Keeping faith alive through studying the dead

  • July 3, 2007
{mosimage} TORONTO - Intrigued by a candlelit basement chapel filled with Gregorian chant and burning incense, 11 teens gathered at St. Francis de Sales Church in Newark, Ohio, for what would become the first Dead Theologians Society meeting.

Ten years later the Wisconsin-based Catholic apostolate devoted to teaching high school teens and university-aged young adults about the lives of the saints is making its debut in Canada.

In late May founder and director Eddie Cotter Jr. visited St. Justin Martyr parish in Unionville, Ont., to discuss how to start a parish chapter this September.

“It is a cutting edge idea, it’s a challenging program, (and) it’s not entertainment based like a lot of (youth) programs out there,” said St. Justin Martyr pastoral assistant Cale Clark, who will co-lead the program with Fr. Joe Singh and other adult volunteers.

Clark got the idea to start a chapter at the urging of Paul Tomory, who’d heard Cotter speak at a Legatus meeting for wealthy Catholics.

The group takes its name from a play on words of the popular 1990s movie The Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams. But instead of studying dead poets the students study saints and theologians.

“We’re studying people dead by earth’s standards, but alive in Christ,” said Cotter at a Civitas meeting for young Catholic professionals to grow in faith.

“Not all saints are theologians, but they are catechisms in themselves because of how they strove to be Christ-like.”

The ministry garnered attention after being featured on Eternal Word Television Network’s teen show Life on the Rock. Today Dead Theologians Society has expanded to 215 parishes across the United States.

The structure is similar for each chapter. The apostolate encourages parishes to create a prayerful sensory-filled atmosphere for each weekly or bi-weekly parish-based meeting. The meetings last two hours, beginning and ending with fellowship and food. In between students receive a teaching on a saint, pray intercessory prayers, learn about a mystery from the rosary and pray one decade.

While parents aren’t directly involved in the meetings, they do help prepare food and are encouraged to pray for the success of the ministry before the blessed sacrament.

There is a $500 startup cost for each chapter that includes the rights to use the name, a leader’s manual, access to the online database of teachings for more than 70 saints, seven hoodies with the group logo, seven olive wood rosaries made in Bethlehem exclusively for the group, promotional posters and a monthly e-mail newsletter.

Cotter said he’s witnessed one in six young members pursue a religious vocation.

“They are following the footsteps of their heroes (who) blow the roofs off of pop icons.”

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