A local Catholic university is responding to one of the Church’s greatest needs by opening a graduate school of biblical theology. The new graduate school at John Paul the Great Catholic University will open in September.
Before beginning their graduate-level studies, students will first complete a series of prerequisite courses in philosophy, theology and Scripture; by January 2010, they will begin working toward a master’s in biblical theology.
"The Church teaches that the Bible needs to be the soul of theology, but in a lot of places, you can get a degree in theology and only take one or two courses in Scripture," said Michael Barber, who serves as the university’s professor of theology, Scripture and Catholic thought.
What makes the curriculum at the new school so unique, he explained, is that it will teach dogmatic, moral and liturgical theology with a "heavy scriptural emphasis" and require students to study the various books of the Bible in depth.
Founded in 2003, John Paul the Great Catholic University welcomed its first undergraduate students in September 2006 and currently offers bachelor’s degrees in communications media, business and technology. Starting this fall, it will also offer an MBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurial business.
University president Derry Connolly said there were initially no plans to establish a graduate school of theology when the university first opened. But in August 2007, a conversation with Catholic author and theologian Scott Hahn convinced him that "there’s no greater need in Catholic higher education."
Connolly said plans for the graduate school proceeded with the full awareness of Bishop Robert H. Brom and the Diocese of San Diego.
The graduate school curriculum will be "authentically Catholic" and faithful to the magisterium of the Church, Barber said.
Bishop Brom has granted Barber the mandatum, an official ecclesiastical recognition that a professor teaches in communion with the Church; the mandatum will be a requirement for all faculty members who teach theology at the school.
The program will not only prepare students for careers in "the world of academia," but it will also teach them how to make scriptural theology accessible to regular, church-going Catholics. Students will take two practicum classes, which will allow them to teach Bible studies or other parish-level courses and receive constructive criticism on their efforts.
The program has been designed so that students can work at their own pace, taking as long as needed to complete their studies and making use of independent study and other educational options.
Some students with careers and families cannot attend weekday classes, Barber said, but "we still want to work with them; we want to help them." He added that being a theologian is "a vocation" and the school wants "to assist people in finding God’s will for their lives."
Since 2006, John Paul the Great Catholic University has accomplished much, Barber said, despite having less than 100 students and being housed on a temporary campus with limited facilities.
"I think God is able to do things through our students and through this university that far surpass even our wildest expectations, and I would expect that to … continue with the graduate school of theology," he said. "Anybody who would want to discount [the university] … should recall that it was David who [slew] Goliath. And he wasn’t able to do it because he was a great military hero; he did it because he really did have that great trust in the Lord."
For more information, visit www.jpcatholic.com.
Printed with permission from The Southern Cross.