“I want the Institute of Black Catholic Studies (ICBS)not to be the best kept secret,” said its new director, Redemptorist Father Maurice Nutt. “We want to be well known.”
Father Nutt brings to the institute at Xavier University of Louisiana a 29-year association, first as a student in the early days of the program, then as a teacher and pastor who has sent parishioners to be more effective leaders.
His experience in theology extends beyond the institute, having been on the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus board and an adjunct professor for Hampton University’s Online Religious Studies Program and St. Louis University’s Department of Theology. He has a doctorate of ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology, a master of divinity from Catholic Theological Union and a master of theology from the IBCS. He also has authored three books, one about his former teacher Thea Bowman.
He didn’t take lightly the invitation to be director, discerning for six weeks “because I wanted to know if this was where God was calling me,” he said. “I felt God was trying to use me.”
Because of what he gained as a seminarian studying at the institute – the only African-American Catholic studies’ program in the U.S. offering graduate degrees – he wanted to give back.
He said the program allowed him to be “well-prepared and equipped to serve the African-American community as a priest.”
“I felt (those experiences) would serve well in leadership of the institute,” he said. “I knew the program well as a pastor, teacher and student.”
Taught by a ‘saint’
Father Nutt, 51, believes he was taught to preach by a modern-day saint – Bowman – and said he never dreamed he would be teaching her classes. He is proud of the caliber of professors from the institute’s founding – such as Fathers Bede Abrams and Cyprian Davis, who wrote ground-breaking works for ministry among African-American Catholics.
“I learned to connect with the word of God and be able to relate it to the lives and experiences of my congregation,” he said. “I learned that preaching must be both provocative and engaging. It must be spirit-filled – you use your whole body to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
He believes today’s faculty is also strong, citing how students often express how impressed they are with the depth of knowledge of the professors. Among this year’s teachers is Fulbright Scholar Dr. Modeste Malu Nyimi from the Congo. Father Nutt will again teach Black Preaching II, a commitment he made before being named director.
As new director, he has a few immediate goals. One is to make the institute more known worldwide as well as locally. He plans to continue free, year-round and open-to-the-public lectures and webcasts. Another is to grow enrollment.
“Recruitment of new students will be a major focus of mine,” he said. “My goal is to have 100 students enrolled every summer.”
Young people offer hope
His youthful spirit and energy attracts students of all ages, but Father Nutt strives to reach out to younger Catholics who aren’t aware of what the institute offers.
“I have a heart for inspiring young Catholics to minister in the church,” he said.
He’s closely studying recommendations made recently by the university’s review board. By fall 2015, he hopes to shorten the length of time it takes to earn a master’s of theology by offering a blended mix of courses: some online courses and maybe even satellite courses in cities where there are multiple students.
Expanding the master’s of theology program to include not only concentrations in pastoral theology but also word and worship, history and social sciences and education, urban studies and religious education is another plan. He wants to review what is needed in the parish settings.
“It will help in our recruitment,” he said.
Father Nutt will work toward an institute that is more financially self-sufficient, but recognizes the challenges of fund-raising.
“I believe funds follow relationships,” he said. “I want to build strong relationship with funding sources, so I will form a National Development Board to raise needed funds.”
Father Nutt has high expectation for the institute as well as students from whom he asks not only take classes, but serve as evangelizers and consider returning as professors. Some young faculty members were once students.
“We were given a gift, a legacy as a student of the institute, and it is my obligation to continue the vision that was handed to me,” Father Nutt said. “I look keenly at my students and think, ‘would he or she be the next professor?’”
To learn more about IBCS, visit www.xula.edu/IBCS or call 520-7691.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.