When I became a professed secular Franciscan, about two years ago, I had a strong desire to delve more deeply into Franciscan Catholic heritage. That is when I saw the notice for the online Masters in Theological Studies program through the Franciscan School of Theology. I am now a little more than halfway through the program, and it has been a challenging and rewarding journey. For me, this program has never been primarily about gaining knowledge, although one will learn much about church, history, theology particularly Franciscan theology, scripture, and so many other relevant and timely topics. Beyond just knowledge, though, so many of the classes and assignments have shaped and guided my spiritual growth and development as a secular Franciscan.
An excellent example is the Ecclesiology class which provided an excellent exploration of the foundational documents underlying the Second Vatican Council. Based on the classes we had regarding Franciscan Theology and Church History, this class helped me to realize how historically transformative the work of the Council was for the life of the Church and how much of Franciscan tradition was tied in with many of the revelatory concepts of the Council leaders. Based on what I learned and experienced from this class, I gained insight on how to live out my Franciscan vocation in the modern world rooted in Church and Franciscan heritage.
Through every course, as students we have been challenged, in true Franciscan style, to apply the lessons to our personal work, ministry, and life. In our current Christology class as we read through the different forms of the study of Christ we are challenged to formulate our own Christology by answering the question “who do you say that I am” and then to apply that to a significant current issue of our choice.
Although the classes are online and asynchronous, there is still ample opportunity to build an online student community. This is done through multiple discussion posts and occasional video presentations. In our particular group, we have aimed to have a zoom meeting of just the students at least once a semester.
The program is academically rigorous, and includes frequent directions about proper citation and academic writing standards. Be prepared for a significant time commitment. I have been able to do this program while working a full-time job, however, many of my weekends have been focused on reading and writing assignments. Do not be hesitant if you have had no prior religion or theology studies. I have not, and have found the professors extremely supportive in guiding my frequent learning curves.
In general professors are extremely helpful, very responsive to questions and quick to respond. They also have weekly virtual office hours where students can talk with them directly online. All of the professors are leaders in their respective fields with many of them having been prolific publishers of both articles and books. Yet they are also very personable, humble and committed to helping you succeed in finding your own Franciscan theological vision and voice.
What one does with this experience and how one decides to apply this is up to each individual. I am hoping to do some adjunct teaching at a local Franciscan college. I also hope to get into doing retreat work and perhaps spiritual direction. This program will certainly be a great boost for those goals. More importantly, is the personal growth as each person finds their own spiritual and theological voice. For me, it has been a sign of the Spirit, that each academic objective along the way has happened to also mirror the particular spiritual and moral challenges that I would be facing at that time.
As a result of this program, I do believe that I have become a more thoughtful, reflective, open-minded Christian as well as a more enlightened Secular Franciscan. This program has certainly been a blessing for me. May it be so as well for any of you who wish to seek this journey.