Kelly Bowring doesn’t want his graduate students to be merely knowledgeable — he wants them to be saints and evangelizers.
In August, Bowring was appointed academic dean of the Graduate School of Theology and Program of Catholic Studies at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He is seeking to revitalize the school and make it better known beyond the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
Since its founding in 1969, the Graduate School of Theology has granted Master of Arts degrees to 1,050 theology students. Currently, there are 485 students in the school’s various theology and pastoral programs.
Bowring has served as dean of spirituality, chairman of theology and director of a national catechetical institute, while teaching at Ave Maria University and Southern Catholic College. Among his books are To Hold and Teach the Catholic Faith, several on prayer and catechetics, a bestseller on Marian teaching, and the soon-to-be-published Your Life Redeemed.
He recently spoke about his goals for the renewed direction of the school.
What specific vision did you want to bring to the Graduate School of Theology and Program of Catholic Studies?
As I took this new position, I had a sense that all my previous experience and work in higher education had providentially prepared me for this.
Years ago, writing my doctorate, I was troubled by the situation of theology in Catholic higher education today. As part of that work, I analyzed the rise of the crisis in Catholic identity and mission in higher education and the accompanying crisis of faith among Catholics in recent decades. I saw that a renewal of Catholic higher education was needed and that this renewal would need a re-emphasized focus on sacred doctrine within theology and a new emphasis on Catholic professors and college staff being authentic living witnesses of the faith. I think Paul VI had this in mind when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” And this is particularly the case with teaching the faith.
So, over the past 12 years, I’ve worked in Catholic higher education to help bring about this renewal. I have learned many lessons along the way, including this one: If there was going to be real renewal, I had to start with myself.
How did you start with yourself?
First, by learning and striving to become more of a living witness of the faith, and then by learning to teach theology the way the Church intends it to be taught, so that like a spark, that catches fire; with the help of the Holy Spirit, it would soon spread. And it has. It’s with this same mission of renewal that we’re moving forward at the Graduate School of Theology.
What place does Ex Corde Ecclesiae have in this renewal?
Blessed John Paul II’s “magna carta” for Catholic institutions of higher learning, “From the Heart of the Church,” is certainly the foundation of the Graduate School of Theology’s renewed vision, along with his encyclical on faith and reason (Fides et Ratio). Together, these papal documents show us that the task of theology is the discovery of God by way of his revealed truth, which occurs fully only when pursued with theological faith and intellectual reasoning. Theology teaches us that Christ, once discovered, allows us to live in his love, find our true happiness and radiate his light to others. At the Graduate School of Theology, we approach theology by this way of seeking, discovering and radiating Christ.
Why did you see revitalization of the degree programs at the school as necessary?
The theology program at Saint Charles Seminary has always been distinguished in its orthodoxy and has a rich history of visiting professors from various pontifical universities.
My hope when I started was to take a good program of theology, revitalize it and make it better. So, with that in mind, we’ve changed our name from “Religious Studies” to the “Graduate School of Theology and Program of Catholic Studies,” which more clearly signifies who we are and what we offer.
We’ve reorganized our three levels of study — certifications in Church ministry and catechesis, a Vatican-endorsed undergraduate theology diploma that has the Vatican seal, so to speak, and an internationally recognized, fully accredited Master of Arts in sacred theology — so that these programs are tier-stepped in a consistent and progressive way up through an advanced level of theological and pastoral study.
We’ve streamlined our various specializations, which include liturgical studies, religious education, Christian initiation, youth ministry, marriage and family, and a unique program in ministry to black Catholics. These specializations are now directly tied to our Vatican diploma program to assure students receive a solid and comprehensive foundation in theology in addition to their specific ministry training.
We’ve also renewed our overall mission and theological foundations more in step with recent magisterial documents.
The Graduate School of Theology was formed to train religious and laity in the post-Vatican II era. One of the early distinctions that set it apart was its relationship with Rome. It entered into an arrangement with the Congregation for the Clergy whereby the Vatican directly endorses our theological program of study. As exciting as this is, when I arrived as the new dean, our curriculum still reflected the 1971 Congregation for the Clergy’s General Catechetical Directory. It needed updating to the 1997 General Directory for Catechesis, which we’ve now done.
Our revitalized curriculum is built around the seven foundation stones of the faith discussed in the General Directory for Catechesis: the Old Testament, New Testament, Church history, Creed, sacraments, morality and prayer. This revitalized curriculum promises an academically solid, systematic and thoroughly comprehensive program backed by the Church herself.
Your slogan says you train “new evangelizers ... for the New Evangelization.” How are you doing that?
We’re making our primary mission and goal to train the “new evangelizers” in two ways.
First and foremost, we form our students to search for the living God and fix their gaze always on Christ, so that they will learn to radiate the truth by their authentic living witness to Christ as modern-day saints.
Second, we prepare our students “to be sent forth” so that they become the new apostles of the Church today. As “new evangelizers,” they join the Church’s mission to save souls and seek God’s glory. Earlier this year, in an address to university students, Benedict XVI said Catholic university students are called to be “living proof of a character of faith that changes lives and saves the world.” With this magisterial inspiration in mind, at the Graduate School of Theology, we’re forming and preparing our students to “go forth” to change lives and to help save the world in our times.
Is there a specific course on the New Evangelization?
In the Master of Theology program, for example, students finish with a capstone course on “Catechetics and the New Evangelization.” The capstone is important because today’s theology students need to not only learn the content of the faith from the study of theology, but also how to share it in the various ministries of the Church to which they will be sent, so as to be adequately prepared for the good work of the New Evangelization.
And you now have a new archbishop connected with the school, too.
We’re greatly looking forward to working under Archbishop (Charles) Chaput in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia as he oversees the seminary and the Graduate School of Theology programs. We could not have hoped for a better bishop here in Philly in these times.
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.