Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies | Online Pastoral Degree - St. Bernard's

Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies

The Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) seeks to provide students with a dynamic combination of theological and ministerial formation, which prepares them to offer an engaging, well-formed witness to the world. It is designed for those who wish to serve the Church as a lay ecclesial minister; those who wish to work in faith formation, religious education, catechesis, and other parish-based ministries frequently enroll in this degree program. Students can complete this degree in pastoral studies online or on campus.

The Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies degree is also used as the basis for the intellectual formation for our permanent diaconate program, which allows a diocese to customize this degree with specified electives and program completion timelines to meet their formational needs.

Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies Program Outcomes

A student who successfully completes the MAPS can expect:

  • To demonstrate an understanding of the sources of Catholic theology
  • To evaluate contemporary beliefs, assumptions, and societal issues in light of the Catholic intellectual tradition
  • To integrate theological reflection, spiritual development, and ministerial practice;
  • To evidence skills conducive to effective ministry

Program Overview

15 courses (45 credits)

  • Foundational Courses
    • C215 – Introduction to Theological Studies
    • D214 – Spiritual Formation
  • Area A: Biblical Theology
    • A202 – Old Testament
    • A203 – New Testament
  • Area B: Historical Theology
    • B Area Elective

  • Area C: Systematic Theology
    • C217 Fundamental Moral Theology
    • C226 Liturgical and Sacramental Theology
    • C228 Ecclesiology and the Theology of Ministry
    • C302 Christology and Trinitarian Theology

  • Area D: Pastoral Theology
    • D207 Canon Law and Ministerial Leadership
    • D217 Pastoral Care
    • D302 Pastoral Field Education
    • D-Area Elective

  • General Electives
    • General Elective I
    • General Elective II


  • A202 Old Testament
    A general introduction to the social history, content and theological themes of the Hebrew Scriptures. A basic orientation to methods of biblical study.
  • A203 New Testament
    An introduction to the history and literature of the Christian movement in the first and second centuries with particular attention to the New Testament in regards to literary components, composition facets, theological themes, and interpretive principles.
  • C215 Introduction to Theological Studies
    This course orients students to the various aspects of theological studies and the way theology functions in a faith community. Key issues such as faith, revelation, scripture, tradition, human experience, and worship are explored with an eye to how they are integrated into the entire discipline of theology. The course aims at helping the student develop a framework in which to understand how one engages in critical theological reflection in light of human experience in general and pastoral/ministerial life in particular.
  • C217 Fundamental Moral Theology
    Introduction to the fields of moral theology and Catholic Social Thought: their purpose in the life of the Church, their methods, and their problems. The content of the course is a thorough treatment of methodological issues rather than analysis of specific moral or social dilemmas, though specific issues and cases are used for purposes of illustration and assisting students in developing skills of application to practical situations. Among the topics to be addressed: sin and conversion, moral growth and development, sources of moral wisdom, methods of moral decision making, conscience and discernment, and the development of Catholic Social Thought.
  • C226 Liturgical and Sacramental Theology
    An historical, anthropological and theological investigation of Christian worship and sacrament with special attention to the Roman Catholic Sacraments of baptism and Eucharist; historical overview of liturgical practices, texts, and theology from Jewish and scriptural origins to the 20th-century Vatican II reforms; basic principles of liturgical and sacramental theology; and groundwork for interpreting liturgical documents and ritual texts from pastoral practice, multi/inter-cultural concerns, and ecumenical considerations.
  • C228 Ecclesiology and the Theology of Ministry
    Historical and theological overview of the Christian understanding of church and ministry, with the Second Vatican Council (especially Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes) as primary points of reference. While the western and Roman Catholic context is central to the presentation, global and ecumenical considerations characterize the treatment of such topics as diversity in the early church(es)’s understanding of its mission, the development of ecclesial structures within their historical and cultural contexts, centralization to the papacy and the magisterium, the church as local/universal, the priesthood of the faithful, ecumenical dialogue, and the origin, function, and evolution of ordained and lay ministries.
  • C302 Christology and Trinitarian Theology
    This course examines and explores the nature of the Christian God as unity and Trinity. It focuses on God’s reality as creator, as redeemer in the person of Jesus who we proclaim the Christ, and as unifier and advocate in the person of the Spirit. Since the very nature of God implies “communion,” the social implications of the Trinity are a focal point for this course. Other contemporary questions pertaining to the historical Jesus, God-language, suffering, liberation, and cultural diversity are explored as well.
  • D207 Canon Law and Ministerial Leadership
    An introduction to Canon Law, especially as applicable to parish ministry. A particular focus will be given to the canon law of marriage. In addition to a brief summary of the history and development of Canon Law, and a brief survey of the structure of the Roman Curia, an overview will be given according to the organization of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: I. General Norms (canons 1–203); II. The People of God (canons 204–755); III. The Teaching Function of the Church (canons 756–833); IV. The Sanctifying Function of the Church (canons 834–1258); V. The Temporal Goods of the Church (canons 1259–1310); VI. Sanctions in the Church (canons 1311–1399)VII. Processes (1400–1752).
  • D214 Spiritual Formation
    This course provides a broad introduction to the ways in which people appropriate the mystery of faith, the process entailed in that appropriation, and overview of the history of that process and the types of experiences which have emerged in that history. Students can achieve reflective understanding of their own practice, develop it more consciously and be enabled to appreciate and assist others in this area of ministry.
  • D217 Pastoral Care I
    This course is designed as a beginning course in understanding the basic principles and methods of pastoral care. It will focus on a theoretical background and is complemented by actual, practical experiences in pastoral listening as part of dyads and working groups.
  • D302 Field Education
    This course is a supervised field experience that introduces students to particular pastoral settings in order to provide them with an opportunity to critically reflect on the minister they are becoming. The experience consists of three components: participation in supervised ministry, theological reflection, and evaluation.

A student can take any of the above courses for the pastoral studies degree online or on campus. A complete list of Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies Electives can be found here.

Frequently Asked Questions:

"I had the privilege of attending St. Bernard's, where I earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies in preparation for ordination to the permanent diaconate. St. Bernard's offers an amazing curriculum firmly grounded in the Roman Catholic intellectual tradition. I highly recommend studying at St. Bernard's to enhance your faith, knowledge, and ministry."

- Deacon James Agnew, MAPS, Class of 2022