Notre Dame STEP Program’s Certificate of Catholic Theology in Liturgy

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Notre Dame’s Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP) has since 1999 made use of the Internet, interactive videoconferences, and numerous distance learning technologies to offer courses in theology and spiritual life to interested Catholic lay people, pastoral ministers, and other believers nationwide and beyond.

Among the most successful programs of the McGrath Institute for Church Life (ICL), whose expressed mission is to deploy Notre Dame’s ample academic resources in “a witness-bearing leadership role in the life of the Church at large,” STEP now has more than 2,500 enrollments each year. Engaging students from every Catholic diocese in the United States, the program certainly does that, and perhaps even more.

STEP offers specifically designed online courses, most of them taught by Notre Dame faculty members. The course offerings are as rich and varied as a sampling of their titles suggest: “In God’s Image: The Mystery of Creation”; “Theology of the Body”; “Mary in the Catholic Tradition”; “The Christian Conscience and Ethical Dilemmas”; “Catholic Prayer: The Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Doxology”; “Emerging Models of Catechesis”; “History of Christianity”; “Vatican II: The Experience and the Event”; “Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Christian Life”; “Breaking Open the Word: A Model for Catechesis and Homily Preparation”; “The Confessions of St. Augustine”; and“Biblical Literary Forms.”

“STEP is a crucial link in Notre Dame’s educational outreach in theology,” said John C. Cavadini, the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the ICL. “It provides very high quality courses, both not for credit and, through the theology department, for credit. The intended audience includes the many people who work in pastoral and teaching ministries in the Church, for whom it is not easy to travel to campus, and for whom there are not many local options. STEP partners with dioceses so that, instead of offering alternative programming to what is available in the diocese, we enhance the programming in the diocese. We think together about what the needs of the diocese might be, and then design programming accordingly.”

STEP’s new Certificate of Catholic Theology in Liturgy program exemplifies the process Cavadini describes, and, according to STEP director Thomas C. Cummings, answers a crucial need in the Church.

“These days many parish-based ministers do not have an advanced degree in theology,” Cummings says. “Many assume their positions after years of volunteer and part-time work. The result is a national ministerial workforce with lots of experience and good will but little theological education and little theory behind their work. STEP’s program includes courses on the liturgical year and liturgical theology as well as the liturgy of the hours. In addition to the theory, STEP’s Certificate in Liturgy helps in many practical ways as well, such as how best to coordinate an effective RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) program.”

Participants in the Certificate of Theology program are required to complete STEP’s core course, “Introduction to the Catholic Faith,” and courses “Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Christian Life,” “An Introduction to Sacraments,” “The Liturgical Year,” “Liturgical Theology,” “Liturgical Music,” and “Liturgical Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours.”

“The program is young, and we only finished building the final required course this past fall,” Cummings says. “Over the past several years we’ve had 96 parish ministers apply and participate in the program. Our rate of completion will grow significantly this coming year as program participants take the final required course. Because of demand, STEP will be improving and building more elective courses for the program, and many of these efforts were sparked by enthusiastic student feedback.”