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home : features : catholic schools

7/20/2017 9:00:00 AM
Unusual courses to be offered at St. Bernard's
A PAST GRADUATING CLASS and a course being taught by Sister Kitty Hanley, CSJ.
A PAST GRADUATING CLASS and a course being taught by Sister Kitty Hanley, CSJ.
Contact St. Bernardís School of Theology and Ministry in Albany at (518) 453-6760 or stbernards@rcda.org and see www.stbernards.edu.
Contact St. Bernardís School of Theology and Ministry in Albany at (518) 453-6760 or stbernards@rcda.org and see www.stbernards.edu.
Three unusual courses will make for an interesting fall semester at St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Albany.

SBSTM, the Albany Diocese's graduate school for theology and ministry, has been offering master's degrees since 1989. The majority of its students working on degrees in pastoral studies, theological studies or divinity are Catholics who go on to work at the parish or diocesan level. Some take courses on their journey to become deacons; others simply want to learn more about their faith for personal enrichment.

Lately, those students have been asking for more and different courses to fit changing lifestyles, said Deacon Frank Berning, director of St. Bernard's and diocesan director of formation for the diaconate.

The result is a trio of new courses to be offered this fall:

•  "Gospel Parables," taught by Sister Katherine "Kitty" Hanley, CSJ, former director of SBSTM and now co-leader of the Holy Ground program to train spiritual directors in the Diocese;

•  "Healthcare Ethics in the Catholic Tradition," taught by Dr. Maureen Cavanaugh, an ethicist and manager of ethics services with St. Peter's Health Partners in Albany; and

•  "The Gospel of John," taught by Rev. John O'Grady, a retired priest of the Diocese living in Florida who has written extensively on that subject and taught at seminaries and universities.

Come for weekend
The latter course is particularly unusual because it's being offered over the course of three weekends -- one each in September, October and November -- at Carondelet Hospitality Center in Latham. Students will be able to eat together, attend daily Masses celebrated by Father O'Grady and even stay overnight at the center if they choose at no extra cost, thanks to a grant from the Diocese's last capital campaign.

"People are going to be pleasantly surprised by Father O'Grady," Deacon Berning predicted, since the instructor is well-known to other clergy in the Diocese, but not as much to the people in the pews.

Father O'Grady's course is capped at 20 students, so students are encouraged to register soon.

Weekday offering
As for the course on Gospel parables, popular instructor Sister Kitty is sure to draw a crowd, said Deacon Berning. The course is being offered at midday on Wednesdays, a request by SBSTM students who may be retired, work evening shifts or work in the diocesan Pastoral Center, where SBSTM is based.

Sister Kitty told The Evangelist that "the parable -- a surprise story, usually with a twist -- was a familiar form in Jesus' time. It seems to have been His preferred preaching mode. Many parables begin, 'The kingdom of heaven is like...,' as though Jesus realizes that God's kingdom is so vast and wonderful that it can only be described little by little and by comparing it to other things."

In her course, she said, she'll explore the meaning of several of Jesus' parables. Sister Kitty expects students, like Jesus' listeners, to likely be "surprised, challenged and even sometimes annoyed."

Deacon Berning said the parables Jesus told are all about love. "This is the joy of the Gospel coming to life," he said, adding that it was a wise choice on Jesus' part to use storytelling to help people understand God's love: "We relate to stories. We don't relate to lectures."

Healthcare ethics
Dr. Cavanaugh's Monday-evening course on Catholic healthcare ethics is expected to be attended by medical personnel, parish pastoral care ministers, faith formation directors, clergy and others.

The course will cover important issues challenging today's Catholics, said Deacon Berning, citing the dignity of life from conception until natural death, Christ's presence in the poor and even issues around immigration.

A pharmacist by training, Deacon Berning recalled his own moral dilemma when the "morning-after pill" was introduced and he and some fellow pharmacists did not want to carry it.

"These are issues we struggle with," he said; and, often, "the Catholic population seems confused on issues the Church is clear about."

In her course description, Dr. Cavanaugh said she plans to discuss Catholic moral guidelines on "critical bioethical issues in healthcare such as abortion, reproductive technologies, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, artificial nutrition and hydration and brain death, and disorders of consciousness."

Future agenda
Together, the three new courses signal a reinvigoration of St. Bernard's, which is already experiencing its strongest enrollment in years, with 53 students last spring.

The spring 2018 semester will include courses on the writings of St. Paul and Hebrew Scriptures - another request from students, who have asked for more Scriptural offerings.

Also planned for the future are more courses offered through videoconferencing, with Oneonta and Queensbury as two of the remote sites where students will be able to attend courses.

"I'm so excited!" said Deacon Berning. "I just hope the people outside get as excited as I am."

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