Education as Accompaniment: A New Model of Graduate Formation

Aug 10, 2021

Why should a student’s investment be limited to a few years?

The last twelve months have occasioned much reflection and discernment among the administration, faculty, and staff of St. Bernard’s. One of the basic questions asked has been, quite simply, what are our students looking for, and what do they need? The jarring disruption of the pandemic enabled us to both assess our usual answers to this question and look creatively beyond them. Our prayer, continual conversations with students, and constant dialogue with colleagues brought a new answer to our minds and hearts: students are looking for education and formation that lasts a lifetime – an education and formation that does not simply rely on the impact of the past, but provides a continually fresh experience of theological and ministerial learning.

Up to this point, St. Bernard’s educational model tracks the typical approach in graduate higher education: the student attends to their coursework intensively for a number of years, either on a full-time or part-time basis, and they graduate in hopes of continuously unfolding and implementing the education received throughout the remainder of their lives. That this model is successful is beyond dispute; at St. Bernard’s it has brought untold blessings to so many of our alumni.

Nevertheless, upon reflection it is remarkable that such a model does not attend concretely to continuing education and formation. Does education and formation stop at graduation? Certainly not! We hear many of our alumni lament at the absence of ongoing, structured study in their lives after graduation. For them, an ongoing accompaniment of theological education would be more useful than the current fine transitory model. Further, our alumni in the priesthood, the permanent diaconate, and lay ecclesial ministry all require ongoing formation in differing degrees, with a view towards the constant shaping of one’s life into the form of Christ. Many will piece together such an accompaniment of ongoing formation from a number of educational sources, text- or media-based. As excellent as these sources often are, they rarely reach the depth and breadth of engagement offered by a graduate course.

Finally, the very study of theology itself places an emphasis on dynamic accompaniment throughout life. Our patron, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, often reflected on theology as the continual pursuit of authentic, or complete knowledge of God (integre cognoscere): a knowledge of God that is driven by love, and a knowledge of God that leads to deeper love. Only by a continual exchange of love and knowledge throughout the duration of our lives will we run the race to final communion with God most effectively.

With this conviction in our hearts, the St. Bernard’s administration, faculty, and staff set out to discover how we might bring something new to our model of education and achieve our goal of providing continuing education and formation. We are thrilled and grateful to announce the path we have chosen to take towards the completion of this goal: every student who graduates with a Master’s degree from St. Bernard’s is automatically eligible to audit graduate courses for the remainder of their life, for only $55 each – an 85% discount.*

With this initiative in place, the expenses associated with a Master’s degree are no longer an investment that will bear fruit for a few concentrated years only; now, the upfront investment in theological education will provide formational accompaniment and enrichment throughout the entirety of one’s life. This is precisely the new model that we think our students want and need: matriculation into a graduate degree at St. Bernard’s now means lifelong access to an almost endless variety of structured theological and ministerial experiences, all with the characteristic breadth and depth of engagement our students have come to expect at St. Bernard’s.

Starting this Fall, the esteemed community of St. Bernard’s alumni will now be able to draw together to celebrate not just past courses, but present educational experiences as well. All general courses will be available to alumni as part of this initiative, both those electives that consider specific questions, topics, or contemporary concerns, and those core courses that address the heart of the Christian faith.*

Further, this initiative creates an organic pathway of continuing formation for our graduates that have become priests, permanent deacons, and lay ecclesial ministers. We are also delighted to extend this initiative not only to those who will graduate from this point forward, but also to all alumni of St. Bernard’s – anyone who has graduated with a Master’s degree, regardless of graduation year, is automatically eligible to audit graduate courses for the remainder of their life at the above discount.

It is our great hope that this initiative will foster an even more vigorous community of persons seeking to grow in knowledge and love of God together. We acknowledge that true Christian formation concludes only in our heavenly port, when we will safely arrive at full union with the triune God. If this is so, the conclusion of every course, of every degree, and of every learning experience can never really be an end – it is also the new and luminous beginning of more perfect knowledge and ever deeper love.

May the inauguration of this innovative model of education bring us all into deeper communion with the One Who sits upon the throne, the One Who “makes all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

[1] One audited course per academic year (Fall-Spring-Summer semesters); credit students will receive priority for in-person attendance when available.

[2] Excluded are a small percentage of our courses that are either addressed to specific populations or have registration based on the professor’s discretion.