San Antonio — St. Mary’s University is extending its distance education
program in theology for the first time to graduate students in Austin, Waco
and Bryan beginning with the fall 2002 semester, and then to Marble Falls
in January 2003.

“We are collaborating with Bishop Gregory Aymond to use distance
learning in theology to prepare his lay leaders for various church
ministries throughout the Austin Diocese,” said the Rev. John A. Leies,
chairman of the Department of Theology at St. Mary’s.

“Bishop Aymond has to depend on lay people because the Austin
Diocese, like the rest
of the nation, does not have enough Catholic clergy to serve a rising
Catholic population,” Leies said.

St. Mary’s will use live, two-way videoconferencing technology to
hold four theology evening classes every week with graduate students at
distant sites in Austin, Waco, Bryan and Corpus Christi, where the Corpus
Christi Diocese is continuing its partnership in the satellite program for
the fifth consecutive year.

All graduate students involved in a church ministry program will
receive a 50 percent tuition grant from St. Mary’s, and Bishop Aymond will
have financial grants available as well, Leies said. Overall, some 40
graduate students have enrolled in the distance learning theological
program. Classes began Aug. 20.

“There is a great need for dioceses to have professionally trained
ministers with graduate-level credentials and competencies to teach
religious education,” said Leies, a moral theologian. “Distance education
helps to meet that need by making graduate education more accessible.”

St. Mary’s will offer four distance education courses in the fall
semester under a graduate program leading to a master’s degree in theology.
Course topics include the Gospel of Matthew, the Seven Sacraments,
Fundamental Moral Theology (taught by Leies on-site Thursday nights) and
Introduction to Spiritual Direction. The Austin and Corpus Christi Dioceses
stand to gain professionally trained lay ministers with graduate-level
credentials and competencies as religious education instructors.

The Department of Theology’s mission is to engage students in
theological inquiry,” Leies said. “Theology students are called on to
engage in rigorous academic inquiry and practical service in society,” he
said. “They should be able to give witness to, and practice of, the truth
of theological discovery.”

Celebrating the Sesquicentennial anniversary of its founding by
French brothers and priests of the Society of Mary (the Marianists) in
1852, St. Mary’s is the oldest Catholic university in Texas and the
Southwest. Educating in community and working to build community are among
the most distinctive features of St. Mary’s, nationally recognized for
academic excellence and service to society.

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