Newman unveils online masters of theology degree programs

Some of those involved in developing the master’s degree program at Newman University, Wichita, from left, are Assistant Professor of Theology Father Joseph Gile, S.T.D.; Assistant Professor of Theology Joshua Papsdorf, Ph.D.; Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Austin, Ph.D.; and President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D.

By Christopher M. Riggs
Newman University will offer two master’s of theology degrees beginning this summer — with much of the presentations delivered via the internet.
Newman will offer a master of arts and a master of theological studies degree.
Father Joseph Gile, a priest of the Diocese of Wichita and an assistant professor of theology at Newman, said the M.A. will be a challenging academic degree.
“It will prepare people to go on to do Ph.D. level work in theology,” he said. “The M.T.S. degree is not Ph.D. preparation, but is intended to help diocesan catechists in particular – to know their faith and to communicate it more effectively. That’s the philosophy behind the two-pronged degree approach.”
Father Gile said the university also wanted to offer the M.A. degree because the number of catechists in the diocese of Dodge City and Salina is dwindling.
“So to train the next level of instructors of theology for western Kansas we wanted to offer the M.A., which, again, is a more rigorous degree, but it will allow us to ‘teach the teachers’ who will serve as catechists for the next generation in Western Kansas.”
Father Gile described the master’s program as a hybrid degree. The lectures, content, and discussions will be online. “The majority of the coursework will be accessible online, but there will be one weekend per course where the students will gather on campus,” he said.
The concept is new to Newman University, Father Gile said, although faculty and staff have discussed the idea for about five years.
“The only reason we were able to launch this was because of the support of Bishop Jackels and the St. Maria de Mattias Endowment,” he said. “Bishop Jackels, through the endowment, has provided 30 full tuition scholarships.
“So with that tremendous financial support we were able to develop the degree in confidence that we would be able to attract a cohort – that we weren’t just starting a degree and wondering if people would show up for it.”
Although all 30 scholarships have been accepted, the classes are open to others interested in the degrees, Father Gile said.
The St. Maria De Mattias Endowment was established by the Diocese of Wichita to benefit religious education in the diocese. The endowment’s goal is to “encourage and support the creation of innovative programs and resources to evangelize and catechize adults and children into a lived Catholic faith.”
The online course will utilize new software that has been developed in the last year or two.
“When online education first started it was pretty dry, to be perfectly honest,” Fr. Gile said. “Now we can make it very media-rich. So the professor will be lecturing online but you’ll actually see your instructor, along with various Powerpoint presentations, videoclips – all kinds of visual tools can be brought to bear to make this very visually engaging.”
Each class will consist of about 16 lectures over eight weeks. Students will also engage in online discussions, where they would answer discussions, dialoging with each other and the professor. The degree program can be completed in two years.
“So it makes for a very stimulating academic experience,” Fr. Gile said. “Sometimes in the past, some students would sit back and let others take the lead in the classroom and never enter into the conversation. But everybody has to log on and enter into this discussion. The technology makes for a very interactive learning environment.”
Three full-time faculty members will teach the courses along with adjunct instructors. All the core course instructors will have doctoral degrees.
All of the professors will also have applied for the mandatum from Bishop Jackels, if they haven’t already. The mandatum is an acknowledgment that a Catholic professor of a theological discipline is a teacher within the full communion of the Catholic Church. It recognizes the professor’s commitment and responsibility to teach authentic Catholic doctrine and refrain from teaching anything contrary to the church’s magisterium.
The online master’s degree program is an idea that has been a long time coming, he said, adding that many of the faithful in Southeast Kansas have been requesting something like the courses for quite a while, given the distance from some of the cities there to the Spiritual Life Center.
“With improved distance education we’re able to provide this to the people throughout the entire diocese,” he said.

Want to enroll?
To enroll in Newman University’s new masters of theology degree call (316) 942-4291 ext. 2861 or email gilej@newmanu.edu.