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Religious Studies

In Our Words

In Our Words showcases graduate students who are enrolled in M.A. programs offered by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton. We have been reaching out to our students through interviews and are proud to share the personal testimonies of what brought them here and learn about their vocations.

Read Our Stories

What first brought you to the Master of Arts program at UD?

With God's grace, I had a few options for graduate school. I was discerning among these options with my undergraduate professors from Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University, my undergraduate, a small Catholic University in Louisiana. My interests involve disability and theology and practical ministry involving persons with disability. When looking into different programs, I had a zoom chat with Dr. Bennett and Dr. Henning. And I realized that this university has an incredible program for my interests. Moreover, I experienced genuine charity and concern for me as an incoming student. I saw this from many professors that I spoke with, as well as Amy Doorley. In summary, it was a long discernment process and a difficult one. But, Dayton ultimately had a love of Our Lady, amazing programs, and professors who are genuinely kind and cared about me. It just became really apparent that Dayton, Ohio was about to be my new home.

So it was pretty clear you’d go to UD?

No, it was not clear initially. I never thought that I would be in Dayton, Ohio. I also had never visited the campus because my decision took place during the pandemic. It was a big leap of faith and a huge risk. I'm so thankful that God allowed me to jump through those hurdles of fear as well as doubt to end up here. Even in the struggles that I had in discerning the programs and in some struggles I had in moving up here with the adjustments of a new city, a new culture, and not having friends and family here, I could not imagine my life without Dayton. It is a home for me.

What do you think makes UD’s program distinct from other graduate programs?

I could say a lot on this question. I believe that UD is a humble hidden gem in the academic world in theology. And I think one thing that they really bring to the table is the fact that there is a great sense of humility in the department. It's one thing to study under someone who is brilliant and to learn from someone who is just so incredibly smart (all of these professors are). However, there is a difference in influence, which we can see in ministry as well, when you study under, assist with GA work, or learn with a professor who is striving to live out the moral life and the virtues. That impact, for me, is a greater gift than any help with research. Although, of course, that's important. But, it's just the greatest gift that a student can receive because even in constructive critique of one’s work, you are treated with charity. John Bosco once said in regard to the kids in his oratory, “it’s not enough to love people, but they must know that they are loved.” Here at Dayton, I know that I am loved in the sense that these faculty as well as the students in my cohort, whom I've become really close with, genuinely care about me, my studies, my soul, and my future path.

What would you say about the classes – are there certain ones you have especially enjoyed?

Even though I've only been here for one semester, I want to take every class in this program. In that desire, I have been able to audit a few classes because the professors are so open and amazing in allowing you to sit in on courses. With auditing, I've gotten the taste of many different types of courses. I would say that the foundations courses are fantastic for multiple reasons, because they provide incoming students with a foundation and an understanding for future classes. Now, another great thing about the foundations courses is that all of the incoming theological studies and pastoral ministry students are learning together because it's a requirement to be enrolled in those classes. Therefore, there is a genuine community created in the classroom and outside because you attend classes all week together. I believe this is the greatest blessing from the foundations classes. You get to know the people with whom you're embarking on this journey with, and create a comfortable learning environment. We were also able to have hybrid students, which was a great blessing. With our cohort, I saw an atmosphere of genuine learning where we sought to go through the conceptual hurdles together. Also, we asked each other questions as well as the professor because we've all converged from different backgrounds of life. Thus, everyone could add a unique perspective.

How have you experienced the Marianist charism of the university?

As I mentioned in sharing my story of why I ended up at UD, Mary was a huge part of it. I couldn't exactly explain it, but there was something that drew me to a Catholic University that tried to live out the ways of Our Lady in the classroom, in ministry, and on campus. Before arriving here, I did not know a lot about the Marianist charism. Now, being here, the charism is starting to become infused within me. That's a beautiful thing. There truly is a sense of hospitality and community. And even though those words can seem a little bit cliché, when it comes down to it, those are some of the most important things that a university can do to build spirit on campus. When hospitality and community building come to fruition, the campus becomes inviting and welcoming. Then, as the Marianists say, everybody can have a seat at the table. This means so much, especially when you're trying to learn a new community and learn a new campus, you feel like you have a place. I feel like I have a place… at the table of UD. I also feel like it's home, thanks to the Marianist charism and the spirituality of Mary on this campus.

How is the Marianist charism intertwined in your academics?

This charism just infuses into our classes very easily because the professors are also influenced by this. A few ways that I have seen this is that in history, we'll talk a little bit about the different ways Mary has been viewed over the centuries. Additionally, in the Gospels class, we looked at Mary and what Scripture said about her as well as how that can be viewed in modern times.

What is the relation of the pastoral ministry and theology students?

I love this question. I think this is one of the most important things that has happened this past fall. Our cohort of theological studies and pastoral ministry students have really become like a family. Also, we have been able to get to know the students in the hybrid program who zoom in. We were blessed to be able to have a Friendsgiving during the time of Thanksgiving, and a few of the hybrid students actually traveled into town for that. When I saw our community fully in person, outside of the screen, the Holy Spirit was present in that. I began to feel so comfortable with my classmates that I got a little bit sad that we wouldn't all be in the same classes because we were transitioning out of the foundations courses. But, that sadness doesn't stay because I know that we have a community and can call upon each other at any moment. 

The Friendsgiving celebration sounds wonderful. What else do students do together outside of the classroom? 

One other event from the fall that really sticks out to me is that we went around to the homes of our professors and their families singing Christmas carols. And that was just such a joy. We had so much fun driving around and spreading some Christmas cheer. We also truly loved getting to see the professors’ reactions and meeting their families. Even though those moments can seem really little, for me, they are also one of the most inviting parts of the program. As we are going through these academic stretches and challenges, it becomes incredible to have a sense of connectedness together in the program. It brings us to the greater vision of the Christian life in which everyone is connected, where everything is connected. As Thomas Merton said, “No man is an island,” and at UD, in the department of religious studies, no one is an island.

What are your dreams and goals for the future?

I am still presently in the process of discerning this. However, I had felt called before I entered the Master of Arts program and still do feel called to get my doctoral degree. I'm trying to really trust God with where my path will end up at the end of this program. I also would love to teach high school or to apply for a job in ministry at a parish. With my interest in disability in theology, I would be really interested in working more in ministry with persons with disabilities.

What advice might you give to others considering a Master of Arts program in theology or pastoral ministry at UD?

I would say to think about why you feel called to study what you are studying. What is behind that motivation? In academia, I've heard and I've also seen with myself that if I have any desire of personal glory or not learning for the beauty of wisdom that can glorify God, I began to burn out. I also begin to become bitter about studies and about the workload. Now, if my focus can shift, I can go in with this vision of learning as much as I can in order to grow closer to the person of Jesus Christ. I can also grow closer to the body of Christ in a sense of learning more about the virtues and trying to grow in them and considering how I can contribute to the common good. So, in this sense, I believe, for me, that academic classes should always in some way influence one’s spiritual life. The professors here as well as my professors in undergrad, who were amazing, are able to connect spirituality into their courses with a sweet subtlety. These hints at the spiritual life aid me in sitting in contemplation to ask Jesus for the grace to continue doing this work and studying these concepts. Thus, my advice would be to sit a little while and to think about your motivation and your reasonings for being here. Consider what is in your heart and pray about what God is asking you. And I think that he will show you the way that your classes can help to make you flourish as a human, not just as a student, as well as to really blossom into who God is calling you to be.

What first brought you to the Master of Arts program at UD?

I am from the Chicago suburbs, and I got my undergraduate degree at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. I double majored in Spanish and Criminal Justice. I worked for a couple years in law enforcement as a police officer in Wisconsin. After leaving my job, I had a long process of thinking about where my gifts and talents would fit with a job. What I came back to is that I was really involved in campus ministry at Iowa State as a Bible Study leader and as a small group formation leader. I got a part time job in Chicago working in youth ministry for the last couple of years and eventually my boss mentioned that I have some gifts for ministry and recommended graduate school. 

How did it become clear you’d go to UD?

I first heard of UD through other campus ministers. A couple of the campus ministers suggested looking at the University of Dayton M.A. program because of the campus ministry Grad Assistantship program that combines practical experience and theological knowledge. Given my background, I wanted something where I'm still being formed as a pastoral minister, while at the same time applying what I’m learning in my M.A. program, as well as continuing to grow as a minister. I was drawn to UD because of this combination of educational and practical experience.

What do you think makes UD’s M.A. program distinct from other graduate programs?

Many other graduate programs don't have this combination of education and practical experience. I also had worked as a student in campus ministry, but I had spent the last two years in youth ministry. So, I was excited to be in new areas of ministry and to come back to areas where I had interest, in a different role as a more professional minister, rather than a fellow student.

What would you say about the classes – are there certain ones you have especially enjoyed?

I love the professors so far. In the case of Christian history, for instance, I appreciate the wide variety of sources and paying attention to different points of view and different stories including those of marginalized voices. It has been really cool to see history from a different perspective and from people whom I have not heard about before. In other courses too, I have been challenged to think differently. The Scripture course challenged me to look at the Bible in a new way. This includes looking at source criticism and hearing new things about the Bible. I think Dr. Ethan Smith does a great job of talking about the pastoral implications of Scripture too. Also, there have been many philosophical ideas introduced in my Ethics course and it is helping me to see how that weaves into theology. I have been struck by how patient the professors are with you as you readjust to school and how they are great in giving you feedback. You can tell they want our success. They are also very approachable. I also love how all of the courses weave together, and I can make connections between the courses.

How have you seen the charism of the Marianists intertwined in your academics?

During the first week, we had dinner with both the Marianist brothers and the sisters, and it was great to meet these people who are such a presence at the university.  Also, as part of our spiritual formation in the pastoral ministry program, Father Kip taught us about a Marianist mental prayer practice. And UD’s M.A. program offers a whole Marian certificate in theology, and that is awesome. I think I always thought of Mary in one way. My mom and my grandma are very devoted to Mary, but I just always had a different view until now. Coming here, Mary seemed like she was pursuing me to have a relationship with her. Seeing the Marianists in action showed me how Mary is active in discipleship.

What do pastoral ministry and theology students do together as colleagues?

I like how we can gather together in our shared identity as students. But, I also really enjoy having slightly different makeups for who is in each class. It’s interesting and great to see various perspectives and personalities.

What are your dreams and goals for the future?

I really am leaning more into ministry. I think youth ministry, campus ministry, or parish ministry, could be options. But, I love working with younger populations like college-aged and high schoolers. I hope that my education will help me be a well-rounded minister. After the program, I hope I can create a safe space for people from different walks of life and learn how to minister effectively to different groups of people whose experiences I might not share. But, I just want to create a welcoming space in the church. The church is a place that can be more welcoming and safe for all people. I also want to have more of the theological background to make sure I'm forming the people I minister to well. Also, I think it will be great to provide pastoral applications to my education, so I can learn how to apply theological knowledge in pastoral situations.

What advice might you give to others considering a Master of Arts in pastoral ministry?

I would say, for people who have taken a bit of time off school, that I was very afraid of how I was going to make the adjustment. But, it has been a very supportive transition. It's not that it doesn't feel overwhelming at times, but it's also doable. And the professors really want you to do your best. So, I would encourage people to apply here because it’s possible to relearn studying and reading. Your experience in real life also helps you here.

Could you please give us a little background on yourself?

I'm originally from Long Island, N.Y., and I completed my undergraduate degree in northern Maryland at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg.

What first brought you to UD and to the Religious Studies program?

I went to a Marianist High School. And, at Mount Saint Mary's, one of my professors was a recent graduate from the Ph.D. program at UD. And then, finally, Dr. Portier used to teach at Mount Saint Mary’s. So, he taught and mentored a lot of teachers that I had in undergrad. His wife was our school's physician during my freshman and sophomore year. Although I didn't know him personally, I knew of the persona, or the legend of Dr. Portier. Also, I loved being part of the Marianist family in high school. Marianist education was something I was very familiar with. 

What led you to the study of theology?

I became fascinated with religion when I was in high school. I developed a passion for religion but with a focus on its spiritual and community significance. It wasn't until I got into undergrad that I was introduced into the academic or critical theory of religion. I think that that my ultimate goal was to just try to understand. I always had a desire to “contemplate the divine truths.” It was something that I had passionate questions about, and it was something I just really enjoyed having conversations about.

What do you think makes UD’s program distinct from other graduate programs?

Dayton itself made it special. UD is a Marianist university. I was familiar with the Marianists, so that was something that I just gravitated toward. I became involved with the Marianists, such as in working at Bergamo, going to spiritual direction and incorporating the Marianist community in my thesis. 

What would you say about the classes – are there certain ones you have especially enjoyed?

The 500 Foundations sequence is definitely a lot of work, but it builds good reading habits. There were many skills that I learned about being a good student that I practice still today. I took a course over the summer on spiritual direction, and that was my first and only pastoral course. I really enjoyed a course on the mystery of God I took with Dr. Groppe. I also took a unique course with Dr. DeAnda. It was a history course. I never had taken a history course in the way that she taught it with an emphasis on peer-mentored learning. I learned so much from my other classmates. It was also a community building exercise because we got to know each other, especially with our own strengths and weaknesses. I never had a course that I didn’t like.

Did you have a favorite part of the program?

Mine is a combination of things. I really did enjoy my classes. I really enjoyed the people that were in the program with me, whether they were in the Ph.D. program or in the M.A. program. There was a lot of growth that came from the two years that I was at Dayton. The relationships that I still have with people and the mentorships were incredible. Dr. Groppe was an excellent thesis advisor. Amy Doorley was always around to chat with. I worked with Dr. Henning and then for Dr. Ryan as a G.A. I learned how to be a teacher and lecturer from watching and working with both Dr. Henning and Dr. Ryan – I am grateful for their guidance and mentorship in creating fascinating and creative pedagogy. I still have great relationships with people that I was either in the program with or who are still in the program. One of my closest friends is still in Dayton and I am the godfather to his children.

Theological Studies students have the option to do a thesis, which you elected to do. How has this impacted you? 

I wrote a thesis on discernment of the Holy Spirit, both individual and communal. It's too early on in my career as a teacher and as an educator to truly see the outcomes of certain elements of my thesis. But the way that I teach is through building a community structure with my students. That was something I witnessed in writing my thesis. There was a strong emphasis on growth within a community that I wanted to highlight in my own teaching. During every class, I try to encourage the students to enter into a contemplative state, which was something that came as a result of my thesis. I encourage them to enter into the stillness or the shalom of God.

How have you seen the charism of the Marianists intertwined in your academics?

I was fortunate that one of my classmates at UD was a Marianist priest from India, Varghese Chacko. He became a very good friend of mine. Through getting to know him and his community as well as doing spiritual direction with a member of the Marianist community at Dayton, the impact of the Marianists on me is immeasurable. I would not be the teacher that I am today without them. Dayton and the Marianists will always have a fond place in my heart, and I attribute a lot of my success to their mission. I'm a product of it, and I've been inspired by it.

What are your dreams and goals for the future?

I always knew I wanted to teach. I knew, especially when I was an undergrad studying theology, that I always wanted to teach religion. Today, I teach at a Christian Brothers high school in Washington, D.C. and am an Adjunct Professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD. It's a real grace and a real blessing that I'm able to teach high school youth, while also still maintaining an effect in the field and getting to teach and design my own college course as well. 

What advice would you give to somebody considering a Master of Arts degree in theological studies or pastoral ministry here at UD?

You have to approach it with an open heart and an open mind. At Dayton, my questions became more focused and that was really only through being open to the wisdom that was out there as well as being both open and vulnerable to constructive critique, commentary, and learning. Dayton is really good at having conversation and conversing with one another. If I did not approach the program with an open heart and an open mind, it would have been very challenging. That’s my only recommendation.

Could you please share a little background on yourself?

I'm from Bethpage, in Long Island, N.Y. I graduated in 2020 from Molloy College, which is a Dominican school on Long Island.

What first brought you to UD and to the Religious Studies program?

In my spring semester at Molloy, I was looking at places to go to grad school for theology. I was looking in a couple different places, and I owe it to my mentor, Dr. Katherine Schmidt, that I am here. Knowing me as a student, she thought that this would be an environment in which I would be challenged and in which I would thrive. When it came down to it, I was between Dayton and two other schools. Dayton just seemed like the right fit. It felt like everything was pointing me in this direction and that this is where God wanted me to be. 

How was your transition from Molloy to graduate school?

I came here, and I got here in the middle of a pandemic. My parents dropped me off on one afternoon in August, and there were a lot of tears. They said, “we love you and good luck.” And then they left. So, I found myself in a place where I'd never been before. I didn't know anybody. All of a sudden, now life is real, and I'm going to have to take care of myself. But, it testifies to how wonderful the people and the culture is here at UD that not only did I survive, but I have begun to call Dayton my second home. I've really found my place.

What do you think makes UD’s program distinct from other graduate programs?

One question was: what's going to look best on my resume when I'm applying to a doctoral program? The second thing was: where am I going to be intellectually challenged, but also at the same time, where my own views, my own theological location will be respected, and valued and have a place at the table? Dayton had the best of both worlds. 

What would you say about the classes – are there certain ones you have especially enjoyed?

I would say that I really do love the structure of the program. We start with the foundations courses. Then, after that, you take two courses a semester in four areas. I think it gives you an opportunity to meet the requirements of what you should know at a baseline level and also give you the opportunity to pursue the area that you feel most called to. The program is really designed to do both; to allow you to have a broad set of skills and knowledge and also to have that specialization. In terms of favorite classes, I have had some classes that really will live in my memory for the rest of my life. The first one is definitely 500C, the historical theology class with Dr. Laurie Eloe. The second class that has had a profound effect on me was a class I took this past spring with Dr. Bill Portier, who is now retired, called Revolutions. The class was all about the history of the church, post French Revolution. The way that Dr. Portier taught that class was such that I understand the modern history of the church in a way that I could never have dreamed of understanding it had I not taken the class. It exposed so much of just how important history is for understanding why and when the church or the pope makes a decision. I really loved that Revolutions class. It was definitely the most unique class I've taken in my program. Of course, Dr. Portier made it all the more special.

What is your experience of the faculty at UD?

Whenever I walk up to the third floor, it feels like I’m walking through a hall of heroes. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants. Each faculty member brings something distinctive to the program, some specialty thing that they're known for. Every faculty member who I have met with and that I had the chance to get to know has really been out to seek my best interest, educationally, spiritually, and personally. I feel listened to by the faculty always. At the end of the day, I'd say they are just a tremendous blessing.

How have you seen the charism of the Marianists intertwined in your academics?

I think something that I've learned at UD, for both my coursework and my work as a GA, is the skill to be able to respond to challenges as they come. Not all challenges are predictable; some will occur at a moment's notice. And a skill that I have learned here at UD is to get progressively better at responding to such challenges in my coursework, in my GA work, and in my personal life. I see the marks of Mary, of the Annunciation, and of her fiat there in that skill. There is such great humility and obedience that Mary shows at the Annunciation, fully trusting in God's word and in God's will. She did not know what the whole picture and story was going to be. She maintained that total trust, and I think that's something that permeates the Marianist charism and in turn, it has had a big effect on me for how I respond to all of these challenges. 

How is the Marianist charism evident in campus life?

I feel like Mary just accompanies me here. I find even students and faculty members who are not Catholic engage in this conversation about Our Lady. She seems to appear everywhere in the curriculum and campus events. She's certainly present on campus with sacred images and statues. So, I feel very much accompanied by her.

What do religious studies pastoral ministry and theology students do together as colleagues?

There is a really strong sense that we are all on the same journey. We have different areas of interest within theology. We come from different backgrounds, but at the same time, we are all here, for the one reason that we have found the priceless pearl in the study of God's Word, in the church, and in being part of the body of Christ. We see our life's work bound up with that. It makes everything more exciting and more worthwhile. I think that the program that we have here is built to foster a sense of camaraderie among the graduate students.  Dayton is unique in how it actively seeks to build unity among graduate students. It's one of the greatest blessings.

What are your dreams and goals for the future?

My dream was to go into teaching, and that's still what I want to do after I graduate. I'd like to spend a few years teaching Catholic high school religion and getting my feet wet in my chosen career. If doctoral studies are in my future, that'll be down the road. 

What advice would you give to others considering an M.A. in theological studies or pastoral ministry here at UD?

The first thing I would say is you have to leave it in God's hands. To pursue higher studies in theology, it has to be in your heart. It has to be something that you do for the right reason. Now, that right reason is defined differently for everybody. But, if your heart is not in it, then it will be difficult to find fulfilment in what is offered. So, I think it's important to go through a discernment process like I did. This program will be challenging to you to the extent that the program may expose you to views you have never considered before.  Everyone really is welcome to the table; all viewpoints are welcome. All these things I think are something you should consider here at UD when thinking about coming here. Also, please reach out to us grad students because we would love to talk about the program with you or to give you a tour of campus when you're able to visit. So, please come and see.

Any closing thoughts?

I want to thank everyone who helped bring me here, especially Dr. Schmidt, my parents, my whole family, and my sister. I want to thank all of my colleagues who really make this place special, make it what it is.  I want to say that when I look back on my life thus far, it is remarkable to me to see the path on which God has led me. It is a path that I don't feel worthy to have trod. But, God has brought me here. I thank him to the end of my days for that. And of course, I have to thank the Blessed Mother.  I owe everything I have and am to God, through Our Lady.

What first brought you to the M.A. program at UD?

I am from the Chicago suburbs, and I earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame with a major in anthropology as well as a supplemental major in Theology. I had a mentor there who had gone through the UD master's program in pastoral ministry, and he was the one who first got me interested in UD. When he talked about his experience of the GA program that UD has both in religious studies and campus ministry, I recognized that the mentorship I could receive would be very important to me. Beyond learning the knowledge of theology, I really wanted to have a relational ministry, having somebody guiding me in how I guide others. So, I came to UD, and I got a position as a GA in liturgy, and it was a passion of mine to get to do liturgy for the entire university. 

What do you think makes UD’s program distinct from other graduate programs?

In my studies, I was able to focus a lot on pastoral ministry. I was also able to take classes in liturgy and scripture and education as well as classics, ethics, and history. I think the breadth of Catholic theological perspective and the professors here are incredible. They are really well formed in their disciplines and are seeking to broaden people's perspectives and experiences within their faith tradition. 

How did it become clear you’d go to UD?

I applied to three or four different programs. I think each one offers different opportunities and would be valuable in their own ways. But, it became clear that I would attend UD when I was interviewing for the Campus Ministry GA position. That was my first opportunity to come to campus as well as to meet with professors and the campus ministry staff. At that moment, I knew this campus and this program was something special. That relationship just felt so right to me.

What's your favorite part of the program? What did you find the most engaging?

I loved the discussions. It was wonderful to engage with people on such a deep level and to hear different perspectives. I was thankful to go deeper into topics that are interesting to me. Having professors who are so willing to go there with discussions and to guide those conversations created a more meaningful, productive learning environment. I also loved getting to know my fellow classmates, to learn from them and with them.

What would you say about the classes – are there certain ones you have enjoyed?

I learned so much from Amy Doorley’s Pastoral Counseling class that is not only useful for 

ministry, but it is extremely useful for life because it teaches you how to talk to people, how to engage with people, how to understand people in different ways and how to respond in difficult situations in a loving, compassionate way. That class was amazing! Another class that I liked and that challenged me was Christian Discipleship with Dr. Kelly Johnson. It helped me to recognize that it’s really hard to be Christian and to engage with the world and that discipleship calls us to a deeper conviction of our Christian faith. It requires reflection and a deeper understanding.

How have you seen the charism of the Marianists intertwined in your academics?

The spirit of the Marianists infuses the whole university, and I think that is why the word ‘community’ is used so much here. It can be cliché at some points, but there is a lot of truth and value in it. Particularly, the discipleship of equals is played out well in the discussions that we have in the classroom.  

All pastoral ministry students do a practicum. What was your project?

I completed my program with a comprehensive project and a practicum that combined the historical theological context of pilgrimage with an actual pilgrimage. So, I got to lead a pilgrimage which was really amazing. Our pilgrimage focused on two parts: St. Damien of Molokai and the Marianists together with Hawaiian spirituality and liturgy. For St. Damien, we went to Kalaupapa, which is the leper colony where he ministered and died. And it was awesome because we were able to go on his feast day. We could connect this sacred time and space with the students’ journeys. There is a Marianist University in Hawaii, and it was great to see the Hawaiian spirituality incorporated in the Catholic liturgy. We particularly looked at how being rooted in tradition allows you to grow further.

That is so interesting! Why did you choose this focus?

I decided to do this practicum because I was really looking for a way to understand how to communicate the value of vocational discernment and the approaches that you can take, especially when you're in the end of your college experience. How do we help orient students to the process of transitioning out of college? I think that's something that we don’t do very well. How do they navigate life beyond college, and how do they understand what God is calling them to next? The pilgrimage gave me the opportunity to focus on what that looks like and to provide a framework for communicating that to students. The idea is that pilgrimage, in that context, is both metaphorical and physical. 

They're physically going on a journey, right? They're probably moving places. So, there is going to be a physical journeying after college. Plus, there will be a metaphorical pilgrimage as they transition, a development in how students view themselves and their relationships and vocation. 

What from this project continues to shape your work after the completion of your degree?

Getting to actually put the pilgrimage into practice was an amazing way of shaping what I think are important conversations that campus ministers can have with students who are struggling to conceptualize college as more than just a consumer product. How does this experience of college contribute to one’s development as a human being, as a disciple, and as someone who is trying to find his or her own purpose? It helps to encourage learning to value the journey as well as to orient oneself in a direction without feeling lost. I think that experience shaped my understanding of my own vocation and journey.

What are your dreams and goals for the future?

I believe that part of my vocation is to minister to students at universities, and I love doing this ministry. I think it’s necessary to engage with young adults in these formative ways. Having a degree provides a foundation for me to help accompany students better. I also think there's room for growth. Working in higher education with young adults is where God is calling me.

Would you be able to give us a little background on yourself?

I’m from Munster, Ind., which is a suburb of Chicago. I was raised Catholic and my parents are immigrants from the Philippines. I went to Catholic grade schools and high school. I went to Ball State University for my undergraduate degree. My major was Visual Communications, which included graphic design. After college, I was struggling to find a job because there was a recession, which was tough. I ended up getting a job with my aunt and uncle in their medical clinic. They lived in California. So, I moved from Indiana to Southern California, and I lived there for eight years. While I was there, I met the Marianists. I discerned for a while and got to know the sisters. I decided to join them four years ago in 2017. I have been in Dayton ever since.

What first brought you to the M.A. program at UD?

Before I entered the Marianist order, I was really involved in parish ministry and young adult ministry. When I moved to Dayton, we would invite students who were Graduate Assistants (GAs) in Campus Ministry over for dinner and prayer. Also, at campus ministry events, I would see GAs. They got a lot of experience, and I was impressed with the program. Part of my discernment was being attracted to ministry. UD made sense because I live close to here. It's also a Marianist University, which is great. There is also the campus ministry graduate assistant program where I get to study and also have ministry experience at the same time. That drew me to UD specifically.

What would you say about the classes – are there certain ones you have especially enjoyed?

All of the classes help me grow in my understanding of faith and theology. Often there is so much information that I need to process. For example, in our Scripture class, there are just so many different connections that I would not have thought of that are there in the Bible. Also, thinking about how ancient interpreters interpret Scripture and how modern scholars interpret Scripture has opened another dimension of reading. In our community, when we can, we do lectio divina. When I’m reading biblical texts in lectio, I remember things from class, and I’m able to share them with the sisters. 

What is your experience of the faculty at UD? 

I think that the faculty have been really helpful. Even before I was a grad student, Amy Doorley was willing to meet with me and talk to me about the grad program. As a sister, I did audit a class and then took a couple of other classes for credit. The faculty are very helpful and want us to succeed. I get the sense that our homework assignments and reading assignments are really to help us understand the material.

How have you seen the charism of the Marianists intertwined in your academics?

UD talks a lot about community. It really does focus on living in community. At the time of the reforms around Vatican II, there were some religious orders that experimented with sisters living away from the general congregation. With the Marianist order, that didn't make sense for us because community is so much a part of our charism. Our founders lived during and after the French Revolution. That was a very difficult time and a very unstable time for France. Thus, they listened to what the people needed, which was a community where they could share their faith and develop a relationship with God. This was important because the church at the time was in shambles. So, they started as small communities. I see the Marianist emphasis here on community, such as staying at the table. We don't choose the members of our community, but we still live together and work together through the good and the bad. That is one aspect that you may see. Mary as well; we have a Marian library and a Marian research institute that has merged with the Religious Studies department. This emphasis on Mary and Marian theology are linked with the charism.

What do pastoral ministry and theology students do together as colleagues?

We have a group chat that includes remote students which is a great idea. Also, people will email the group to get conversations started about class discussion. Also, with campus ministry GAs, since we're all going through similar things in ministry, we get together sometimes. It is good to process certain things together. It does seem like there is more emphasis on community here. 

What are your dreams and goals for the future?

I think about my role as a sister; ministry, in a sense, is already part of our life. So, I feel if I can learn to be a better minister, that would be helpful to the people that that we serve. It is also great learning more about theology and God. I’m hoping that with the education from here, I can help people connect with their faith more like the Marianist founders did in their own time.  During the French Revolution, people tried to be more secular or less connected. But, in a sense, it seems that faith in God can be in everything. I hope to help people connect faith with their daily life and to help the church also be a more welcoming place for people to go. The scandals that have happened in the church can overshadow the beauty of the Church and what it can offer. The Church has a lot to offer society, so I would like to help contribute to that with my education. I do like working with young adults, so I hope to continue doing that.

Do you have any advice for somebody considering the Master of Arts program in theological studies or pastoral ministry here at UD?

UD has a campus ministry graduate assistantship, which I haven't really seen anywhere else. That is one thing that I think really stands out about UD. It is a unique opportunity that you cannot find at many universities. The staff here is focused on student success, and they will prepare you for the next step you want to take. I also see that formation in campus ministry. It seems like they are always evaluating and seeing where they can do better.

Could you please give us a little background on yourself?

I am a Daytonian. I started out at Alabama State University for my undergraduate degree and finished my undergraduate work at Wilberforce University. I earned a masters in higher education administration from the University of Dayton and worked at UD in the school of Engineering in student development. Then, I came back home to take care of my family. 

What first brought you to the Master of Arts program in theology and pastoral ministry at UD?

My husband is the senior pastor at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church here in Dayton. I have served along with him in several capacities, official and unofficial, for 17 years, and I wanted to learn how theory was practiced and how to do ministry better. Beyond that, I wanted to learn how to broaden my perspective of how to connect with people better. I believe the University of Dayton, particularly being rooted in Catholicism, was really helpful in that.

What would you say about the classes? 

I do enjoy challenges. I like to stretch myself to my limit. This program did that for me. I was surrounded by amazing faculty and staff that are brilliant. They were also accessible, and we could have discussions, such as in colloquies. The moments of engagement with the faculty were awesome. 

Are there certain classes you have really enjoyed?

Learning about the history that led to where we are today in Christianity was amazing. Fr. Bunta’s courses were great. I felt that any course I took with him was not only about theology but about ministry as well. Also, spiritual direction was amazing as well as pastoral counseling. The foundations courses, such as with Dr. Henning, opened my perspective to a lot of things. Since I had been in church and ministry for many years, I thought I knew some things about faith. But I was thankful to the faculty for challenging me to see more broadly and differently in a theological way.

All the pastoral ministry students complete a practicum. What was the focus of your practicum?

It was focused on developing a small group discipleship program. We had a lot of new people who were new believers and a lot of transplanted people who came from other churches.  Baptists are independent churches, and we don't have a formatted program that can be used to educate everybody. I looked at how to develop this and what the best content would be based on research. I used some of the things from the practices of Catholicism to inform that. I also pulled from a lot of other directions. The small group consisted of several of our new members. This was a way for me to connect as a leader and to get to know some of the newer members, as well as teaching biblical discipleship. It turned out really well. 

How have you seen the charism of the Marianists intertwined in your academics?

This was great for me. I appreciated that once I got comfortable with my relationship with others, I was able to share a lot about my black Baptist experience. In my experience, many black Catholics focus on Jesus' Resurrection. That is where we get excited. Well, with the Marianists, it was about the suffering and the serving of Jesus. The emphasis on everybody having a seat at the table and serving was amazing. I have such a greater understanding and appreciation of Mother Mary. I found out that she was this multi-dimensional person who could be understood in the context of a mother; she was supportive and a willing vessel. It just opened up my eyes. I see her as this powerful and faithful woman. That was something that the Marianist tradition helped me to see better.

What were your dreams and goals for the future with your education?

In addition to wanting to practice ministry and understanding that approach, I still want to teach. I got my first master's in higher education administration, where, although we worked on the student development side, I still taught classes. But, I did want to look into broadening my perspective of how I can incorporate what I love, such as religion and faith in these conversations. How can I bridge those two and my passion for teaching? I believe that going in the religious studies direction sets me up for a possible future doctoral program or adjunct teaching. If I'm teaching in church, I will have a more theological approach, as opposed to facilitating conversation.

What advice would you give to somebody considering a masters in theological studies or pastoral ministry here at UD?

It is challenging, but don't be too proud to find a support system, whether that's with the faculty, your cohort members, or an alumni of the program. Don't be too prideful to seek support and to offer it within the frame of community because you’ve got to put something in there too, right? You have to be willing. Another piece of advice is that this is a great program. You're going to be challenged, and it’s going to bring out the best in you. There's always a safety net there where you feel the support. It was just a great program. I would love for there to be more diversity within the faculty and within the students who get into the program. So, I encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply because you'll be surprised about how transformational it could be and how useful the things that you learn in the program can be. Even if you feel like there's spaces where there's no interconnectedness, there always is a connection.


Graduate Programs in Religious Studies

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