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Franciscan school to shift affiliation.

BERKELEY, CALIF. * The Franciscan School of Theology's decision to withdraw from the Graduate Theological Union, an ecumenical consortium, and to affiliate instead with the University of San Diego is the latest example of a shifting landscape in Catholic theological education.

The announcement, made in late September, follows decisions by Weston Jesuit School of Theology in 2008 to re-affiliate with Boston College, the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley to become a graduate school of Santa Clara University in 2009, and the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago to form an educational alliance with DePaul University last year. Next year, Washington Theological Union is closing.

Though each school had some distinct circumstances propelling its decision, all have said their mission of preparing students for ordained and lay ministries in the 21st century is enhanced by closer ties to the broader graduate-level curricula offered by the academic institutions.

Franciscan Fr. Joseph Chinnici, president of the Franciscan School of Theology, said it is critical that today's theology graduates are prepared to "engage actively with professional secularity" by understanding the interface between theology and contemporary social sciences. "The church needs ministers who are trained in nonprofit management, counseling, marriage and family therapy, and workplaces need people who bring faith values and specialties" to their jobs of service, he said. "The study of theology requires a different environment for this time in history"

By relocating the Franciscan School of Theology to Southern California, its students will be able to take courses in the University of San Diego's graduate programs, including the School of Leadership and Education Sciences and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies. The University of San Diego is a private Catholic institution, formed in 1972 by the merger of the Society of the Sacred Heart's College for Women and the diocesan College for Men.

However, the Franciscan School of Theology will not be located at the San Diego campus. Rather, it is moving 38 miles north of that campus to Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, a historic California mission established by the Franciscans in 1798. The 60-acre site offers classrooms and administrative offices as well as easy access to an adjacent retreat center and Mission San Luis Rey Parish, which Chinnici calls "on-site labs" for students to train for ministry.

The 5,000-family parish is ethnically diverse with a large Hispanic population. Located near Camp Pendleton, it has a special outreach to members of the military Proximity to the Mexican border and opportunities for transborder experiences also make Oceanside an ideal location, said Chinnici, who expects friars from Arizona and the Franciscan province in Mexico to join the student body.

The move will affect new Franciscan School of Theology students, beginning in September 2013. Current students will continue at the Berkeley location through the end of 2013.

James Donohue, president of the Graduate Theological Union, called the Franciscan School of Theology decision "a bold and wise choice, more consistent with their mission and their roots." But, he added, "we'll miss their very distinguished faculty and their Franciscan presence."

Chinnici acknowledges that withdrawal from the Graduate Theological Union after 45 years is a "risk," but he is confident that the Spirit moved through the three-year decision-making process and "is calling us to a new way of fulfilling our mission of evangelization and outreach to the poor"

A 2010 study by the school's Board of Trustees identified as threats to the school's sustainability a drop in student enrollment and a commensurate drop in tuition, along with the high cost of incorporating ever-new technology into their facility (a former fraternity house). Fourteen new students enrolled this fall, bringing the total enrollment to 45. Most are studying for the master's degree in theological studies rather than the Master of Divinity degree for which the school was originally established to prepare Franciscans for ordination.

By moving to Oceanside, the Franciscan School of Theology will be the only Catholic graduate school of theology south of Los Angeles, thus widening significantly its pool of potential students, some of whom are likely to commute to Oceanside for classes. Others will live in apartments in neighborhoods surrounding the mission. Chinnici hopes to have 65 full-time students within three years, offering them a "cadre of new programs that are attractive to contemporary Catholics for engagement in the world."

Online courses will provide outreach to students in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

San Diego Bishop Robert Brom has welcomed the school, saying,"A new evangelizing venture and alliance toward a future full of hope now opens up for all of us."

Bishop Emeritus John Cummins of Oakland, Calif., who supported the move of the Franciscan School of Theology and two other Catholic theology schools (Jesuit School of Theology and Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology) to the Graduate Theological Union in the 1960s, said he was saddened by the diocese's loss of the Franciscan school. "They have trained so many of our lay ministers, provided solid instruction in our faith formation programs, given retreats, and were the first out on multicultural issues." Additionally, he said, Franciscan faculty often celebrated Mass in local parishes, "some for very long periods."

He lamented the economic challenges facing theological centers. "How can laypeople fund their education for careers in ministry when they are not likely to get high-paying jobs afterwards?" he asked. At the Franciscan School of Theology, for example, up to 70 percent of the students are on scholarships or receiving tuition reduction.

Cummins also pointed to the reality that most theology school alums "aren't rich and don't have the resources to provide endowment gifts" that are a mainstay of most colleges and universities.

Chinnici said that financial difficulties in many dioceses and parishes across the country have made it even harder for laypeople with theology degrees to find employment. Thus, the Franciscan School of Theology focuses on equipping its students with knowledge and skills that they can use in other nonprofit arenas.

Mary Lyons, president of the University of San Diego, expressed enthusiasm about the university's affiliation with the Franciscan school, where she served as academic dean and professor of rhetoric and homiletics from 1984 to 1990.

The affiliation, she said, brings an opportunity to create "a distinctive model of theological education that offers students a superb theological education in the Franciscan tradition, enhanced by our graduate programs in leadership, nonprofit management, counseling, peace studies, business and other disciplines that broaden the competencies of men and women preparing for ministry"


BERKELEY, CALIF. * The Franciscan School of Theology's departure from the Graduate Theological Union here is not the start of a domino effect that will threaten the 50-year-old ecumenical consortium, according to James Donahue, Graduate Theological Union president. The remaining eight member schools, including the two Catholic ones, "are all staying with the GTU" and see "a global future for religious education," he said.

This does not mean, however, that academic programs at what is familiarly called "Holy Hill" will not change. It is time to "recalibrate," Donahue said, in light of such new realities as a "glut" of ordained ministers in mainline Protestant denominations and the need for more theologically trained laypeople to work in public policy, the social sciences and other aspects of public life.

"The patterns of religious leadership are changing," he said. "We are asking ourselves, 'What shifts in curriculum are being called for? What degrees are necessary? Should we offer more certificates? What about online, distance-learning?'"

A committee of administrators, fiscal officers, faculty and trustees is exploring those questions as part of a comprehensive analysis that is also taking into account the economic downturn's impact on enrollment, denominational support, and endowment gifts. Additionally, the committee is looking at the role of new technologies and social media on higher education and the changing demographics of church affiliation.

According to a recently published study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 48 percent of American adults say they are Protestant, a significont dorp over the past 30 years. In 1980 six in 10 Amercans identified as Protestant. This decrease means, among other things, less need for ordained ministers to lead congregations, Donahue noted.

By contrast, the significant increase in Catholic immigrants from Latin America and Asia means that the need for ordained and lay ministers remains high and enrollment in Catholic seminaries is more stable, Donahue said.

The challenge for all the Graduate Theological Union schools, he said, is how to prepare their students for lead ership in a multicultural and increasingly muitifaith society. As the schools examine these new realities, Donahue said, a "shifting sense of mission" is emerging. But it is not formidable. "The opportunities are much greater than the crisis side," he said. We are not the first institution that has had to re-imagine itself."

The Graduate Theological Union is now composed of two Catholic schools--Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and the Jesuit School of Theology--and seminaries sponsored by the Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ and Unitarian churches. There are also ii affiliate members, including the Center for Islamic Studies, the Canter for Jewish Studies and the Institute of Buddhist Studies

--Monica Clark

[Monica Clark is an NCR West Coast correspondent. Her email address is]
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Title Annotation:Franciscan School of Theology
Author:Clark, Monica
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Nov 22, 2012
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