“There hasn’t been a single course I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed,” says Julie Schleitwiler, Director of Religious Education at St. Jude Parish, Fort Wayne, who is in her final semester of classwork for a Master of Arts in Theology from the University of Notre Dame, funded by the OSV Institute’s OSV Scholars program. “And I have so much more to bring to the table to engage the young people and their parents. During our recent confirmation retreat, we vividly entered into the reality of how precious we are to God. I heartily recommend this program to everyone in our diocese who’s involved with sharing the faith.”
Bishop John M. D’Arcy began the OSV Scholars program within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which allows diocesan employees such as Schleitwiler to gain a higher degree to better teach and pass on the Faith. Fourteen students from the diocese are currently enrolled in the program and more than 100 have already graduated from it in the three decades of its existence. Students pay for their own books and summer school housing, but tuition for all 12 courses is covered.
Students say the course work is challenging, but extremely rewarding. Those who complete it are expected to continue working in diocesan catechetical ministries for at least four years, but most plan to remain in ministry for many years to come.
Schleitwiler began her M.A. in 2019, and at that time, Notre Dame theology professors taught core courses in three intense weekends each semester. This offered a way for religious education teachers, youth leaders, and other professional catechetical ministers to be immersed in the material and form relationships with others, but the onset of COVID motivated a long-planned switch to mostly online classes. Students are now encouraged to come to the campus for summer school sessions, compressing a 15-week semester into three.
Since even online courses include small group sessions, Schleitwiler has enjoyed getting to know people in ministry spread throughout the country as well as many in the diocese. During the second semester, she will be working on her capstone project and expects to receive her M.A. this spring. That capstone project will probably focus on Theology of the Body, which she is convinced should be presented to Catholic youth from the cradle.
Before coming to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Schleitwiler began her teaching career in rural Illinois at a small Catholic school as a second-grade teacher, having earned her degree in human development and education at Marquette University in Wisconsin. So important was her Catholic identity that she assumed she could never teach in a public school, because “my students wouldn’t be getting all of me.”
After she took a semester off due to family needs, she became a public-school paraprofessional and long-term sub, which gave her an opportunity to learn more about working with students with special needs. Incidentally, since she saw many of her students at weekend Masses, faith was part of their personal interaction after all.
The DRE at her parish at the time was about to retire and told Schleitwiler that she would be good at that job. It didn’t appeal to her as much as teaching, but during her time at home, she began to feel called to that ministry. Most candidates for DRE jobs in the Chicago area had a graduate degree in addition to teaching experience, so she had to look farther afield. In the fall of 2017, she accepted a position at St. Jude in Fort Wayne, not far from where her family once vacationed. “When you’re doing what God wants, everything seems to fall into place.”
Schleitwiler learned about the OSV Scholars program from the diocesan website. Since her lifelong dream had been to earn a master’s degree in either developmental reading or theology, she was thrilled to learn that she qualified. With encouragement from her mentor, Deacon Jim Tighe, she sat for her graduate record exam and officially applied.
Commenting on her job, she says, “I’ve only ‘worked’ a few hours since then; I have fun every day. Sometimes I pinch myself; I have trouble believing I get paid to do what I love.”
In contrast to the Master of Divinity degree, the Master of Arts is geared to those already working in full-time ministry. This includes everyone teaching theology in a Catholic high school as well as youth ministers, DREs, pastoral associates, RCIA catechists, and teachers at other grade levels. Each OSV scholar takes seven electives and five core courses: sacraments, ecclesiology, morality, theology and revelation, and Trinity and Christian salvation.
To explore becoming involved as an OSV Scholar, contact Jonathan Kaltenbach, Director of the Office of Catechesis, at 574-968-2431 or [email protected] for courses beginning in the summer or fall of 2023.
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