WTU Mission Continues in Africa

Dominic Monti, OFM Around the Province

Although the Washington Theological Union ceased offering classes for its master’s degree level students in the spring of 2012, the school continues to make a major impact in the world of theological and pastoral education.

Certainly, men and women educated at the WTU during its 45-year history bring the perspectives they learned to their lives and ministry. But there is now a very physical heritage of the WTU making an impact, as just two weeks ago a large portion of the former WTU library arrived at the Tangaza School of Theology in Nairobi, Kenya.

As the WTU prepared to shut its doors and move toward the sale of the building, a major concern was the disposition of its fine library. I was asked to represent the Province on a committee to study the best disposition of the WTU collection. We tried to identify those schools that could best benefit from the specialized theological and pastoral library the WTU had assembled throughout the four decades of its existence.

One institution was particularly interesting to us — the Tangaza School of Theology in Nairobi, founded in the late 80s by several religious congregations. We knew that many of the same orders who were deeply committed to the WTU — we Friars Minor, the Conventual Franciscans, Carmelites, and the like — are educating their African members at Tangaza. The school is flourishing, with more than 500 students of theology from some 50 religious congregations. There are also a number of other fields of study in the larger Tangaza University College. Russel Murray, OFM, visited the school earlier this year and was impressed by the “energy of the students” and the associated Porziuncula Center.

We were able to work out practical arrangements with the Theological Book Network, a non-profit organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., which raises funds for the shipment of theological libraries to emerging churches in various parts of the world. Fr. John Burkhardt, OFM Conv., was the principal person in Washington who diligently worked out many of the details on the disposition of the collection.

Although Tangaza received the largest portion of the WTU collection, another large shipment, comprising books and periodicals in the Spanish language, as well as those dealing with U.S. and Latin American topics, went to the Mexican American Catholic College (MAAC) in San Antonio; still other parts of the collection went to schools in India. The library of the Academy of American Franciscan History, stored as a special collection at the WTU, was shipped to Mission Santa Barbara in California.

As Nancy Arnison, executive director of the Theological Book Network, wrote to the WTU Board, “the result [of the WTU’s donation to Tangaza] will be the finest theological library on the continent [of Africa.] Thanks to the extraordinary gift of its library, the mission of the WTU lives on as a beacon on hope to the global Church.”

The WTU itself still is a functioning operation. Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, continues to serve on the WTU Board of Trustees, handling the school’s remaining business. Most of the students in the last class of its D.Min. program in spirituality will graduate in December, with perhaps a few more in May.

 Fr. Dominic serves as Provincial Vicar for Holy Name Province.