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Pluralism, collaboration and faith: two of the newest deans of Catholic theology schools talk about the present and future of theological study.

What is happening in theological education today?

NCR took that question to two of the newest deans of Catholic theology schools in the United States: Jesuit Fr Thomas Massaro, who became dean of the Jesuit School of Theology of--Santa Clara University in California in July, and St. Joseph Sr. Maria Pascuzzi, who in the same month became dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at St. Thomas University in Miami.

Maria Pascuzzi

"What I find is if you're going to rim a school of theology and ministry you have to be open to a new pluralistic environment, and that's what we serve," Pascuzzi said. Before the School of Theology and Ministry at St. Thomas University, she taught at seminaries in New York and as a professor of biblical studies at the University of San Diego.

The School of Theology and Ministry covers undergraduate education all the way to the doctorate in practical theology, with a total of 131 students enrolled in degree or non-degree certificate programs. St. Thomas University has 2,433 students.

Pascuzzi emphasizes the different polities at the school. To her, that is where the church is today. "This is a new world we're in, an intercultural, pluralistic, globalized world. In just a matter of 10 or 15 years things have changed dramatically."

When she arrived at St. Thomas, "what I discovered is that we have a very interconfessional, very ethnically diverse Population of students. So theological education is not just about preparing, even at Catholic institutions like this, it's not just about preparing Catholic men for ordination. It's about preparing all people who are interested in serving whatever ecclesial communities that they are a part of to prepare them academically and professionally" for their ministry.

"We have this wonderful Catholic intellectual theological tradition that's been going on for 2,000 years. We've been asking a lot of questions about ultimate realities for a long time, and so we can enrich [people of other faiths] with the wonderful traditions that are part of the Roman Catholic church and they can enrich us with the diversity and the perspectives that they bring."

She added, "Paul said in the Letter to the Ephesians that 'With Christ the walls that have divided us have been broken down.' I really believe that theological education is going to be ecumenical education in the future--that's important. I also think that theological education has to be un-siloed, in the sense that it cannot just be going into a classroom and learning theology in a vacuum. It has to be theology, and that's what we do here, theology with an eye toward practice."

As for the students' interests, comparative theology is popular.

"They want to hear what other people have to say; they want to learn from other people. ... I can't tell you how many of our students are thrilled to be experiencing the way Catholics understand sacramental life, and the way we live sacramentally in the world."

One point that is unfortunate, she said, is that the number of Latino theologians has not kept pace with the number of Latino Catholics in the United States.

"We have to do a better job in theological faculties of training students, of going out there and looking for students--black students, minority students, more women, students from Central and South America, Latino voices. We just have to have more of those people join the conversation. That's what our students want to hear because those are the constituencies they're talking to and their theology has to be informed by people who are doing the thinking about the issues and the problems in the theological practice that make sense in their communities."

Pascuzzi would like to increase her faculty from four to 10 members in the next five years and develop more courses in pastoral care and counseling as well as business administration. Theology students are well-trained in pastoral skills and theological foundations, she said, but "are not prepared to go out and pastor and run multimillion-dollar corporations."

"There's a lot of stuff that 50 years ago, nobody had to think about, but you have to think about it today"--stuff like liabilities and building management and maintenance.

Because of the changing nature of the theology school and its students, Pascuzzi is in search of scholarships. Students need loans to pay tuition and repayment can be burdensome for students who seek ministry jobs after graduation.

She wants donors to think of more than just brick-and-mortar investments. "I just wish more people were invested in theological education," Pascuzzi said. "The biggest return is going to be the investment made in the people who are training to keep the church and the Gospel alive in the hearts of other human beings. That's the investment and that's where the return is going to be, and without that return, I don't see how the new evangelization is going to work."

Thomas Massaro

A noticeable trend around the country is for free-standing theology schools to affiliate with universities, Massaro said. This happened when the Jesuit School of Theology joined Santa Clara in 2009. It happened at Massaro's last posting. For 11 years, he was a professor of moral theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., which was acquired by Boston College in 2008. Massaro taught there another four years until leaving to be dean in California.

Finances can be a cause for the changes. "The only free-standing [theology schools] left, the majority of them, are diocesan seminaries, which of course are supported by dioceses, which sometimes have deeper pockets," he said.

Santa Clara "has many excellent graduate programs. ... We are the latest addition, as of 2009, and I have received nothing but positive, welcoming embrace by the people of Santa Clara."

The school is part of the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of nine other theological seminaries and 11 centers and affiliates. The school has more than 160 students.

The school, located in Berkeley, is 47 miles from the Santa Clara campus. One area he'd like to develop is bridging the two campuses. For now, there are two professors at Santa Clara who have made the weekly trek to also teach in Berkeley, but Massaro hopes soon to have more people, himself included, bridging the two.

How schools look now--priests getting their degrees side-by-side with women religious and other laypeople--is very important, he said. He believes firmly in what he calls "collaborative training for collaborative ministry." If a priest is going to work well with laypeople, "he has to work in preparation, ministerial formation with other people."

"Otherwise, you have these countryside seminaries, which I don't think are successful models for the 21st century, where a priest candidate is hidden away, sheltered from the world for four or five years, and only reemerges as a parish priest, and may not be as in touch with the challenges, demands and the joys, really, of working with laypeople and others."

Even for him, a scholar who does not work in a pastoral setting, "I'm just glad I had constant continual contact with the full range of God's people, and not just other priest candidates. I think it's very healthy"

About half of the students at the school are Jesuits getting ready for the priesthood. The other half are from other religious orders and some are laypeople. All have sacrificed something, Massaro said: the religious who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and the laypeople who accumulate mounds of debt.

A typical student is in his or her 20s or 30s. Massaro is aware of the sacrifices they make, choosing a sector that will never pay much. They remind faculty and administrators of the idealism of those in their 20s and 30s, people who want to change the world and try creative ways to make contributions, he said.

"I'm always encouraged when I have conversations with students."

Massaro knew most of his 13-member faculty before arrival but he has "loved getting to know all of them better and some for the first time."

He credits the whole university family--from students to donors--on fulfilling the school's mission.

"It's always in service of the church. It's not for our own glorification, or an embellishment of our credentials. It's for service to the church to train ministers for learned ministry in the future..

Thomas Aquinas called theology "the queen of the sciences." Massaro agrees.

It is in a Catholic university's school of theology that the practical sciences the social sciences, the arts, philosophy and other disciplines encounter the deepest questions about God, about the meaning of the universe and human destiny, Massaro said.

Theology he said, "asks the hard, ultimate questions about the meaning of life and existence, and I think it really completes the university's curriculum.'

"It's a privileged place for the culture, for the faith to engage the culture, and for cultural trends to be worked out by church voices."
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Title Annotation:Thomas Massaro and Maria Pascuzzi
Author:Ryan, Zoe
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Nov 22, 2012
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