This spring, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine awarded the Ann and Joe O. Neuhoff School of Ministry a $24,050 grant to support the CCD’s goals of promoting Catholic biblical literacy. Given to Father Rafael Ramirez, affiliate assistant professor in the school of ministry, this grant will fund a full scholarship for one bilingual student to complete a Master of Theological Studies with a concentration in biblical studies. Upon completion of the two-year program, the student will be qualified to teach in the school’s Escuela Catolica Biblica, providing Spanish language classes in biblical studies.
As one of three grants given by the CCD to help “foster practical responses to biblical literacy,” this grant responds specifically to the Neuhoff School of Ministry’s need for more bilingual instructors. Of the over 800 students enrolled in its continuing education programs, 61 percent are Hispanic. Yet, while these students come to study in the school of ministry seeking to grow in their faith and are particularly attracted to the school’s programs offered in Spanish, especially its Catholic Biblical School program, due to the lack of programming available in Spanish elsewhere, there is a shortage of available bilingual instructors.
“The real challenge is the tremendous need for Spanish language faith formation programs and the limited number of qualified instructors that we have,” said Dean and Associate Professor of the Neuhoff School of Ministry Ted Whapham. “Our average class size for our Spanish language continuing education programs has been between 50 and 60, and we have had some classes as large as 90 students, which is really untenable. It is much too large to provide quality instruction, and so the demand in the community outpaces our ability to provide courses. The major difficulty is finding qualified master’s-level instructors who are bilingual.”
While the school of ministry provides master’s degrees in theological studies, supplying the training necessary to qualify someone to teach in the school’s continuing education programs, the funding to support this solution was still lacking — until Ramirez discovered a way to obtain that, as well.
“I am a member of the Catholic Biblical Association, and in the meeting last year it was mentioned that there were all these available funds provided by the royalties of the New American Bible translation,” said Ramirez. “We are always looking for financial help to grow our programs, so I immediately saw the opportunity for us because our program fits perfectly with the purpose and the areas of interest of the grant.
Not only will this grant support bilingual biblical studies within the Neuhoff School of Ministry, it will also help meet the needs of the Diocese of Dallas. Of the over one million Catholics in the diocese, 65 percent are of Hispanic descent. “While many are bilingual, many prefer to pray and study in their native language,” said Whapham. Referring to a previous study on why traditionally Catholic Hispanics are leaving the church in droves, Whapham argued that this is due to an inadequate response to their pastoral needs, including faith formation in their native language. He then stated that it is the shared responsibility of both the diocese and the University of Dallas, being the area’s only Catholic university, to provide this formation.
“So this particular program, this particular grant, is a modest effort to expand our programs and better meet the needs of the Hispanic community,” he continued. “It’s hard to think of something more practical than this.”
As it meets the concrete needs of both school and diocese, the grant will fulfill the mission statements of both the Neuhoff School of Ministry and the University of Dallas as a whole, both dedicated to the recovery of the Christian intellectual tradition and the renewal of Catholic theology, all while serving the needs of society.
“We need to be not only deeply steeped in our understanding of Scripture, but we need, as the university’s mission statement says, to contribute to the renewal of Catholic theology,” said Whapham. “That is not just in academic circles; that has to be in the life of the church — theology in particular. Like philosophy, it’s not just something you sit and think about … it has to impact the way you live in the world. And that really should be true of all that we do: it is not just thinking great thoughts, it is being great people. And so the Neuhoff School of Ministry and its programs, especially this grant as a specific incarnation of that, is an example of how the university contributes to the community that it is a part of. It is a concrete manifestation of what we stand for.”