Married MA Student Ordained Catholic Priest

MA (Theology) student Father Captain Joseph W. Reffner, a Chaplain the US Army, was ordained a Catholic priest for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston, Texas, on May 31, 2018. Father Reffner, who was an Anglican priest prior to his ordination in the Catholic Church, is married and has five children with his wife. He converted to Catholicism in 2011 after many years of discernment.

Bishop Steven J. Lopes, Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, conducted the ceremony, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, and Chancellor of CDU, concelebrated the ordination Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Father Reffner was raised as an Evangelical Protestant in Pennsylvania and felt a call to ministry in 2004. “I started to realize I had a heart for ministry when I was an Infantry officer about 15 years ago,” he says. “Soldiers would express personal things to me and look for guidance and counsel. I think they knew I was religious, was approachable, and they were looking for answers. I realized that I really wanted to help these men, but I could only help so much before having them seek the Chaplain,” he says. “I didn’t have the experience or wisdom, plus I needed to focus on mission and training. It really opened up the discernment process to pursue full-time ministry.”

Father Reffner entered a Protestant seminary, and after taking a Systematic Theology course, became Anglican. He later became a deacon and then a priest in the Anglican Church. Over the years the richness of Catholicism appealed to him, and during his discernment he developed a great love and devotion for the Eucharist. Father Reffner’s wife converted to Catholicism in 2012.

Father Reffner wanted to pursue the Catholic priesthood but was concerned about how he would be received as a married Catholic priest. After lots of prayer, discernment, and conversations with deacons, priests, and lay people, he decided to move forward. He says both parishioners and priests have been supportive, open, and loving, and there has been no negativity from anyone.

As an Active Duty Army Chaplain, Father Reffner’s focus is on the men and women who currently serve or have served in uniform along with their families. He serves the military community at the chapels on post and the unit where he is assigned. His garrison is Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state. “There is also always the possibility of getting deployed to another country or a field training exercise that lasts several days to months,” Father Reffner says. “The important thing is to be where the Soldiers are by providing ministry, counseling, advising the Commander and staff on various issues such as religious area analysis that may affect the mission, morale, moral implications of a decision, resiliency, etc.”

When asked how he balances his roles as a military chaplain, priest, husband, and father, Father Reffner says, “First, I think it comes from the call to holiness from Jesus. As Pope Francis recently said in Guadete Et Exsultate, ‘A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness.’”

“My mission is as a priest and husband, and since I have received the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony in which Christ is present, I need to ensure I don’t get in the way of Christ or use him as an excuse to put myself against one over the other. I’m no good as a priest if I abandon my family, and I’m not a good man of integrity if I put off my duties and dignities as a priest,” he says. “Yes, there is tension, but I find my inspiration and reflection in my devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

“Second, is manage expectations,” Father Reffner says. “There is a balance, and it has to be communicated to the chapel staff, the unit, and the family. There are many late nights and weekends away from the family in the military. The best is knowing that there are other priests who are there to help cover when I may be gone on retreat or vice a versa. The beauty of having other devoted Catholic priests and lay faithful is knowing it’s not about me and doesn’t depend entirely on me,” he says.

Of CDU, Father Reffner says, “The faculty and staff express a true, lived-out Catholic faith. Several professors head their own apostolates or are active in others, and some teach at other Catholic institutions.”

He loves the emphasis on St. Thomas Aquinas in CDU’s courses. “I dabbled with The Summa Theologiae to some extent while in a Protestant seminary, but CDU has really emphasized him and I have come to really enjoy him. It has actually helped me learn to listen to arguments better and form my thoughts with an understanding of how another might hear them,” he says.

Last summer Father Reffner was in Syria taking Christology. “Some Soldiers and Airmen asked if I could start a weeknight study of some sort, and I agreed,” he says. “I was able to formulate a simple approach to Christology for them because I was taking the class at the time, and the notes and Scripture references where right there. The men and women loved it.”

Given Father Reffner’s multiple roles, the flexibility of CDU has been important. “I have moved twice during my time at CDU and been deployed. I have been able to choose the classes that fit my situation the best. Plus, CDU is military friendly and very supportive. The professors have been very supportive in understanding my role in the Army.”

Fr. deLadurantaye Named to Vatican Secretariat of State

The Arlington Catholic Herald

Father Paul F. deLadurantaye, executive director of the St. Thomas More Institute and diocesan secretary for catechetics and sacred liturgy, has been appointed to the English section of the Vatican Secretariat of State for five years beginning Sept. 1, 2018.

Click here to read more.

ATS Grants Associate Membership to Graduate School of Theology

Catholic Distance University’s Graduate School of Theology was granted associate membership in the Association of Theological Schools at the accrediting agency’s biennial meeting in Denver, Colorado, on June 20th. Associate membership is the first step toward full accreditation by ATS.

Dr. Marianne Mount, President, and Sister Mary Brendon Zajac, Board member, attended the meeting. “CDU’s associate membership in the Association of Theological Schools is an incremental fulfillment of the University’s first strategic goal to pursue regional and programmatic accreditation,” says Dr. Mount, who has served the University in a variety of leadership positions since its founding in 1983.

“CDU’s Graduate School of Theology was welcomed as a colleague of more than 270 theological schools that includes most Catholic seminaries in the U.S. CDU is deeply grateful to our hard-working staff and committed Board of Trustees,” she adds. “This accomplishment is especially important for our graduate students and MA graduates.”

Pictured (l to r): Sister Mary Brendon Zajac, CDU Board Member; Dr. Marianne Mount, CDU President; Sister Mary McCormick, OSU Academic Dean; and Father Mark Latcovich, President-Rector, Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology, Diocese of Cleveland, gather to celebrate CDU’s associate membership.

THEO 503: The Catholic Theological Tradition

Offered in both the Fall I and II terms, THEO 503 is the first course taken in the MA (Theology) program. Perfect for students new to the study of theology, the course is taught by Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, a world-renowned commentator on Catholic issues known for his ability to make profound subjects understandable and relevant to everyday life. Explore the history of Christian theology from the perspective of faith seeking deeper understanding and trace its development from the end of the New Testament times to the Second Vatican Council. Critical moments in the history of theology and key issues debated in each epoch will be discussed, and students will be introduced to some of history’s most notable theologians and their varied ways of thinking about the things of God.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, also known as “Dr. Italy,” is a New York Times list best-selling author who frequently appears on a variety of TV and radio shows, including the “O’Reilly Factor” and “Geraldo Rivera at Large.”

To enroll in THEO 503, click here. Then, click the “New Student” button and fill out the information. Select “Undecided” for the major. If you have further questions, contact Admissions at admissions@cdu.edu or 1-888-254-4CDU ext. 700 to enroll today!

Featured Student: Denise Spivey

Denise Spivey, assistant principal at St. Anne and St. Jude Catholic School in Sumter, SC, recently earned her MA (Theology) with a concentration in Ecclesial Service. Born in Louisville, KY, she attended Catholic schools, joined the U.S. Air Force, and earned a B.S. at North Carolina Wesleyan College. After 26 years of honorable service, Denise retired from the military and began to pursue her passion: the study of theology.

When asked what led her to theology, she says, “Well, the short answer is God.” Born Catholic, the only public schools she attended were kindergarten and college. “During my freshman year in college I learned about the Apocryphal books in the Bible. I had never heard of them. I guess the seed, the desire to know more, was planted then. Decades later, my husband and I talked for several years about pursuing our Masters Degrees. The seed came alive and I naturally chose theology,” she says.

About a year into her studies, Denise–then a middle school religion teacher–accepted the full-time position of assistant principal. Understanding theology has given her a fuller ability to pass on the knowledge, understanding, and mercy that the Church teaches. “Many non-Catholics come to our school seeking something better for their children,” she explains. “Through the grace of God and the teachings I have learned, I feel better equipped to help these and all of our families, especially the children, come to know the love of God in their lives.” This, in turn, gives them confidence, which helps improve the children’s grades and empowers them to show the love of God to others, she says.

Denise continues to teach middle school religion. “My students are really benefiting from the expertise of CDU’s professors!” she says. “We get into some great discussions, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge I have acquired plays a very important part of our conversations. Sometimes I get to ‘blow their minds.’”

“I am also more inclined to take these teachings out into the public,” she says. “The Holy Spirit prompts each of us to get out of our comfort zones and show the love of Christ to the world. I have known this for a long time, but the lessons I have learned with CDU help me to proclaim it much more effectively.”

Of her time at CDU, Denise says that what surprised her most was how much she enjoyed the lessons. “I loved learning new concepts or understanding ideas in a different light. I really appreciated the video chats that Dr. Peter Brown offered. It gave me an opportunity to flesh out ideas more fully,” she says.

Denise and her husband Dan have three children. In her free time, Denise enjoys spending time with her family, especially her granddaughter. She also enjoys cooking.

“God led me to CDU, and I am very happy that I followed His prompting,” Denise says. “My life has changed in ways I never imagined.”

Her thesis, “Pope Francis’ Key to a Life of Witness to Obedience is Mercy,” was published in the Easter edition of Digital Continent.

Diocese of Brooklyn Expands Partnership with CDU

From left: Dr. Peter Brown, academic dean, and Theodore Musco, secretary of the Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese of Brooklyn.

The Diocese of Brooklyn serves 1.5 million Catholics in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. Founded in 1853 to meet the needs of millions of recent Irish immigrants, today the diocese is home to a burgeoning, multicultural immigrant community that is largely Hispanic. To hand on the Faith, seven-thousand catechists serve young people in the Diocese’s 186 parishes and 84 Catholic academies/parish schools each week.

“Many of the catechists here in Brooklyn and Queens desire an opportunity to be further formed in the Faith,” says Theodore Musco, Secretary of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Diocese. Yet, the Diocese faces a number of challenges in preparing adults to teach the Faith: time and energy, multiple commitments, lack of knowledge about programs offered to assist in passing on the Faith, lack of knowledge about financial assistance available, and language issues.

In June 2017, the Diocese established the Holy Spirit Institute for Service and Leadership to provide formation and education to those called to serve as missionary disciples. Catholic Distance University is one of the six institutes and universities approved as an educational provider. The Diocese has partnered with CDU since 2010 to provide Continuing Education to its catechists, catechetical leaders, and parish volunteers, so extending the relationship seemed to be a natural fit. “The great successes of the past gave me the confidence to move forward as we created the new Holy Spirit Institute for Service and Leadership,” Theodore says.

“CDU is authentically Catholic and has a mission of Catechetics and Evangelization. It also clearly understands the challenges of a large, urban, multicultural diocese,” Theodore says. “We are making headway in all these areas, thanks to collaborators like CDU,” he adds.

Through the Holy Spirit Institute, CDU offers a non-credit Diocesan Lay Leadership Certificate as well as an undergraduate-level Catechetical Coordinator’s Certificate to prepare lay leaders to serve the diocese. “The [undergraduate] certificate serves those who are already in catechetical leader positions but may not have the proper academic credentials,” Theodore explains. “Our goal is that all 200+ catechetical leaders be properly trained.”

CDU also works with the diocesan permanent deacons. Bishop DiMarzio is encouraging deacons to pursue degrees in theology at CDU.

To better serve the Diocese’s large Spanish-speaking population, its staff is working to convert six foundational courses into Spanish for the non-credit certificate. “We hope to have this finished by the end of 2018,” Ted says. “They can then be used by anyone at any time.”

Sister Mary Margaret Ann Schlather, CDU’s dean of Continuing Education, was instrumental in arranging the partnership in 2010. “Ted Musco brought such energy to our first meeting, that a partnership with Brooklyn was going to be a win-win situation for Brooklyn’s catechists and CDU’s Continuing Education Program. Starting with a dynamic three-week seminar, our partnership has developed into offering academic level-certificate and degree opportunities for those who want to ‘put out into the deep’ of the Catholic Faith to better serve others,” she says.

The Diocese of Brooklyn is shepherded by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, a champion of immigrants’ rights.
Masses are regularly held in 33 different languages across the Diocese, which has 26 ethnic ministries that promote cultural events and provide an opportunity for immigrants to belong to the larger community while preserving and sharing their uniqueness and traditions.

Bishop DiMarzio often uses the phrase “Put out into the deep.” “This is not merely a byword or an interesting phrase. Rather, this truly reminds us that if we are to make Christ for the world in this new millennium, we must truly go out of our way. We must try harder. We must experience our own conversion, so that we can be faithful to the Lord’s demand to put out into the deep,” he recently said at the Diocese’s Evangelization Congress in late April. CDU President Dr. Marianne Evans Mount and Sr. Schlather attended the event, which drew thousands. Its theme was The Joy of Encountering Christ – The Family’s Hope.

“We’ve come a long way in the last few years thanks to CDU,” Theodore reflects.

THEO 313. God, Man and the Universe

Offered in the Summer II Term, this 8-week course introduces the key ideas of Fundamental Theology. Join prolific author and speaker Christopher Padgett for an exploration of the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church as contained in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed — God the Creator, original sin, and the fall of man. Topics to be covered through a theological lens include Revelation, the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, the theory of the development of doctrine, the Trinity, Divine Providence, the Angels, Satan, forms of atheism, the origin and fall of man, and the dignity of the human person. What sets Catholic thought apart from other worldviews?

Enroll today to find out! Course begins on June 4th.

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