Professionals in the Catholic Church are like every other professional. They are in a time crunch. The problem is exacerbated by the priest shortage, which increasingly causes the work of the Church to fall on the shoulders of lay women and men. To do the job well, they need to be prepared.
In the itinerant spirit that characterizes the Order of Preachers, Aquinas Institute of Theology has fulfilled that need by offering academic programs through a combination of online study and intense days in which groups gather for study.
Aquinas Institute is preparing lay men and women for positions in dioceses with critical priest shortages. It is training hospital executives from all over the United States who will sustain the healing ministry of Jesus through Catholic health care. And it is training preachers to become master preachers and deliver the word of God more powerfully than ever.
The school is one of the few accredited graduate schools of theology for lay students from St. Louis to California. It has launched degree programs in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo., where the ratio of Catholics to priests is more than 2,200 to one; the dioceses of Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, where the ratio is 899 to one; and the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, where there is one priest for about every 980 Catholics, according to The Official Catholic Directory.
Participants in these remote programs pursue Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry degrees. They study online and convene every third weekend for four years. Aquinas professors visit the dioceses twice during each of the 22 courses to provide an intense weekend session. Experts from each diocese provide spiritual formation. By graduation, the MAPM students have spent as much face-to-face time with instructors as students in classrooms at Aquinas Institute.
Similarly designed programs exist for health care professionals and preachers, but because participants are scattered from coast to coast, groups gather in St. Louis.
The Master of Arts in Health Care Mission program draws physicians, social workers, hospital CEOs, chaplains and board members, among others. The program gives participants a spiritual backbone by which to wrestle with complex ethical, legal and policy issues in Catholic health care.
The Doctor of Ministry in Preaching program brings students to St. Louis twice a year for a week during the first three years. In the last two years, students continue their online study and complete a thesis project. Again, the degree program is unduplicated in the United States.