The summer months are around the corner, and how better to while away the hours than by broadening our horizons and enriching our faith? Thankfully there’s an invaluable program that will satisfy our desire for Catholic thought, and it’s conveniently located no farther than our computer screen.
This year, St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry is offering a free audit program for summer classes.
St. Bernard’s is hosting a rich variety of Catholic-minded classes that anyone may sign up for. With a state-of-the-art distance learning program that allows auditors to attend classes live or at their own pace, online learning has never been so convenient. The whole package comes completely free of charge, meaning you can learn everything St. Bernard’s has to teach without bills and without accruing student debt.
Aleteia sat down to talk about the program with St. Bernard’s President and Professor of Philosophy, Dr. Stephen Loughlin, and Vice President, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Academic Dean, Dr. Matthew Kuhner. The passion these two men have for their fields of education is magnetic, even through a virtual meeting — a feat that bodes well for distance learners.
Dr. Stephen Loughlin
Dr. Loughlin is everything you’d expect from a modern-day philosopher, with an insatiable curiosity and an aptitude for putting complex ideas into terms that even those unfamiliar with philosophy can grasp. He clearly takes delight in thinking, and when he gets that glint in his eye after coming to a new realization mid-sentence, students (and interviewers) can’t help but be captivated.
When we brought up his obvious passion for teaching, he enthusiastically noted that his sentiment is shared by the entire St. Bernard’s faculty:
“The uniqueness of our institution is rooted in many things. One of the things that I hold most dear to my heart is an utter faithfulness to the breadth, height, and depth of our teaching Tradition, that is to say, our theological and philosophical traditions that have been gifted to our Church, that have been preserved, promoted, and perfected throughout all the ages. We stand before all of that, and each and every professor here, to a person, has a deep love and respect for that tradition.”
Dr. Matthew Kuhner
Dr. Kuhner is the picture of a humble theologian, and his time as an Academic Dean is obvious in his approachable demeanor. He is an intellectual – an incredibly well-read one – and his friendly demeanor is most reassuring, making one comfortable discussing metaphysical ideas, even when one has little reference.
Together they are a formidable force whose passion for their respective fields is infectious even over a computer screen and is sure to inspire anyone who encounters them. Their love of education and that of the entire St. Bernard’s faculty has drawn students to their distance learning program from all around the world. In recent months, Dr. Kuhner noted, even from Lviv, Ukraine.
As for why students the world over are choosing St. Bernard’s, Dr. Kuhner explains that it’s a no brainer for students of Catholic thought:
“People come to St. Bernard’s from around the world, and here they can have an encounter with the Church’s teachings, with the doctrine, with the very Gospel itself in the mode of accompaniment. I don’t know where else you can receive a synchronous theological and philosophical education where you have lay men and women, permanent diaconate candidates, and those aspiring to the priesthood all in the same classes.”
St. Bernard’s places an emphasis on Catholic community, and they keep prayer in focus, even during their classes. Dr. Kuhner noted that even though most staff are lay educators, they work hard to keep the monastic tradition particular to Catholic education at play in what they do:
“We are not monks. This building is not a monastery and it’s also the 21st century where monasticism is not integral to the culture in the way that it was in the early Middle Ages. Nevertheless, we believe that this is actually the truth of theology: that it’s meant to be ensconced in a world of prayer in that way. That, in fact, the only way that it can retain its full grounding is within the heart of the Church.”
This year’s lineup for the free summer audit courses includes some tantalizing options for prospective students. From an introductory class on biblical studies to an ecology course, there’s something for everyone.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings will appreciate the course “Tolkien the Artist: Creativity and the Image of God” taught by a bonafide Tolkien expert, Professor Siobhan Latar. Meanwhile, those who are up for a distinct challenge can tackle “Canon Law” with Rev. Peter Mottola.
Those who wish to learn more about the theology behind the liturgy will find a home in Rev. Peter Van Lieshout’s “Liturgical and Sacramental Theology” course. If you’re interested in a deep dive on classical Greek philosophy, there’s “Minding the Cave: The Call to Truth and Goodness in Plato’s Republic.”
Dr. Loughlin himself is teaching a course on an area of philosophy called Epistemology. He describes this course as:
“… an exploration of something that we all take for granted, namely the nature of human knowledge, an important study for anyone who wishes to go beyond the things that science can measure, to speak of divine things that escape the grasp of science but which are not simply reducible to our subjective opinions. We are made to the image and likeness of God, and we behold in this course just what this involves!”
Learn from the best
Not least of all on the list is “Beauty, Liturgy, Glory: Towards a Philosophical and Theological Aesthetics,” which will be taught by both Dr. Loughlin and Dr. Kuhner. That’s right, you can take a class with St. Bernard’s President and VP this summer, for free.
Dr. Loughlin is taking the lead on the philosophical aspects of the class, while Dr. Kuhner will address the theological. Giving us a sneak peak at what the class would be like, Dr. Loughlin said:
“I often refer to works of art when I teach about beauty. For example, there was my experience of the Pieta during one of my visits to the Vatican. When I saw this piece for the first time, I was reduced to reverential silence and deep appreciation. To highlight the appropriateness of this regard, I then ask my students to imagine how inappropriate it would be to say at that moment, ‘How much for the pretty statue?’
“You just don’t say things like that in the experience and if you do, there’s something wrong with your aesthetic judgment. So you can see how it is that I, as a philosopher, would be playing upon the basic sorts of natural judgements and approaches that people already have in play with regard to beauty. I do the same thing with regard to truth, to goodness, and to unity.”
Building upon Dr. Loughlin’s thought, Dr. Kuhner was quick to take on the theological side:
“When Traditionis custodes came out, there was a ton of controversy about the future of the liturgy. A lot of people love the Latin Mass, the Old Rite, because of its beauty. So what is the role of liturgy and beauty? What’s its relationship to heaven?” Dr. Kuhner explained: “Essentially, is liturgy meant to be an anticipation of heaven and what does that mean in terms of its earthly beauty? So that’s why the liturgy was included in that course, particularly because liturgy is such a live question right now.”
St. Bernard’s prides itself on creating an inclusive atmosphere that offers the same world-class education to lay students as to those entering ordained ministry. They strive to view the temporal world through a lens that colors the landscape with the rich tradition of Catholic thought. Dr. Kuhner aptly noted:
“What we see ourselves doing is revealing or disclosing the riches of the faith. I think that the big thing for me that I would want say to people is: If you’re discouraged by all of the journalistic interpretation, the tensions in the Church, the negativity, all the different hot-takes, and that perhaps everything has taken a political turn, then St. Bernard’s can be a refuge. Here, there is a real attempt to just unveil the sources and the heart of the faith in all of its richness.”
As for what awaits students at St. Bernard’s, Dr. Loughlin said it best (quoting Holy Scripture as he recalled it from an old hymn of his youth):
“At St. Bernard’s, ‘We hold a treasure, not made of gold, in earthen vessels wealth untold. One treasure only, the Lord our God, in earthen vessels.’ It’s a beautiful sentiment that really does get to the heart of how it is at St. Bernard’s.”
Click here to explore all the fantastic summer courses that St. Bernard’s is offering to audit for free.
Admission for St. Bernard’s free summer auditing campaign is open until April 29 for Summer Session I courses and June 17 for Summer Session 2 courses. Click here to sign up today.