By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
Bishop Robert Cunningham has authorized the creation of an extension site of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Syracuse which will offer graduate degrees. The announcement comes as the first in a series which will mark the upcoming celebration of the 125th anniversary of the Syracuse Diocese.
The extension site is scheduled to begin offering classes this fall, and next month a series of informational sessions for anyone interested will be held (see the box on page 4 for locations, dates and times).
Working from this site, men and women —lay, religious or clergy — will be able to earn a master of divinity, a master of arts in pastoral studies, a master of arts in theological studies or (for students who have not earned a bachelor’s degree) a graduate certificate in theology. Those who are interested in taking the courses without working for credit toward a degree can audit classes at a reduced rate.
“I think this is an incredibly exciting moment for the diocese,” said Father Jim Lang, vicar for parishes. “I have been looking forward to something like this for the past 20 years.”
Father Lang directed a committee which studied the possibilities of opening the extension site in the Syracuse Diocese and then presented its findings to the bishop, the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council. The feasibility committee included Father Mark Kaminski, pastor of St. Anthony and St. Mary’s parishes in Cortland, and Cathy Cornue, diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation.
“If one looks at the last 30 years, one notices in our diocese a fundamental change in the way parishes are led. There are new staff members, new competencies required, there’s a new reliance on those who aren’t ordained and a new experience on the part of the laity,” Father Lang said. “Fidelity to our religious tradition invites us to prepare people who have theological expertise working in the staffs of our parishes, ministries and diocese.”
Sister Patricia Schoelles, SSJ, president of St. Bernard’s, said the decision to open the extension site came after conversations between Bishop Cunningham and Bishop Matthew Clark, bishop of the Rochester Diocese.
“We’ve been thinking for some time that it would make perfect sense to open one in Syracuse,” she said.
Although the location where the classes will be conducted has yet to be announced, courses will be offered in the evenings and perhaps on weekends. Several courses will also be offered via video conferencing in Auburn, in Apalachin (near Endicott) and in Watkins Glen.
While courses required will depend on the degree being pursued, those offered will include Introduction to Hebrew Scripture, Prophets and Writings, Liturgical Preaching, Worship and Sacraments, Moral and Social Teachings and many others.
Sister Patricia said those who attend similar classes at St. Bernard’s range from students fresh out of college who are looking to make lay ministry a career to those with established careers in other fields who are interested in learning more about their faith.
“It’s a spiritually enriching experience,” Sister Patricia said. “And it’s very much the experience of a community of learners.”
Father Kaminski said this extension site is an opportunity for lay people working in parishes to receive thorough training on the foundations of theology and church teaching.
“This is the future — this is the present even of the church to work collaboratively with lay leaders,” Father Kaminski said.
Many lay leaders have already received certification in Formation for Ministry programs and in LIMEX, but this extension site offers graduate degrees from a school chartered by the State of New York Department of Education and accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada. The diocese will continue to offer the programs of Formation for Ministry, the Catechist Certification Program, LIMEX, the undergraduate certificate program with Le Moyne’s Sanzone Center, the permanent deacon formation program and other opportunities for learning.
Although Le Moyne and Syracuse University offer undergraduate degrees in theological studies, there are no graduate degrees offered in the field in the diocese.
“We heard a variety of voices from people who were longing to have something like this in Syracuse,” Father Kaminski said. But those who felt called to do graduate work often had to commute to Rochester to do it.
Father Kaminski said Bishop Cunningham has been behind the idea of the extension site from the beginning. “He was very supportive on a variety of levels,” Father Kaminski said. “He really deserves the credit here.”
Both Father Lang and Father Kaminski said that the extension site is long overdue, especially as a similar site in Albany celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Sister Patricia said she’s delighted to move forward with the project.
“I think it’s sort of a gift to people who have been serving in ministries who have not been able to prepare through graduate studies,” Sister Patricia said. “I’ve never met anybody who studied theology and said, ‘I’ve had enough.’ They always want more.”