Two weeks after my son was born (last full week of November), Good Shepherd began its third cohort for our fourth year BA in Religious Studies program. Our seminary traditionally offers a three-year course of studies in theology, Bible, and philosophy (with some social science training) and our students receive an Advanced Diploma in Religious Studies. Then they return to their dioceses for a year of pastoral work, which is serving at a parish under a priest-mentor. After this, they go to the seminary in Port Moresby for three more years of study, graduating with either an Advanced Degree in Theology or a BA in Theology (if they write a thesis).
Back in 2013 (our first term here), Good Shepherd launched a new program. We added a contextual theology research project to the pastoral years, as well as academic assignments to do on the history and organization of the student’s parish and diocese, on pastoral activities and catechetical programs, and their personal growth and challenges. Contextual theology is using social science research methods to provide insight into a pastoral or theological questions. For example, one student correlated family devotional practices and domestic violence. Another wrote on traditional initiation rites and their incorporation or lack of incorporation into Catholic sacraments of initiation (baptism, eucharist, confirmation). From the beginning, Rebecca and I have been involved in this program – helping the faculty understand how it is supposed to be run, arguing for high standards, and providing instruction for some of the assignments. Students receive two weeks of instruction right after graduation, another two weeks at mid-year (June), and then present their research project at the end of the year.
We’ve had trouble implementing the program. During the first year, eight students came for the first session, six came for the second, four came to present their projects, and two graduated. Last year, only one student agreed to do the program, though he did it well.
This year we expected five students to join the program, but only three came back to the campus. Our Dean of Studies did some planning, but decided midway through the first week that he wanted to focus on his transition out of the seminary to a parish assignment (his contract was up). The rector did not want to administer the program. So that left me, the Bible teacher, and the Catechist (who has 20+ years experience, but only basic studies) as possibilities for running the program. I was very hesitant to take the position, since I have not had a pastoral placement, nor am I formally trained in social science or theology, but if I did not take it, then the program would be cancelled. So I took it up, called in the Archbishop (who has a doctorate in anthropology) to give some classroom instruction, and wrote up program specification documents. It was a rocky start, but the students seem committed. Now I may have to give myself a crash course on social science research methods so that I can prepare some reading and study materials for the students for early next year.
Here are the three:
Daniel from Wabag Diocese – Daniel was my best student, academically speaking, last year. He wrote a good paper on Hobbes’s Leviathan for me. He is very determined to earn his BA. He is interested in researching why young adults are not engaged in the Church.
Thomas from Mendi Diocese – Thomas was the class president last year. He and I had a good reconciliation after the trouble at the beginning of the term. He wants to write on parish renewal.
Paul is an ex-seminarian. He is now a senior teacher at a local secondary school. He is interested in best practices for teachers and what motivates good teachers. Paul is our first ever layman to be a student. It is my hope that next year we can open up the BA program to ex-seminarians in general and that Good Shepherd could even eventually be a Catholic liberal arts college and not just a seminary. Paul is the first step for the realization of my dream – though I will have to write up new policies for how a layperson will carry out what is supposed to be the pastoral year.
Please pray for me: that I carry out these responsibilities well and that I still have time for the dissertation.
A nice treat at the end of November is the luncheon (roast pig and vegetables served in giant metal bowls) for the support staff at the seminary – the cooks, security guards, gardeners, maintenance men, ditch diggers, and pig feeders. The seminary would quickly revert to bush without them!