Baglow said he’s culled from a wonderful community of lay, doctoral-level theologians in New Orleans to boost faculty.
“The professors here are second to none,” Hines said.
Expanding the program
The master’s program is adding a new course of study for lay ecclesial ministers called “The Coworkers Leadership Institute.” Applicants have to be nominated by their pastor or principal and those who complete the formation program will be called and commissioned by Archbishop Aymond for their roles as lay ecclesial ministers. This program is a complement to the master’s program in theological studies and includes 21 hours of theological coursework along with human, spiritual and pastoral formation and training. Dr. Tom Neal, a new professor of spiritual theology at Notre Dame Seminary, is director.
Hines said he is fortunate to be studying in the master’s program and hopes to pass on what he learns.
“It makes you become a better theologian,” he said. “I’ll become a better theologian for the archdiocese, my parish, a better Catholic and better person.”