DENVER — In Wichita, Kan., newly married Mary Kroupa wanted to earn a master’s degree in theological studies from the Augustine Institute in Denver, but relocating was impossible. Her friends in Atlanta and Wisconsin were in the same situation.
In Glenwood Springs, Colo., high school teacher Pat Gabriel also wanted to earn a master’s from the institute, but the 2 1/2-hour, one-way constant commute over the Continental Divide was prohibitive.
Each one’s dilemma was solved last August, when the Augustine Institute launched the Video Distance Education Program.
“Certainly, shortly after our school opened in 2005, we had people contacting us from around the country — including people working in the Church, even some bishops — wondering if we would do a distance education program,” said Edward Sri, the institute’s provost and professor of Scripture and theology. “They knew they could trust the theology is going to be fully in line with the Church because we’re committed to the magisterium.”
The school quickly established two topflight master’s programs: one in theological studies, one in biblical studies. Students can earn either degree studying at home, on the road, or wherever, on their own time and at their own pace, with no minimum residency requirement like some other distance education programs require.
Students receive lectures on high-tech DVDs. A full-time video professional on staff films the video classroom lectures using a four-camera setup and high quality sound, lighting and editing, so Augustine’s distance students feel they’re part of a class.
Technology serves the program’s main drawing points for students. Kroupa explains one of them. She graduated five years ago from Benedictine College, where she was inspired by John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization. Kroupa wanted to go to Augustine both for the orthodox teaching and “primarily because they’re committed to the New Evangelization,” she said, “and we’re called to bring the Gospel with new ardor and love for Christ, to bring new life to what the Catholic Church has to give to the world.”
Like St. Paul
Professors in the program share this vision. Jeff Cavins, developer of The Great Adventure Bible study timeline, believes it ties in beautifully with the New Evangelization because “John Paul II said if the New Evangelization is going to be successful, it will involve new methods and new ardor. The message and the problems people are facing are the same, but we have to stay up with the methodology of communications.”
“We can’t say as a Church we don’t like your form of communication,” Cavins said. “We have to pay attention to the form as long as it doesn’t compromise our message. The question is: Are you going to be there or not be there? If you’re not, in a sense you’ve given up.”
“Being there” means the video program can be available for 200, 300 or however many students around the world at the same time.
Said Cavins, “It’s a natural way of multiplying five loaves and two fish to meet the needs of the crowd.”
Tim Gray, Augustine’s president, professor of Scripture, and Eternal Word Television Network series regular, considers this methodology a modern-day version of St. Paul’s journeys. “In his day, Paul used the latest technology of his time, the efficient Roman roads system, to bring teaching and training that helped the early Christians to evangelize and transform their culture,” Gray told students in a letter he shared with the Register. “In our day, we now have the ability to quickly bring Christ’s message to his disciples scattered throughout the entire world.”
Similarly, this program’s student disciples will evangelize and transform the culture as they study either the broad spectrum of Catholic theology, including Scripture, history and culture, catechesis and principles for evangelization, or focus more on studying Scripture from the heart of the Church in Tradition and come away with a big picture of the Bible.
Sri explained that the particular emphasis for both programs is “always done with an eye to seeing everything about our Catholic faith in light of the larger story of God’s plan of salvation.” The programs are dedicated to raising up leaders for the New Evangelization who “understand and articulate the Catholic faith in a way that will captivate the minds and hearts of modern men and women.”
Already almost 100 people are taking the video education program from 22 states, plus one each in Canada and Iraq. The number surprised Augustine Institute since they announced the program merely six weeks before launching it last fall.
Sri adds that the institute is currently in dialogue with some dioceses interested in using the video distance program for intellectual formation for diaconate candidates. One already using it is the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo.
The range of students is broad, from those right out of college, professionals — including doctors and businessmen — housewives, and people working in the Church, to retirees.
One is Gabriel. He aims to go from teaching math to teaching theology and chose this master’s program because of how “aligned it is with the magisterium.” He believes the institute “is doing exactly what I am in search of.”
As a teacher with summers off, he’s also taking advantage of what Sri calls an optional “hybrid” version: coming to the institute for the four-day intensive courses offered in summer and January.
Kroupa is another who “hybridized” her video distance master’s study by attending a four-day course with her husband.
“We concluded it was the best marriage preparation we had,” she said. “We incorporated it in our family life, prayer life, our marriage. It changed my life and work as a director of religious education at my parish in Wichita.” She finds every course in the program is life-changing. Every day her husband eagerly asks her to teach him everything she learned that day.
Students doing the program entirely via DVDs aren’t isolated. Not only do high-quality video lectures give them a sense they’re part of a class, but Augustine provides tutors highly familiar with its programs to help students online. Plus, a chat room allows students to dialogue about the classes.
According to Cavins, the key point about the videos is that they allow mentoring and teaching without depersonalizing the process of teaching, which is the heart of making disciples. The person teaching becomes an example: “Paul said, ‘I am a father to you,’” he explained.
“You’re not only imparting the message, you’re also sharing yourself,” said Cavins. “If you bring together the teacher and the student with technology, you can utilize technology not only to impart the message, but also impart the example of the teachers and their life. That’s mentoring. We want teachers where students say, ‘Not only do we want to know what they know, but we want to become who they are.’”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based
in Trumbull, Connecticut.
INFORMATION For information and to view a sample lecture, visit AugustineInstitute.org or call (303) 937-4420.