Clarissa (“Lissa”) Hutcheson recently earned her MA (Theology) with a concentration in Ecclesial Service. She currently works as the director of catechetical ministry at Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church in La Jolla, California. She serves as a Master Catechist and also teaches for the San Diego Diocesan Institute.“I am forever grateful to CDU for offering the gift of continuing my education in a format that allowed me to fully participate in my ordinary life of work, home and play,” Lissa says. “I only hope that I am able to share what I have received with whomever God send’s into my life.”After earning a BA degree in political science and history from the University of La Verne, California, Lissa participated in classes at the University San Diego while discerning a Master’s degree in history. But she developed an interest in theology after taking classes at the Diocesan Institute in San Diego. “Having received a certificate in catechetical ministry, I sought to know more,” she says.
After considering Boston College and the University of Dayton, where she had taken some online courses, she chose Catholic Distance University.
“The Holy Spirit led me to CDU,” Lissa says, and she remembers the day very clearly. “When I thought to apply, I just really had a sense that CDU was the place for me. The professors are at the top of their field of study, and working with students from around the world appealed to my nature.”
Through studying theology at CDU, Lissa says she has come to know the Trinity more profoundly and understands her call to evangelize in and through her daily living experience.
“I have gained a greater sense of belonging to a Catholic community, deeper knowledge and a renewal of mind, and a joyful encounter with Christ,” she says. Her education has fostered a passion to share the Catholic faith with others as well.
Lissa, who is a lay Dominican, finds peace and comfort in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. She has been married to her husband, Todd, for 33 years. Together, they have raised two beautiful daughters and are deeply in love with their three grandchildren and their sons in law.
Aiko Foster-Sutherland, a wife and mother living in Okinawa, Japan, recently earned her BA degree in Theology. A convert to Catholicism in 2011, she began her studies at CDU because she wanted to learn the truth from a Catholic perspective. Aiko worked as a portrait photographer and ran a guesthouse until last year, when she took time off to raise her 2-year-old daughter.
Aiko enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people she might not have met otherwise. “One can be in a classroom with a member of the military, a stay-at-home mom, a homeschooled teenager, and a brother who is on his way to priesthood! CDU is truly international and friendly to anyone who wants to deepen one’s faith,” Aiko says.
Far from being impractical, the study of theology helped Aiko integrate her faith with her work as a portrait photographer. “My main goal is to empower young women through photography to help them to know they are beautiful just as God made them, and they don’t need to be anyone else or try to fit into the standards of society.” I want them to understand, “you are precious in my eyes.”(Isa 43.4) “Learning theology changed how I approached my clients,” Aiko adds.
Learning about the significance of man’s body and soul in her Fundamental Moral Theology class struck a chord with Aiko. “The idea was not foreign to me when I read it, but it spoke to me,” she says. “Although physical beauty fades away, there is spiritual side that can’t be neglected if one is to be the kind of person that God wants one to be.” Aiko says it was a bit difficult at first because her business was to sell beauty, but she knew in her heart that her work and faith could not exist separately.
Aiko has also handed on the faith to others. She was at a party mingling with prospective clients and began a conversation with a woman in her mid 20s. Their conversation led to friendship; Aiko shared her faith with her new friend and was able to answer questions she asked about Christianity. “A year later, she got baptized in the Catholic Church,” Aiko says. “Because I was studying theology, I was able to share not only my experiences of God but also theological answers to questions she had.”
In Japan, Catholics comprise just 0.5% of the population. “In my church, you can count young families on one hand,” Aiko says. Many priests are from overseas, and there are few Japanese priests in her diocese. “There is an interesting history behind how the Catholic Church came to Japan, and it is profound to know how the missionaries did their work in such an unfamiliar culture,” she says. “It’s culturally challenging for Christianity to grow here. There is a lot of work to do in the Catholic Church in Japan.”
Aiko was Protestant before she converted to Catholicism in 2011. “I wanted to deepen my relationship with God but could not find what I was looking for and did not know where to look,” she says. Aiko started reading more books and realized that many were written by Catholic priests “by chance.” “I grew to love Catholicism,” she says. Aiko’s husband was raised Protestant as well, but a priest he met while working in Malaysia inspired him to consider the Catholic priesthood. He chose to marry Aiko instead. “We attended a Protestant church for a while, but both of us felt that we were led to the Catholic Church. After a year of examination and prayer, they decided to become Catholic.
“I searched high and low to pursue a degree in theology as a lay person, but I couldn’t find a school I was interested in. Then I found CDU, or more accurately, CDU found me!” Aiko says.
When asked what she enjoyed most about her education at CDU, Aiko mentions the weekly discussions. “Students have the same faith, yet they have different ways of thinking,” she says. “It was truly interesting to read other students’ posts.” She also appreciated the diverse makeup of students. “Most of the students are from the States, but some were from different parts of the world, and it made the conversations interesting,” she says.
While earning her degree, Aiko was working, studying, and raising a child, which was not easy. “But by the grace of God, I was able to graduate,” she says.
Aiko says that learning theology helped her to fall in love with the word of God and learn to serve Him better. “It transforms your approach to God. Studying theology will not leave you unchanged!” she says. “As St. Jerome said, ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,’” she adds.
Rev. Christopher Bragg Etheridge, IVE, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, was ordained on May 28th by His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Father Etheridge serves as the Dean of Studies at the Ven. Fulton Sheen Seminary and the Parochial Vicar at St. John Baptist de la Salle in Chillum, MD. After earning his BA in Theology degree at CDU in 2016, he enrolled in CDU’s MA degree in Theology program.
“My experience in the BA program was such a positive one that it was almost natural to consider CDU as my choice for a Master’s program,” Father Etheridge says. “One of the great advantages of studying through CDU is that I know for sure that what my professors have taught me is the same truth that has been handed on and guarded by the Church for centuries.”
Father Etheridge first enrolled at CDU after entering the seminary. “Our seminary here in Washington is still very young,” he explains. “Getting accreditation takes a while and is very costly, so for those of us who have not completed our bachelor’s degrees, CDU has provided an affordable and trustworthy option for getting a Catholic education.”
“The integrity with which CDU aims to teach the faith was also a major draw for me, considering that in our modern era the devil works with greater subtlety,” Father Etheridge says. “Seeking the truth means seeking the fullness of truth, without compromise.”
As a junior in high school living in Alabama, Father Etheridge began to discern his vocation after going on a mission trip to Akil, Yucatan, Mexico, through the Archdiocese of Mobile. “The experience in Mexico as missionary changed me in ways I didn’t expect,” he says. “It opened my eyes to the reality that life was meant to be ‘spent’ living for others. The volunteer experience also showed me the joy that comes through poverty and the gift of self.”
Father Etheridge did not immediately enter the seminary after high school. “Knowing that God was calling me to a missionary vocation, I was hesitant to enter the diocesan seminary right away,” he explains. “Instead, I went to the University of Alabama to study Spanish, trusting that the Lord would show me where to go next, and He did! Midway through my freshman year I went to Washington, DC, to take part in the March for Life,” he adds. During the March, Father Etheridge stayed with a small religious community, the Institute of the Incarnate Word, which has as its charism the inculturation of the Gospel.
“A month after the March for Life, I returned to DC to take the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and it was through this retreat that I clearly saw God’s will and was given the grace to follow it,” Father Etheridge says. “After finishing the spring semester at Alabama, I packed my bags and entered the IVE novitiate. Now, a little over eight years later, after ordination I look back and can only marvel at the Lord’s plan and the abundance of His mercy.”
When asked how his CDU education has prepared him for the priesthood, Father Etheridge says, “A priest’s whole life involves studying. Ongoing formation is a must for any priest who wants to be an effective instrument in the hands of God; but that ‘ongoing’ formation needs a foundation, which comes through his initial years of education.”
“CDU helped to form that foundation in my life. It provided me with an opportunity to study the truths of the Faith in all their beauty and richness, without compromise.”
Father Etheridge offers the following advice to other students who are considering studying at CDU. “The online format is certainly a great convenience for people with busy schedules, but don’t let that be the only motivating factor; see the eternal advantage to studying at CDU.”
“Yes, ‘eternal,’” he adds. “At CDU you do not simply learn the truth, but you get to know Truth Himself. St. Philip Neri once said, ‘those who seek for anything but Christ do not know what they are looking for,’” Father Etheridge explains.
“By getting a degree through a Catholic university such as CDU, you are giving yourself the opportunity to know the fullness of truth found in Jesus Christ, who is the light for all humanity.”
“In a society increasingly marked by secularism and threatened by atheism, we run the risk of living as if God did not exist.”–Pope Francis
Offered to both undergraduate and graduate students, Presenting the Faith in the Modern World: Dealing with the Hard Questions introduces students to the application of Catholic teaching to real life situations in contemporary Western society. Students will engage with both contemporary secular and religious views at odds with Catholicism and learn to dialogue pastorally and constructively with those who hold contrary viewpoints. The course is taught by Professor Christopher Padgett, a lay evangelist, teacher, prolific author, and musician who travels the world giving missions and concerts. He is a frequent guest on EWTN and has been heard on prominent Catholic radio stations and highlighted in several Catholic magazines.
A Global Civilization, taught by esteemed faculty member Dr. Charles Rieper, is the third of three undergraduate survey courses covering the totality of Western history. The course traces the development of Western Civilization from the Enlightenment to the era of the war on terror and globalization in the 21st century. Dr. Rieper will guide students thought significant periods of western history including the emergence of the Enlightenment and Age of Absolutism, the French Revolution, the birth of the United States, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression and World Wars, the Cold War, and the modern era, which has brought momentous change.
Following a year of study in the BA completion program, Michael Ryan Grasinski has earned his degree. “CDU exposed me to the treasure contained within the Tradition of the Church, and I can honestly say I learned more about my faith in the past year than at any point prior,” he says. “It really seemed to be the answer to my prayer. I never thought I’d be able to finish my BA, but by the grace of God I was able to do that.”
Michael worked in sales and account management when he began to sense that God was calling him to a different path. After a long period of discernment, he matriculated at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. “My year in the seminary was pivotal in my continued education and my overall formation; it laid the foundation for my life,” he says.
“After I spent a year in the seminary, I knew I wanted to finish my BA, but it seemed impossible due to practical reasons, mainly time, money, and location. Stumbling upon CDU was a true grace, and it provided the perfect opportunity to not only finish my undergraduate education, but to do so in the area of greatest interest to me,” he says. As Michael transitioned from Mount St. Mary’s to CDU, there was a continuity of intellectual formation that he says was invaluable in his spiritual growth.
“The value of an education is realized by the effort you put in to it, and for me personally, it was CDU that provided the framework and instruction necessary to make that effort fruitful,” he says.
Class discussions helped Michael learn to articulate what he knew, which was sometimes more challenging than he expected. “A true test of what one knows is how simply one can explain it,” he says. “This became a great exercise in learning how to synthesize extremely complex thoughts.”
“To study theology through the lens of the Church is to put on the mind of Christ,” Michael says. Like many other students, he finds that theology informs his thinking on a range of subjects, especially Christian vocation.
“Christian vocation is both a gift and a mission,” he explains. “We receive a vocational call from God to bring the light of Christ to others, and at the same time, this mission is a gift. As we read in the Gospel, we are called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth; this means being transformed in the spirit of our mind and following Christ every day.”
He also clearly articulates the interplay of faith and reason. “Both faith and reason are necessary, and they in no way negate one another,” he explains. “By the grace of God, I have faith, and I now seek understanding. Faith is not merely blind acceptance; rather, through our God-given intellect, we plunge into the mysteries of God through the life of the intellect, thus further informing our faith.”
In an increasingly secular world, theology is also useful in responding to contemporary challenges. “We live in a world where man’s fundamental identity has become lost, and it is the practice of theology that can respond to this identity crisis,” Michael says. “Theology explains the deepest yearnings of man’s heart and thus is able to respond to the many challenges facing modern man. Gaudium et Spes explains this perfectly in that theology, as viewed through the lens of the Magisterium, can answer the many questions that trouble man today.”
In his free time, Michael enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife contemplating the beauty of God’s creation, immersing himself in the intellectual tradition of the Church, doing DIY projects, and learning how to be a better cook.
“I’m very grateful for my opportunity at CDU,” Michael says. “Coming from a business background, I can see the immense value a school like CDU will continue to have in a world that is quickly changing and lacking orthodox Catholic schools.”