Pluralism, Collaboration and Faith: Two of the Newest Deans of Catholic Theology Schools Talk about the Present and Future of Theological Study

By Ryan, Zoe | National Catholic Reporter, November 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

Pluralism, Collaboration and Faith: Two of the Newest Deans of Catholic Theology Schools Talk about the Present and Future of Theological Study


Ryan, Zoe, National Catholic Reporter


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. …

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