UST Catholic Studies announces new program

Article written for the University of Saint Thomas by Sister Paula Jean Miller, FSE, Director of Catholic Studies

Sister Paula Jean Miller, FSE

The University of St. Thomas students will have the unique opportunity to earn a minor in Catholic Studies in one semester while studying abroad in the Holy Land and Italy. UST will offer this rare pilgrimage, integrated learning, and immersion in faith and culture, for the first time in spring 2011.

“Catholic Studies is one of UST’s premier programs designed specifically to integrate the Catholic intellectual tradition with a range of academic majors,” said Dr. Dominic Aquila, Vice President for Academic Affairs. “The Catholic Studies semester abroad in the Holy Land and in Rome is a new and exciting way to achieve this integration.  Students in this program will experience directly the places and cultures that form the foundations of the Catholic tradition.”

Sister Paula Jean Miller, FSE, director of the Catholic Studies Program, designed the new study abroad program to highlight the University’s Catholic identity as it strives to integrate multiple disciplines included in the core curriculum.

“This is an opportunity for students to complete a minor in Catholic studies and earn 15 credits toward the core while learning the history of the Church in the lands in which our faith was born and nurtured. The experience will culminate with a papal audience in Rome,” Sr. Paula Jean said.

While other Catholic universities study abroad in Italy, Sr. Paula Jean said there are very few universities that take students to Israel – much less both countries in one semester.

The program will accept 15 to 20 students who will devote a complete semester to earn 18 hours of course credit in history, fine arts, psychology, theology and Catholic Studies. Students will take courses on campus until mid-March, and then depart for approximately 60 days of study abroad in Jerusalem (and throughout the Holy Land), Assisi, Florence, and Rome. The group will return to Houston in early May.

“You can only begin to grasp the richness of the church’s heritage by going to that land and experiencing both the universality and the particularity of the Church. The Church is embodied in the uniqueness of each culture, even as it is universal to all cultures,” she said. “You can’t get it by just reading it on a page; the only way is to be there long enough to begin to experience the land, the people, and the multifaceted nature of that people.

Courses will include Israel: Ancient and Modern, a history course taught by Dr. Irving Kelter; Holy Land Archeology and Architecture, a fine arts course taught by Dr. Charles Stewart; Mapping the Holy Land and Exploring Catholic Tradition, Catholic Studies courses taught by Sr. Paula Jean; Psychology of Stress and Coping: Israel and Palestine, a psychology course taught by Dr. Elizabeth Maynard and Church History II: Assisi, Florence and Rome, a theology course taught by Sr. Paula Jean.

“In Israel, the students will learn more about the tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” Sr. Paula Jean said, “and why that postage stamp size land has such intense religious meaning to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It’s a unique situation that will broaden the understanding of our faith as well as the religious-political situation that is there. We have the same basic problem going on in virtually every corner of the globe. If students can begin to understand the religious-political conflicts in the Holy Land, they will have a greater insight into those conflicts in other parts of the world.”

After living in the Holy Land and taking numerous groups on tours of both Israel and Italy, Sr. Paula Jean is an experienced guide. To quell concerns about safety, Sr. Paula Jean pointed out that violence in Israel is targeted against particular groups (Jews or Muslims), and not against Christians, who suffer more from economic forces. Because the violence experienced in the United States is random, she often feels safer there than she does in the U.S. Sr. Paula Jean believes that traveling to Israel will be safe for the students, but the program will be canceled and students will receive a full refund should the trip be deemed unsafe near the time of departure.

Since UST is currently working on securing funding and scholarships, the cost of the trip is yet to be determined. Students of all faiths are welcome, but they must have taken Teachings of the Church and Introduction to Sacred Scripture before applying for the new Catholic Studies program, since these are pre-requisites for upper division theology courses. Alongside the concentrated study abroad minor, dual or joint majors, the minor, and the Master in Liberal Arts concentration in Catholic Studies will still be offered in the traditional format.