Jesuits in Formation Fit in with Other Theology Students at Boston College

By Feuerherd, Peter | National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2019 | Go to article overview

Jesuits in Formation Fit in with Other Theology Students at Boston College


Feuerherd, Peter, National Catholic Reporter


BRIGHTON, MASS. * It's a Tuesday afternoon in March, a Noreaster threatening snow is on the horizon, and nearly a dozen Jesuit scholastics are lined up in the back row of a classroom here. They are taking in interpretations of John Chapter 9, the story of the healing of the blind man, as part of their course on virtue ethics and the Gospel of John at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry

This is no cursory once-over. Jesuit Frs. James Keenan and Thomas Stegman, the professors, go through the details. A chapter that most Catholic Mass-goers will hear once a year during Lent is painstakingly analyzed for all its symbolic value. The questions are rapid-fire--about the meaning of the mud used to heal the man, why his parents seem to abandon him after he is healed and questioned by religious authorities, why the question is raised about whether the man born blind is a sinner by the fact of his handicap.

Alicia Brienza asks if there is an issue about consent raised in the passage (the blind man mentioned in John 9 gets in trouble with the authorities even though he never asked Jesus for a healing).

The issue of consent is much in the news today And, in this class, while it includes the Jesuit scholastics intent on studies for the priesthood, it also includes a few dozen others, most of whom, like Brienza, are women. Scholastics are Jesuits in formation who have taken vows after their two-year novitiate period.

Their presence makes Jesuit formation different. Ever since the 1970s, Jesuits have been formed by taking classes that include lay students. Boston College is different from more traditional seminary programs offered in rural settings, away from the distractions of urban life.

At Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry the sight of a neatly pressed cassock is a rarity The Jesuit students fit in with their fellow students. Typically, they don't wear clerical garb. They are neither expected to be experts for the rest of the class nor treated with any special favor or attention. They make up 18 percent of the total student body in the graduate program, which was recently rated sixth in the world by the QS World University accrediting agency

Brienza told NCR that her voice, and other women's voices, provides a needed dimension in the formation of future priests. "We're one half of the population that they are around and get to hear women's voices. It's very equalizing," she told NCR.

Stegman, who besides teaching is also dean of the school, noted that Jesuits who are ordained often don't end up in parish ministry Their ministry is often different from that of diocesan priests, most of whom are focused on parish ministry They will also live in religious community, while diocesan priests often live independently or with a fellow priest in a parish rectory

Most older Jesuits were formed along the model of separation from the world, a reform in seminary education that developed after the Council of Trent. Stegman was trained in the newer model.

"The new model is that you should be studying in an environment similar to where you will be in ministry," he said, noting that Jesuits have in recent decades focused on collaborative work with laypeople.

Stegman is quick to point out that Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry is not a seminary, like St. John's next door, which trains priests for the Boston Archdiocese and other dioceses. It is, rather, a theological center, offering Master of Divinity degrees and other credentials for laypeople, many of whom eventually end up working in parish ministry or education. The Jesuit students earn the divinity master's degree and also participate in ongoing formation that extends beyond their three years here.

Lay students include Grace Agolia, a University of Notre Dame graduate from Massapequa Park, New York, who is deaf and plans to work in deaf ministry. …

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