St. Mary’s University is launching a new degree program in Social Justice and Catholic Studies. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

St. Mary’s University mixes Catholic studies and social justice in new program

  • February 28, 2019

For Caroline Burns, the search is over. She has finally found a university program that will instruct her Catholic faith and provide a degree in a field of interest.

Next fall, Burns will be in the inaugural class when St. Mary’s University in Calgary launches a new Social Justice and Catholic Studies degree program. The program combines instruction on the history and tradition of Catholicism with courses on the significant social justice issues facing the world today. 

“It’s kind of just exactly what I’m looking for in a degree,” said Burns, a second-year psychology student who will transfer into the new program next fall.

 “It seems like for the average person who wants to take Catholic studies in university, it means that there would be no real world application. But this degree connects it to the real world with the social justice aspect.”

The program, which expects a modest enrolment of 10 students next fall, is divided into two streams. 

The social justice stream offers courses such as religious studies, philosophy and politics. The Catholic studies stream offers courses such as social justice in the Bible, Christian history and the Second Vatican Council. 

Students are also required to complete a core set of interdisciplinary courses such as Indigenous studies and a politics course on social justice. In the fourth year, students will have an opportunity for an internship at a company or organization of their choice. 

“It’s an identity program for us,” said Norman Knowles, St. Mary’s dean of arts and science and history professor. “It’s a program that embodies what we are about as an institution, in terms of upholding the Catholic intellectual tradition.”

Knowles has been at St. Mary’s since it was established in 1986. The university is known for its liberal arts, sciences and education programs. It has about 870 full-time and part-time students, with an average class size of 25. 

Knowles said the staff has been talking about starting a program like this since the very beginning.

“I’m most excited about finally seeing it up and running, students enrolled and then to see what they do with it,” he said. “To see how (the program) motivates them to get engaged in the community in the Church.”

Before coming to St. Mary’s, Burns looked at different Catholic studies programs in Canada and the United States. In the end, St. Mary’s won out because it was close to home. 

“It’s great to learn about your faith and dive into it so deeply but, ideally, I wanted to come out on the other side with (a degree) that I can use,” said Burns. “I figured the Catholic Studies minor was close enough to what I wanted. This new one is the perfect continuation of that.”

Associate professor Peter Baltutis said the program was created after studying other Catholic studies programs in North America. 

“We want to make this degree interesting and worthwhile, and give you a strong foundation in theology, but also give you that added dimension of making this degree practical and relevant,” he said.

Burns said she is most looking forward to her capstone year which requires at least 120 hours of internship work. 

“I know of a couple of people who are transferring into the program alongside me and we’re all just pretty on-fire Catholics who are looking forward to participating in this new program,” she said. “I know we’re all looking forward to coming out of it on the other side into real-world careers.”

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