Faith seeking Understanding

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IMG_0443St. Bernard’s opens Syracuse extension site
By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor

In the past, those in the Syracuse Diocese considering a degree from St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry faced a tough decision: make the long drive to the main campus in Rochester, make the long drive to the extension campus in Albany, or make the long drive to a video conferencing site in Apalachin, Auburn or Watkins Glen. Add snow to the equation, and that trip down the Thruway seems even longer.

Fortunately, there is now another option: make the considerably shorter drive to the Le Moyne College campus, where St. Bernard’s Syracuse extension site held its first class on Aug. 31. From this new site, students — men and women, lay, clergy or religious — can study for master’s degrees in divinity, theological studies or pastoral studies, or a graduate certificate in pastoral studies. (Those not interested in pursuing a degree or certificate may audit courses.)

Sister Patricia Schoelles, SSJ, president of St. Bernard’s, was on hand to welcome students to the first class at the new site.

“This is a momentous day,” she told them. “We are beginning [classes] in a diocese we’ve wanted to enter for a long time.”

The Syracuse site opened nearly a year after Bishop of Syracuse Robert Cunningham and Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester initiated conversations about bringing the Rochester-based school to Syracuse. Father James Lang, vicar for  parishes and a member of the diocesan committee that evaluated the feasibility of a Syracuse site, was quick to support the idea.

“We have a long, positive history with the Diocese of Rochester and St. Bernard’s,” he said, referring to the school’s previous status as a seminary; many priests in the Syracuse Diocese studied at St. Bernard’s between its founding in 1893 and the closing of its priestly formation program in 1981. “And theological and pastoral-related education is extremely important [for the diocese]…. We need more capable, degreed people who can minister to our parishes.”

Cathy Cornue, Diocesan Director of Faith Formation and another member of the evaluating committee, was also happy to bring a new vehicle for continuing education to the diocese.

“Any opportunity for ongoing faith formation is a gift,” she said. “We are delighted to have [St. Bernard’s] here.”

Six students are enrolled in the Syracuse site’s first class — Orientation to Theology, taught by Sister Nancy Hawkins, IHM. (There are additional students from the Syracuse Diocese studying at St. Bernard’s other sites.) As is typical of the St. Bernard’s student body, they are an eclectic group. There are both men and women from a variety of professions and backgrounds. Some serve in parish ministries or want to, and some have enrolled simply as “a gift” to themselves. All have a deep desire to learn more about the faith.

Merci Magari, who moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1985, says it is the centrality of faith in the Filipino culture that draws her to ongoing spiritual studies and to the extension program in particular. “The more information I get,” she said, “the more I know I know nothing.”

Another course will be held at the extension site in the spring semester, with plans to increase the number of courses as the number of enrolled students rises. Sister Patricia hopes that word of mouth will bolster interest and confidence in the program, and cites the Albany extension site, flourishing for more than 20 years, as a model to strive for in Syracuse.

Father Lang also hopes the new program attracts many more students. After all, he said, “any day when you don’t learn anything is a waste of time.”

Loyola extension program provides “education in your location”

For many years, “Syracuse did not have a vehicle for ministerial education,” said Cathy Cornue, Diocesan Director of Faith Formation. Degrees in religious studies were available through Le Moyne College and Syracuse University, but there were no higher education programs that catered specifically to those in or preparing for parish ministry or those who wanted to deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith. To meet the needs of the community, the diocese began offering graduate-level courses through the Loyola Institute for Ministry Extension Program (LIMEX) in 1991. To date, 130 people from the diocese have earned graduate certificates in pastoral studies or religious education through the program; another 16 students are currently working toward their certificates.
The LIMEX program uses an innovative model to create a tailored distance learning experience. A small group of students (usually about 8 to 10) and a Loyola University-trained facilitator form a “learning community” that will stay together for the length of the program (36 credit hours, which usually take about four years to complete). As a group, they decide when and where the classes will meet and the pace at which they will work. The classes are student-driven and focus on dialogue, group participation and the experience of education in community.
Loyola provides the learning communities with materials—a course book of lectures prepared by faculty, DVDs of presentations by topical experts, a detailed syllabus, and a facilitator’s guide — that form the basis of the course. The learning communities also have easy access to Loyola professors via telephone and email. Feedback on work for concentration courses is also provided by Loyola faculty.
Sister Caryn Crook, OSF, is studying for her certificate in pastoral studies with a focus on religion and ecology. She chose to enroll in the LIMEX program because of its convenience (she could pursue her studies without having to leave her ministry as Franciscan ecology coordinator at Alverna Heights in Fayetteville) its course offerings and its affordability, but she has come to truly love and appreciate the LIMEX model.
“It is a program centered on spiritual growth with a strong academic foundation,” she said. “The adult learning model ensures that all classmates are not only responsible for their own learning, but are responsible to their fellow classmates’ learning and understanding [of] the materials as well. It is a relationship of interconnectedness and mutuality.”
Sister Caryn also believes the centrality of community in the LIMEX model prepares students to be better directors of their ministries.
“In [my first LIMEX class], I learned about shalom. It is a word that everyone knows: peace. In the class, I learned that it really means a peace that comes from right relationships with God, with one another and with all creation,” she said. “LIMEX has been teaching me to embrace this deeper meaning of shalom [and] helping me to become the person God intended.”
For more information on the LIMEX program, visit www.faithformation.syrdio.org.

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