Catholic Distance University (CDU) was awarded a grant of $879,000 from Lilly Endowment Inc. in support of a significant new educational effort that the university is developing.

Given its mission to educate the Catholic leaders of tomorrow, CDU is designing and launching a first of its kind higher education curriculum in Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The grant will fund a new bilingual English-Spanish AA degree program designed for Hispanic Catholics, who will make up the majority of the population of Catholics in the coming years, and a graduate certificate program. These new, affordable online offerings in CST will provide education to priests, deacons, and lay ecclesial ministers as they seek to serve their faith communities. For this reason, CDU also envisions the programs as a springboard to greater collaboration with Catholic dioceses.

CDU Board Chair Steve Pryor said, “Catholic Social Teaching is that body of teaching addressing human rights and responsibilities in society—beginning with the dignity of the human person and promotion of the family and extending to the global family—flowing from Jesus Christ’s ‘Great Commandment’ to love God, and to love one another as He has loved us.”

While the Catholic Church has a broad and deep teaching regarding social problems, Catholic pastoral leaders feel insufficiently knowledgeable when faced with the very real challenges of immigration, racism, poverty, and family breakdown.

Bishop Robert Barron, a great proponent of CST, according to Mr. Pryor, noted at a recent CDU gala dinner, “It (CST) is essential to the new evangelization and provides a lens through which to view the issues of our time more clearly.”  Continuing in his remarks, the bishop added that Catholic social teaching is “not just for us, it’s for the whole world. We need to propagate it, we need to teach it. We need to announce it from the rooftops.’”

CDU president Dr. Marianne Evans Mount affirms, “The University is well positioned to develop a new innovative CST curriculum to extend our reach to a growing underserved yet vital body of future Church leadership in Hispanic Catholics as well as to ordained and lay ministers.”

According to Dr. Mount, CDU’s new program is designed to do just that, by providing the clergy and laity the wisdom and insights needed to effectively address these issues at their local parish and ministry level.  There is great need in the Hispanic community to develop well-educated leaders for the Church of the 21st century. Understanding this need, CDU’s CST-focused, two-year online AA degree will help Hispanic Catholics achieve post-secondary education and provide a pipeline for future entry into seminaries, lay ecclesial ministries, and further academic study.

Recognizing the impact this new program could have on society both today and long into the future, The Lilly Endowment Pathway for Tomorrow Initiative awarded CDU the grant to fully launch the initiative.  This program from CDU speaks to the heart and focus of Lilly’s Endowment Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative: to prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges and prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations both now and into the future.