This is the first in a series of stories highlighting alumni of UD’s ministry programs.
By Tracey Dillard, MA ’98
When Jeff Hedglen, MTS ’01, started studying for his Master of Theological Studies in 1994 at the University of Dallas, the internet was just in its infancy, and dial-up was the only way to get connected to the scarce World Wide Web.
The Blakley Library in Braniff (now the Cowan-Blakley Memorial Library) was the easiest way to get all the research he needed. Email was new and rarely used. There were no laptops or classes to Zoom into.
Rather, Hedglen had to make the nearly 100-mile round-trip commute from Fort Worth to complete his degree.
“My experience of in-person classes at UD was unique in that my classes were once a month on the weekend,” said Hedglen. “So the weekends were long, but in a particular way this format allowed for more interaction with the students and professors.
“Being able to go to the Chapel of the Incarnation before and after class was wonderful,” he added, and “celebrating Sunday Mass as a class was a huge bonus.”
Hedglen had earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Arlington while working full time in youth ministry for St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Fort Worth.
“When I first got into youth ministry, I was young and thrilled I would get paid to hang out at Six Flags and do fun things with the youth,” he said.
He already had a love for Christ’s Church and a “decent understanding of Scripture” thanks to a program at his parish. He led retreats, catechism classes and service projects.
However, “The kids were asking some deep theological questions, and I was worried I would get into trouble because I wouldn’t be able to answer their questions,” he admitted.
Eventually Hedglen realized he needed to know more.
Initially, he chose UD because at the time you could earn your degree through a three-year Institute of Religious and Pastoral Studies program by taking classes once a month. Because Hedglen was working full time, he finished his degree in six years.
What started out as a convenience turned into something greater than he could ever have imagined.
“My experience at UD personally transformed me and gave me a firm theological foundation to teach and lead the youth,” he said.
Hedglen is thankful that his professors allowed him to keep his students at the forefront of his mind and heart when he was working on his assignments.
For example, when taking the Fundamental Theology course with Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D., the assignment was to create a comprehensive glossary of theological terms.
Hedglen asked if he could “reword them in a way that was palpable for teenagers.” By the end of class, he had created a comprehensive list of complex terms that high schoolers could understand.
His UD education really came into play when Hedglen started the “Paradox Cafe” at St. Bartholomew. Post-confirmation students gathered weekly for coffee, desserts and conversation.
“We discussed the big questions like the Trinity and the Eucharist. The kids were eager to understand and had a hunger for the truth. With my UD education under my belt, I was confident in leading these discussions,” said Hedglen.
Social Catholic Thought taught by the late Mark Lowery, Ph.D., was another UD class that directly enriched Hedglen’s ability to minister to the youth.
“This was one subject I knew nothing about,” said Hedglen. “It illuminated my service mindset required for living out the Gospel.”
Inspired by the teachings in this class, Hedglen continued to lead “Camp Fort Worth” for more than 20 summers. He led a group of teens who served the community while attending daily Mass and receiving the Eucharist.
In addition to ministry work, Hedglen credits his UD education with helping him become a better writer. He has had a standing column in North Texas Catholic for nearly 20 years.
Hedglen also received his Advanced Certificate in Biblical Studies in 2007 from UD’s Catholic Biblical School, which is offered as one of many continuing ed programs now in the Neuhoff Institute for Ministry and Evangelization.
“It’s fair to say that my time studying at UD propelled me to a new level in Church ministry,” said Hedglen. “The increased confidence in understanding Catholic theology that I gained equipped me and helped me find new ways of sharing the truths of the faith with students.”
Hedglen joked that the best souvenir he brought home from a vacation in Germany in 1992 was his now-wife, Monika. The happy couple has been married for 27 years.
“I’m very thankful for my loving wife, who provides me with support and works behind the scenes so I can continue doing ministry,” said Hedglen.
Hedglen spent 25 years at St. Bartholomew. Since 2012, he’s been serving his alma mater, UTA, as a Catholic campus minister and for a while worked simultaneously as the director of campus and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Fort Worth.
A lot has changed since Hedglen started at UD. Emails and texts are now the way of life. Classes can be taught via Zoom and other platforms. Anything and everything can be accessed through your phone anywhere, anytime. The William A. Blakley Library is now the Cowan-Blakley Memorial Library to honor the late University Professors Donald and Louise Cowan, both Ph.D.
Graduate ministry degree programs have also changed, but only insofar as rather than being housed in a school of ministry, they are now offered both in person and online through the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts.
Much, however, remains the same.
Students still worship and receive Christ daily in the Eucharist at the Church (no longer Chapel) of the Incarnation. UD still remains dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom, of truth and of virtue as the proper and primary ends of education.
“Even though it has been 20 years since I finished my M.T.S., I still find myself reaching back to those classrooms, quoting professors, and drawing from the deep well that was filled in my time at UD,” said Hedglen.