GREENVILLE, S.C. — No credits are received. No tests are taken. But in South Carolina’s upstate region, Catholics are taking courses, attending seminars and learning about their faith at a program with an academic name. St. Anthony’s University at St. Anthony of Padua Parish offers adult education in a semester format – fall, summer and spring – led by people knowledgeable about their subjects, who offer their services free of charge.
This comprehensive adult formation program was launched in summer 2015 and has been well received, according to staff member Susan Cinquemani.
“In the first year, 515 people took classes,” she said, adding that “this past summer, 219 attended classes. The program is a great way to learn about the Catholic faith and about the world.”
SAU’s mission is to help its students learn more about “who” the Roman Catholic Church is, what the Bible says, and how to live a more abundant life in relationship with Christ, according to the program catalog.
“The name ‘university’ comes from a time when religious people believed that exploring all things scientifically, even the study of God called ‘theology,’ could get you to know God and therefore love God more, and therefore serve God more,” said Patrick Tuttle, OFM, pastor. “The word ‘university’ comes from the exploration of all things in an effort to better praise God. That’s how it all started. In a way, we’re getting back to basics.”
St. Anthony’s University relies on the knowledge and passion of a staff of volunteer “professors,” which includes priests, deacons, and laypeople trained in theology, history, and other subjects.
Patrick added, “St. Anthony’s University is the servant of the Church for adults to examine the amazing intellectual tradition, the liturgy, the social teachings and the process through history of making a fitting response to our developing relationship with Jesus. The school also enjoys St. Anthony Parent University, which serves to unite parents and teachers in the formation in faith and character of our students.”
SAU students are a broad range of age, ethnicity, and background, according to St. Anthony’s University director by T.J. Cofield, who joined the parish staff in 2014 as director of faith formation. “We’ve had students as young as high school age to people in their 90s.”
The program’s name was Patrick’s idea, said Cofield. “He wanted to conjure up the imagery of higher learning because people grow loyal to their universities, it suggests that what we’re engaging in is advanced study (and we do our best to ensure that it is!), and because it also suggests a familiar structure to education — courses, semesters, professors & faculty, and even departments of study.”
“Fr. Pat and I wanted to create a program that emphasized theological education for the parish,” Cofield said. “We wanted to figure out how we could increase the knowledge of our parishioners. We came up with the idea of having sort of a university with incentives,” referring to the gifts that are available for attendees.
Students who have 100 percent attendance in one class or who attend all eight courses at least once are given a coffee mug, a St. Anthony’s University diploma and a dinner in Greenville.
In addition to semester-long courses, the program offers one and two-day sessions. Michael Calabria, OFM, director of St. Bonaventure University’s Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, spoke earlier this year about Christianity and Islam.
In September, courses such as “Eastern Orthodoxy” and “Doors of Mercy” were offered. They are being followed this month with programs on “Modern Liturgical Music” and “How to Live: Catholic Social Teaching” and “Respect Life.” Previous course subjects included “Saints in America” taught by John McDowell, OFM, and
“We aim to make the courses as interesting and as available as possible,” said Cofield. “The university started as an experiment and we’ve found that courses that are just a few weeks long are more popular than those that are longer.”
“The flexibility of the program is appealing,” said Cinquemani, the parish’s communications director. “People feel included when they realize they can participate in part or all of a course.”
“I am always trying to thinking of ways to enhance the program,” said Cofield, who met Patrick while a student at Furman University from which he graduated in 2008. “We’ve even had requests from people asking us to bring the program on the road.”
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
Editor’s note: The newsletter team welcomes information from HNP ministries about their faith formation programs.
- “Greenville’s St. Anthony School Receives Grant for Religious Books” – Oct. 1, 2014, HNP Today
- “Patrick Tuttle Marks 25 Years as a Friar” – July 9, 2014, HNP Today
- “Father Pat ‘Shares Something Good’ on WPLS Show” – Feb. 4, 2014, The Paladin
- “Friars Offers Catholic Faith to Growing University Group in South Carolina” – Aug. 20, 2008, HNP Today