When Fordham University established the Graduate Institute of Religious Education in 1968, it was in response to 20th-century educational issues raised by the Second Vatican Council.
Now, more than 40 years later, its successor, the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (GRE) has launched a strategic plan that answers concerns of religious education and the Catholic Church in the 21st century.
Strategic Plan 2009-2012, a collaborative document developed over the last year, responds to several trends facing the church today:
Clerical and religious leaders in the church are becoming older, and fewer in number, while lay leadership is becoming more important.
The younger membership in the Catholic population, those known as Gen Xers and Millenials, has diminished.
In the next few decades, the U.S. Catholic Church will become a predominantly Latino constituency.
There is increasing need for inter-religious and ecumenical relationships and inter-religious dialogue in the 21st century.
“The church in the 21st century is in a very different place than it was at the time of the Second Vatican Council,” said Rev. Anthony Ciorra, Ph.D., dean of GRE. “Our strategic plan clearly deepens our mission in light of Toward 2016 (the University’s strategic plan), our vision and the priorities required to fulfill them.”
Plan recommendations include:
• A proposed online doctorate of ministry degree program developed as a collaboration between Fordham’s existing D.Min. program and a consortium of 12 Jesuit universities under the wing of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.
• Expansion of GRE into Fordham’s London, Westchester and Manhattan campuses.
• The September 2009 launch of two online and classroom master’s programs—one in youth ministry and one in pastoral care.
• The elevation of GRE’s Latino ministry concentration to a full degree program.
• Development of a Westchester campus-based Center for Jewish-Christian dialogue and a resource-sharing network between the pastoral ministry program and the local diocese.
Also planned is a push to expand collaborative courses with other University departments, including theology, psychology, the Latin American/Latino Studies Institute (LALSI) and both the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and the Graduate School of Social Service (GSS).
“We are living in such turbulent and uncertain times that short-term planning has become more significant,” Father Ciorra said.
To develop the plan, GRE elicited recommendations from many participants. The school reached out to GRE faculty and staff; Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., senior vice president/chief academic officer; the deans of GSS, GSE and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; and the department chair of theology. Outside of the University, GRE solicited input from neighboring dioceses and from key GRE alumni.
“This plan is ambitious, and it needs to be ambitious, given the requirements of our students and the impending shortage of clergy in American dioceses,” Freedman said. “I applaud Father Ciorra for the leadership and innovation evident in this plan, and I believe it will serve as a model for religious education programs in the coming decade.”
GRE is Fordham’s smallest professional school, consisting of eight full-time faculty and about 240 students. Its size, said Father Ciorra, allows it to be used as a “laboratory of change” for the entire University. GRE was the first school to launch distance learning, in 2007.
Father Ciorra said that devising a strategic plan with so many parties involved is “rather intensive.”
“But in the end, you have a plan that people have bought into, that people understand and that they are willing to give various degrees of commitment to.”