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Honoring a Force of Nature

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, director of the University of Dayton’s Institute for Pastoral Initiatives, will receive the nationally prestigious Monika K. Hellwig Award for outstanding contributions to Catholic intellectual life.

Zukowski, founder of the worldwide Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation at the University, will receive the award Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C., during the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU).

University President Eric F. Spina and Provost Paul Benson nominated Zukowski for the honor, citing her leadership in international religious communications and faith formation. The ACCU board of directors voted unanimously to bestow the award on her.

“Under Sr. Angela Ann’s visionary and imaginative leadership, the University of Dayton has become a model in Catholic higher education for collaboration and engagement,” Spina said. “She is a pioneer in the use of new communication technology to evangelize and educate, and the global scope of her work over more than four decades is truly remarkable.”

A professor in the University’s Department of Religious Studies, Zukowski has been involved with Catholic distance education for more than 40 years. She began with cable television in 1971 and expanded into radio, satellite and digital technologies. She was the UNDA World President for Catholic Radio and Television, served on the Pontifical Council for Social Communication (Vatican) and received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal from Pope John Paul II in 2001.

Launched in 2000, the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCCF) partners with more than 80 dioceses around the globe to offer online distance-learning to support catechist, lay leadership/ministry and adult faith formation in the Catholic Church, serving more than 7,000 students in 40 countries. More than 136 courses are offered in English and Spanish, which is critical for engaging the world’s growing Hispanic population.

The expansion of the VLCFF in the Apostolic Vicariates of Northern and Southern Arabia, Caribbean, Australia, Latin America and Canada brings together Catholics from around the world to learn, dialogue and share their faith experiences.

“We are on the cutting edge of what it means to be the church in the 21st century,” Zukowski said. “The digital milieu simply creates this huge panorama of opportunities for supporting and navigating those who are in service to the Catholic Church in a fresh new way that can truly be prophetic, and create a new understanding among peoples of the Church in the world.”

Zukowski also co-directs the Caribbean School for Catholic Communications in Trinidad, which offers a pastoral communications diploma.

At the University of Dayton, she teaches graduate courses in adult faith formation and leadership and ministry. She has contributed to a number of books, including The Gospel in Cyberspace: Faith in the Internet Age, co-authored with French theologian Pierre Babin.

Each spring, Zukowski takes a group of undergraduate honors students in the University’s Chaminade Scholars program on a 10-day pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome as part of a vocation and arts course.

“Sr. Angela Ann is deeply committed to the proclamation of the Gospel,” said Fr. James Fitz, SM, University vice president for mission and rector. “Her passion has led her to embrace the realities of how people learn and communicate today. Through her work with the Virtual Learning Communities for Faith Formation, she has touched religious educators and adults interested in faith development throughout the country and the world.”

The Hellwig Award is named for the late Monika K. Hellwig, a former nun and internationally known Georgetown University theologian who served as ACCU president and executive director from 1996 to 2005. Zukowski recalled meeting Hellwig several times, including during the 1970s when Hellwig taught at a summer religious studies program at the University of Dayton.

“Being able to be identified with this woman is deeply moving for me,” Zukowski said. “Then, when you look at all the people who have previously received this award, I am even more deeply moved, because they are just outstanding theologians.”

While the award represents a culmination of her lifetime’s work, Zukowski has no plans to slow down. She and her nine-person institute staff are discussing ways to advance the quality of their courses; expand into new languages such as Arabic; and create new models for integrating the VLCFF into dioceses around the world.

“I strive never to rest on my laurels,” she said. “I believe in the mission of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives (IPI) to serve the Catholic Church around the world through diverse ministries — particularly online adult faith, catechetical and lay leadership formation. We have a great IPI team. As long as I am able, and with the power of the Holy Spirit and the support of the University administration, I will continue to implement an entrepreneurial spirit for exploring new pathways into the future.”

For more information, please visit the IPI website.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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