Fr. Stefano Penna
EDMONTON — A new online-based program and the reintroduction of an old program at Newman Theological College will prepare students for lay ministry.
The bachelor of theology program was intended to give students a basic understanding of theology and religious sciences and provide a foundation for pastoral leadership.
All non-graduate programs, including the bachelor of theology program, were phased out in 2008 due to financial constraints.
However, Father Stefano Penna, vice president of college development and advancement, says the college is "excited" about being able to restore the program.
The reintroduction of the bachelor of theology enables the college to carry out the heart of its mission which is "theological formation, pastoral formation, spiritual formation, liturgical formation for the laypeople of the Edmonton Archdiocese and across Western Canada," he said.
The college is now permitted to "dual stream" its courses. In other words, within the same classroom, both undergraduate and graduate students can take their respective courses at the same time, he said.
Through the bachelor of theology program, those students without a university degree can study theology. It is a way to prepare them for lay ministry in the Church.
"The other thing that this allows us to do is open our classrooms so that people, just out of their own interest, can go and attend our lectures as unclassified students," said Penna.
Newman Theological College is now able to participate more fully in a kindergarten to graduate school Catholic educational program in the archdiocese. People at every stage of their journey are able to access resources and well-trained instructors to deepen their Catholic education.
Penna explained that a man at age 40 does not engage in relationships based on what he had learned at age 12. To do so would result in "a severely crippled person."
The challenges of life and the challenges of being a witness to the Lord require greater understanding than what one learns in preparing for Confirmation as an adolescent.
"When we are called as St. Peter tells us to be able to give a reason for the faith that is within us, there is a responsibility of a Christian to deepen their understanding," explained Penna.
"A 12-year-old's understanding is a beautiful gift for a 12-year-old, but it is not adequate for someone in later life."
People who take the bachelor of theology program tend to do so to deepen the vocational realization of their gifts of the Holy Spirit in the service of the community. Valuing their particular lay ministry, they must have advanced competence to carry out their duties in the Church.
"If the number of priests remains static as it is and the number of religious sisters diminishes, clearly the role of laypeople to provide that kind of leadership in communities is even more critical right now," he said.
A pilot project scheduled to begin in the autumn is Foundations of Faith. The program is geared to people interested in leading baptismal preparation, youth ministry, marriage prep, liturgical ministry and other lay ministries.
The program is aimed at providing a foundational understanding of theological resources and treasures of the Church.
"We have designed a program that in one year, for a very reasonable price, will allow them to have a foundational experience in the fundamental dimensions of Catholicism," said Penna.
The program is in collaboration with the University of Dayton, which has established an online community of learning. More than a correspondence course, the students will gain instruction via a user-friendly online discussion format.
Newman will set up a group of people in a parish, deanery or certain ministry. Each group will receive several Saturday sessions of prayer, reflection and formation that will anchor their whole experience.
The online format is necessary because in today's society, many people have a limited ability to gather as a group 0n a regular basis, Penna said.
Students are more apt to be responsive if they can choose moments to go online for instruction with a good structure of course content.
The end result of the Foundations of Faith program will be akin to the Nothing More Beautiful process, he said. It will use the resources of the archdiocese so that no matter what ministry one is engaged in and whatever institution one serves, there will be the same foundational theology.