Word on Fire to launch master’s program in evangelization with St. Thomas-Houston — By: Catholic News Agency

Bishop Robert Barron, founder of Word on Fire, which announced on March 13, 2024, that its institute will partner with the University of St. Thomas, Houston, to launch a master’s program in evangelization and culture this summer. / Credit: Word on Fire

CNA Staff, Mar 15, 2024 / 07:00 am (CNA).

Word on Fire and the University of St. Thomas, Houston, announced on Wednesday that they are launching a master’s program in evangelization and culture this summer.  

Set to begin in June, the program will be an “accredited and academically rigorous” master of arts degree in evangelization and culture, said Matthew Petrusek, senior director of the Word on Fire Institute.

Founded by Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, Word on Fire is a nonprofit global media apostolate founded to evangelize and educate with an emphasis on contemporary media. 

The master’s program is a natural outgrowth of the Word on Fire Institute, which offers live seminars, courses, and opportunities to interact with professors and fellows to its almost 24,000 members, Petrusek said.

“It’s rooted in the same inspiration we have to provide the Church with the best formed evangelists that we can possibly provide,” he told CNA. “And so now we’re doing so in a way that includes a professional degree.”

Petrusek said the institute has “long wanted to provide” members with “a means to get properly and fully and comprehensively formed in the Word on Fire Institute ethos in a way that’s accredited.”

“But up until this point, we didn’t have an outlet for those who really wanted to take it to the next level and to receive a degree,” he said. “And so, thanks be to God, that’s what we’re able to do now in partnership with the University of St. Thomas, with our M.A. program.”

Word on Fire Institute has been in conversation with University of St. Thomas, Houston, for more than two years in building out the program, Petrusek said, noting that the university “has long been doing very good work in providing an authentically Catholic, faithfully Catholic education.”

“We were really excited to have the opportunity to work with them, to build on the strengths that they already have, and to work on our own strengths,” he said. “So the partnership was a natural one, and we look forward to building it as we move into the future.”

The courses, offered live online, will include the Theology of Bishop Robert Barron, Biblical Studies for Evangelists, and Christology for Evangelists as well as a course on the Evangelical Legacy of Vatican II and practical evangelization, among others.

The master’s program includes an optional intensive summer program in person at St. Thomas. 

The program will also offer courses such as Evangelization and Anthropology, Art and Architecture for Evangelists, and Dante for Evangelists. 

“We’re seeking to [evangelize] in a way that’s highly culturally competent,” Petrusek explained. 

Petrusek said that one pillar of Word on Fire that’s “especially important” for this initiative is “looking for the ‘seeds of the word’ in the culture.” 

“Now, this is something that goes back to the very beginning of the Church,” he said. “It’s speaking in ways that are intelligible to people wherever they are, across the different dimensions of the culture.”

“The culture,” he noted, is an “umbrella term” that includes entertainment, politics, art, architecture, literature, and technology.

“We want our students to be able to speak to individuals in all those different niches of contemporary culture,” he said but noted that Word on Fire is not looking to “accommodate secular culture.” 

“We’re looking at points of contact where we can get a foothold in, to have conversations, and ultimately, to open the door to possible conversions to the relationship with Christ and his Church,” he explained. 

Word on Fire Institute hopes to not only form “culturally competent” students but also students who have “thick skin.”

Petrusek said that over the past 40 to 50 years, the Church “in many degrees, has grown timid, especially in the West.” 

“And so we’re seeking to overcome that timidity and to go out into the different facets of the culture, recognizing that it’s not going to be easy — it’s sometimes going to be hostile,” he said. “It will very commonly be indifferent and skeptical, and that’s fine. Those aren’t going to be barriers for us to move into those spaces.”  

This evangelization is also “high-spirited,” Petrusek explained.

“Moving out into the culture, as [you’re] truly manifesting joy, which does not mean always having a goofy smile on your face,” he said. “It means knowing who you are and what you’re for, being grounded in Christ.”

The program costs $600 per credit hour and is taught live online.

The faculty will include faithful scholars and leaders in Catholic thought, including Word on Fire Institute professors. 

Barron is closely involved in the program and may teach, Petrusek noted.

“To what degree he’ll be teaching is something that we’re still working on long-term,” he said, adding: “But he will certainly be a part of it.” 

Word on Fire has had “tremendous interest already” after Wednesday’s launch, Petrusek said.

“There’s been a great response,” he said, but noted that a small class size is important for the program.  

“We are committed to keeping our classes at a level where conversation is not only possible but encouraged,” he said.

“Another thing that’s a highlight of our program, that we’re very proud of, is we don’t do canned content,” Petrusek continued. “So no recorded lectures and no sort of asynchronous passive content. It’s really incarnational to the extent that that’s possible online.”

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