Loyola’s first Master of Theological Studies students bring diverse backgrounds, aspirations
Take a professional chorister and opera singer, a former Marine who is an NSA contractor, and a sound engineer.
Add a financial planner for Wells Fargo, a former bookstore owner, and a recent James Madison University graduate.
Introduce three Catholic school teachers and a public school teacher.
You’re just met the first class of students in Loyola’s newly launched Master of Theological Studies (MTS) program.
"They’ve really formed a good learning community, and that’s outstanding," said Stephen Fowl, Ph.D., professor of theology and director of the MTS program.
The inaugural class includes both part-time and full-time students delving into a program of study covering Scripture, historical and systematic theology, comparative theology, and ethics. The program is designed for students who plan to work in academia, churches, or other fields.
As the program grows, the department’s goal is to have a class of 15 full-time students. To make that happen, the department is exploring ways to offer more student scholarships.
Spreading the Word
The faculty is also trying to spread the word about the program—and that isn’t hard, at least when speaking with theologians at other universities.
"The surprise was always that we didn’t have a master’s program," Fowls said. "Our department has a pretty high profile in our field, so folks just assumed that we had a graduate program."
During the first months of the program, the professors have discovered ways to enhance the experience—such as ensuring the students have the chance to meet with the prominent guest lecturers.
"Both the students and the department are feeling their way along," said Fowl, who is pleased with the program’s beginnings. "It has exceeded all of our hopes."
Here a few of the students give insight into the path that led them to Loyola and what they hope to gain during this chapter of their academic journey.
Religion’s Rich History
David Russell brought to Loyola his interest in the history of theology, especially mysticism. Before he pursues a Ph.D., he wants to become familiar with several ancient languages so he can compare traditions of mysticism throughout the history of Western monotheism.
Russell appreciates the diversity of both the faculty, with their range of backgrounds and research interests, and his fellow students. "Everyone is interested in studying theology for different reasons and each has different insights on every discussion."
Russell grew up in what he describes as a "mixed background of Protestant Christianity." "When I took some Islamic Studies classes as an undergraduate, I was amazed at the rich history of the religion. This inspired me to look more closely at the traditions of Christianity and Judaism. The program at Loyola is helping me examine the historical traditions of Christianity and sharpen my skills at theological comparison."
A graduate of Catholic University of America, Crossley Hawn sings professionally at the National Cathedral and the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and is enjoying being part of the first class.
"It feels like I’m sort of in a way part of the school’s history. Because it is a new program, they’re really catering to us and letting us focus in on what we’re interested in. So I’m doing a lot of papers on sacred music and music’s relationship with theology."
A teacher at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore, Brendan O’Kane hopes to work in campus ministry.
"I value the fact that the faculty trust the students to be rigorous in their work and support them to make sure the classes are scheduled and offered at appropriate times. There is a strong feeling of community and it helps immensely," said Kane, who fell away from the Catholic Church and explored other faiths before he was drawn back to the Church.
"I have never been more involved in working on my own spiritual life, which has helped me prepare for this challenge," he said. "Working at St. Ignatius Loyola Academy as a teacher and campus minister, my eyes have been opened to the need for an inclusive and safe community for all to develop their own spiritual lives. I know this degree will help me in this journey and will have a positive impact on those I encounter every day."
Communal Intellectual Rigor
Since beginning at Loyola, Justin Hagerman has found his interactions with the faculty to be invaluable.
"Many of the conversations that I have with Loyola faculty answer the questions that I have, and this leads me to form and reform new questions," said Hagerman, who graduated from James Madison University in May with a biology degree. "By encouraging what is true and discouraging what is false, the Loyola faculty have helped me to sharpen my perception of theology, and therefore my interests are becoming more self-critical and well-reasoned."
Hagerman, who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in Theology, has found the program’s 2:1 student-faculty ratio creates many opportunities for the master’s students and faculty to discuss topics outside the classroom. "The Loyola MTS program is especially unique because it complements individual intuitive beliefs with a sharp communal intellectual rigor."