By Alexa Binkowitz
At the end of last year, Sacred Heart University announced the formation of the new Department of Catholic Studies.
This department will work to instill the Catholic Intellectual Tradition more deeply into the university’s core curriculum, while also offering a 15-credit minor in Catholic Studies.
“The central responsibility of the Catholic Studies department is to teach the new two semester ‘Human Journey Seminars: Great Books in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition’ (CIT 201 & 202), which forms a central component of the new core curriculum at Sacred Heart,” said Professor Brent Little, one of the two new full-time professors hired to teach in the Department of Catholic Studies.
The Department of Catholic Studies also attempts to give students a chance to engage with professors and other students in a seminar-style classroom setting, and hopes to stimulate conversation about the great books of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition.
“We are fortunate that Sacred Heart University has joined the ranks of other prominent universities in the United States in establishing a Catholic Studies Department,” said Father Anthony Ciorra, the Associate Vice President for Mission and Catholic Identity. “A Catholic Studies department enriches the entire University community in that it assures that the mission of the university is carried out not only in the curriculum, but in all areas of the University.”
This department will work in collaboration with other departments, such as Campus Ministry and Volunteer Service Learning, in order to give students opportunities to volunteer alongside their peers as well as apply lessons from the CIT seminars in the real world.
“It will embed the university’s mission in the students’ minds and hearts,” said Father Ciorra. “The gift to the students is that they will be exposed to the treasures of a two thousand year tradition and will be given the opportunity to reflect and engage with these great works in such a way that it will make a difference in their lives.”
Students are also getting to experience the CIT seminars for themselves, and are adapting to the conversation-based teaching style.
“I love the fact that in the CIT seminars you learn about so much more than Catholicism. You learn about the lives and opinions of others through personal stories shared by those who wish to participate,” said junior Shannon Guerin. “The CIT provides a comfortable atmosphere to learn how to deeply explore a text and find a way to relate to it when you never thought you could.”
Through the seminar-style teaching, professors are more able to connect with students and allow them to understand texts in their own way.
“I do not expect all of the students to walk out of the seminars agreeing with one another, or with me. Students bring a spiritual depth and possess spiritual insights and questions, but sometimes have not had the space to explore their spirituality,” said Little. “I hope the seminars allow them to develop their spirituality in dialogue with others, their values, their personal beliefs about the purpose of life, and the problem of evil, regardless of their personal religious or philosophical beliefs.”
The department has also established a film series and a new annual lecture series, which will hopefully tie the texts discussed in the CIT seminars, specific films and guest speakers together.
“The CIT is definitely a vital part of the university. The beauty of the class is that it gets you out of your specified major, allowing you to make friends that you probably would not have otherwise made,” said Guerin. “The class also provides you with experiences and opinions that you might not have otherwise explored.”
The first screening of the film series occured on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. in the Schine Theatre, and showed “The Mission,” an award-winning film about martyrs, heroes, innocence, guilt and redemption.
Bishop Frank Caggiano will also speak on behalf of the department on March 21 at 7 p.m., starting a conversation about the Catholic Intellectual Tradition in contemporary culture for the annual Bergoglio Lecture in honor of Pope Francis.
“Sacred Heart’s mission, as a Catholic educational institution, is to educate the whole person,” said Professor Little. “This includes not only the skills necessary to prepare a person for the job market, but also includes an education during which a person can grow spiritually and has space to reflect on their values, such as what it means to live a good, meaningful life, and the importance of service to others.”