By Barb Arland-Fye
Working for The Catholic Messenger has deepened my desire to learn even more about the Catholic Church and to further explore my faith journey. In the back of my mind I thought about someday pursuing a master’s degree in theology.
Some day has arrived. On Aug. 8, I started classes with about 30 other adults — deacons, deacon candidates and their wives — in the Master of Pastoral Theology program. It is a component of a partnership between St. Ambrose University and the Diocese of Davenport to provide academic formation for the diocese’s future deacons.
While I am not a deacon or a deacon’s wife, I received encouragement to participate for professional as well as personal development and because I expressed an interest in doing so. I wanted to follow the deacons and their wives on the journey to the diaconate for The Catholic Messenger.
All current deacon candidates must complete the diocese’s Ministry Formation Program, a two-year basic course of study, followed by a five-year process of continuing discernment, academic study and supervised pastoral ministry. The 16 candidates and many of their wives are participating in the classes, even if they’re not pursuing the master’s degree.
We’ll be together one weekend per month for classes, prayer, Mass and fellowship. When the deacons and their wives are engaged in specific deacon formation sessions, I’ll grab those extra hours for reading, researching and writing.
Deacon Frank Agnoli, the diocese’s director of deacon formation, and St. Ambrose theologian Corinne Winter have designed a program that promises to be academically challenging and stimulating.
Our instructors for last week’s first class were Bishop Martin Amos and St. Ambrose associate professor Father Bud Grant, both of whom shared valuable insights on an introduction to the Scriptures.
It’s been years since I took a graduate-level class and I was a bit nervous about the academic rigors and being able to balance school, family, work and parish obligations.
One of my classmates, Jane, assured me that we’re all in this boat together. She invited me to get on the group’s e-mail list so that all of us can bounce questions and ideas off one another.
That’s the bonus of being in this program, my classmates. They made me feel welcome and very much a part of their group. John assisted me in following the prayers and readings during Liturgy of the Hours on Saturday morning, which made the experience much more meaningful for me. That evening, Jeff helped me to follow along in his book. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours in community was uplifting, and so was celebrating Mass together. Jim played guitar while John and Cheryl led us in singing. Jim encouraged me to bring my accordion next month as accompaniment. That would not enhance our celebration of the Mass, however.
We took a tour of the St. Ambrose campus, had our photo IDs taken and ate meals together that were prepared by Laura, the chancery’s cook, and her family. We studied passages of the Bible and shared our interpretations based on what we’ve learned so far about how to read Scriptures.
When I first reported on the St. Ambrose-Davenport Diocese partnership, Winter observed, “We’re very, very excited about being able to teach theology in a context where we don’t have to explain why it’s important. That’s such a rich, rich experience for us as theologians.”
I look forward to being enriched as well.