Thesis Focuses on St. John Paul II’s Insights into the Christian Family

Elizabeth Gillson recently graduated from CDU with a Master of Arts degree in Theology. Her thesis, “Recalling God’s Design for the Family: A Review of John Paul II’s Theology of Family as Expressed in Familiaris Consortio,” has been
published in the Summer 2021 issue of Digital Continent.

Gillson shares insights from John Paul II on the Christian family. Professor Chris Padgett’s review exclaims, “In an age confused and often at odds with Catholic teachings of marriage and family, I found Gillson’s thesis an excellent reminder that the Catholic Church continues not only to uphold the integrity of its teachings in this critical area but also adapts them to meet modern challenges.” Enjoy reading her thesis at

Elizabeth and Michael, her husband of 25 years, are raising their 10 children in the Diocese of Arlington. She is pursuing a career in theological writing and research. You may also read her scripture reflections for youth at

Deacon with Fascinating Career History Joins CDU Faculty

At St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Permanent Deacon Rick Bauer delivers a powerful sermon on the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Christ. He challenges the widely held belief among many sitting in the pews today that the Eucharist is symbolic. He concludes, “How about it, Catholics? As it becomes more difficult to accept this teaching, more will walk away, because there will always be convenient, palatable substitutes for the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. As for me and my family, in the Communion line, when they say ‘The body and blood of Christ,’ I will say ‘Amen.’” To further make his point, he has prepared a two-page parish bulletin insert that supports the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist with passages from Scripture, the Catechism, and the words of the Fathers of the Church.

Deacon Rick Bauer recently joined CDU’s faculty and will teach SCRPT 210 Reading Scripture Theologically and SCRPT 520 Pentateuch. He holds a ThM in Hebrew Bible from Harvard University Divinity School, an MA in Biblical Theology from The Augustine Institute, an MSc degree in the Management of Technology from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA degree in English from the University of Florida.

Deacon Rick is also a published author of three books, a technologist, and a member of the Permanent Diaconate Formation Program teaching faculty for the Diocese of Colorado Springs, where he has taught since his ordination in 2011, preparing groups of men–and their wives–for the challenges of being an ordained servant of Christ.  He currently serves as the review editor for The Colorado Catholic Herald as well.

A revert to the Catholic faith, Deacon Rick Bauer’s professional background includes stints as a Protestant minister in the Church of Christ, technology manager, consultant on cults for the FBI, and chief technology officer for the U.S. Presidential Inaugural Committee & Presidential Transition Team for President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney in 2000 and 2001. His career path—and faith life–have taken a long and circuitous path.

Deacon Rick was raised in a Catholic family and attended Catholic school halfway through high school, but he left the Church as an undergraduate at the University of Florida after being invited to an informal bible study. “I had accumulated a lot of ‘Catholic stuff’ but did not have it in any coherent form, nor could I recall anything much of value when I got to college,” he says. “I know what attracted me on campus to the evangelical Protestant outreach was their confidence in their biblical understanding (far more than mine), their friendliness and willingness to invite me to an informal bible study,” he says.

Though the bible study was billed as nondenominational, it turned out to be quite anti-Catholic. While he had serious questions about leaving the Faith and being baptized as a Protestant, there were no Catholic resources on campus for guidance, and he became a member of the Church of Christ.

“A lot of Catholics end up losing their faith in the first semester,” Deacon Rick says. “Most Catholics leave their faith from age 18-22, and only a few Catholics are really paying attention to this. That’s why my wife and I support the FOCUS outreach programs going on at many campuses in the United States, and here in the University of Colorado system,” he adds.

After graduating, he decided to forgo law school to join the Church of Christ ministry training program. The church was growing rapidly throughout the south, and he was offered a position as a campus minister at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Membership in the campus ministry swelled under his direction, but the rapid growth of the Church, lack of structure, and inexperience of the leaders led to splits in the church and disillusionment of the members. “Ignorance doesn’t scale very well,” he says.  He returned to the University of Florida to start a school of ministry and pursue a Master’s degree. Eventually, the leadership of the church in Gainesville became unaccountable, and Deacon Rick left for Boston to finish his Master’s degree in Hebrew bible at Harvard University’s Divinity School. At the time, he was still a minister in the church.

The more Deacon Rick studied and reflected on the bible at Harvard, the more he realized there were holes in Protestant theology and that the Old Testament didn’t need to be taken word for word as those in the evangelical movement believe.

But his renewal in the Catholic faith was ultimately driven by his realization that the Eucharist is truly the real presence of Christ; he remembered a wonderful experience he had had receiving Christ at Mass as a child. He resigned from his ministerial position in the Church of Christ, drawing ostracism and harassment from members. Toxic Christianity: The International Church of Christ/Boston Movement Cult, published in 1994, details his negative experiences in the movement. As a guest on EWTN’s The Journey Home, he tells the story of his return to the Catholic (the episode is available on YouTube).

After completing his degree at Harvard, he returned to Washington, D.C., to work as a technology manager in his father’s business and study at The Catholic University of America. One day in February 1993, he received a phone call. “It’s a strange call when the secretary says, ‘Mr. Bauer, FBI on line 2!’” he says. With a dangerous situation brewing at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the FBI had called Harvard University for advice on dealing with cults, and his professor had recommended him as a consultant.

While in Boston, Deacon Rick had spoken with his advisor, “a brilliant man who was helping with his faith transitions,” about how some of the same settings for apocalyptic conflict in the Hebrew Bible might also occur with millennial expectation at the turn of the century, so in the 1990s he studied groups that had a biblical veneer but were cultic.

The situation in Waco tuned into a violent 51-day standoff between members of the sect and federal agents, four of whom were killed. Two members of the sect were killed in the fighting, and then a fire swept through the compound. “We had been studying this very issue–a cult-like, violent group, apocalyptic mindset, yet with a biblical exterior,” Deacon Rick says. “It was very interesting, and I consulted without pay, but it unfortunately resulted in needless violence and the death of 76 Branch Davidians, including 25 children, two pregnant women, and David Koresh (aka Vernon Howell) himself.”

In the 1990s Deacon Rick served as executive director for several technology organizations. He was working as the chief information officer for a school in Philadelphia, when James Baker III, an alum, board member, and parent, invited him to serve as a chief technology officer for the U.S. Presidential Inaugural Committee & Presidential Transition Team for President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney in 2000 and 2001.

Given the Bush/Gore election issue and the brief time for presidential transition, the inauguration, and staffing, the new administration was cut by about 50%. “Since by then I had an IT background, they asked me to help out,” Deacon Rick says. “It was a wonderful feeling to watch a hotly contested election get resolved and a peaceful transition of power take place,” he adds. “It made me proud to be a citizen of our great country.”

Deacon Rick eventually took a technology job in Colorado, where he was formally accepted back into the Catholic Church after years of study and consideration. “I was told by a Jesuit priest, ‘you would make a pretty good deacon’ soon after I was formally accepted back into the Catholic Church,” he says. “With all the years I had served as a Protestant minister, it was encouraging to have a few men in my life feel that there was something ‘still left in the tank’ with regard to ministry or teaching.”

“I had to “unlearn” a lot of things in my 5-year formation process, but my preparation in the biblical languages and in biblical studies could find fruitfulness, which has been humbling,” he says.

From Our President

August 2021 has been noteworthy at CDU not only because of our 38th Anniversary on August 22nd, but in particular because of the press release issued by the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education on August 3rd: Vatican Releases Rules for Online Learning for Ecclesiastical Universities.

We at CDU knew that the Congregation for Catholic Education was preparing recommendations for Pope Francis regarding the use of distance education in ecclesiastical universities. During a brief visit to Rome in late November 2017, I met with Archbishop Zani and his staff to share our expertise in online teaching pedagogies and student support. I am sure that the continuing developments in distance learning at the Vatican reflect the positive contributions of CDU.

Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Constitution Veritatus Gaudium (December 8, 2017), reflects his commitment to educating the peripheries including prisoners, migrants, the homeless, monks and contemplative nuns, and even busy bishops. This echoes CDU’s mission to serve the underserved and to educate the hearts of those who serve them. Those of us privileged to work at CDU for many years have marveled at our inclusive learning community and the students who find their way to us. The first graduate degree awarded by CDU, around the Jubilee Year 2000, went to a French woman in Paris who uses a wheelchair for mobility and has since earned her doctorate. CDU has awarded bachelor’s and master’s degrees to prison inmates through our correspondence curriculum and educated a number of contemplative nuns, brothers, and priests through our online MA degree program in Theology. Today we have a growing pastoral MA degree program for Catholic educators and directors of religious education that is offered completely online and in service to dioceses, especially the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Holy Spirit Institute.

In the words of Archbishop Zani, “There are many professionals who would like to acquire some theological, philosophical, or anthropological formation, and they are knocking on the doors of our institutions; we can’t ask them to attend like young students who are just beginning their academic journey.”

CDU is at home in the digital world. We congratulate our students and graduates who accepted the invitation to be pioneers with us in Catholic higher education. They reflect the power of CDU’s theological education that educates the human person with rigor and holistic formation, yet offers the freedom and flexibility that is essential today.

“Best for Vets” Recommends CDU

The Military Times “Best for Vets” list, the largest and most comprehensive ranking of colleges for military service members and veterans, helps them make important educational decisions. CDU made the list this year and is ranked
above The Catholic University of America and Mount St. Mary’s University in the
private, non-profit category. CDU is truly a great value!

Bishop Robert Barron Receives CDU’s Highest Honor

Bishop Robert Barron receives Founders Award at the 38th Gala. From left to right: CDU Chairman Stephen D. Pryor, President Dr. Marianne Evans Mount, Bishop Robert Barron, and Chancellor Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio.

The November 18th Gala offered supporters, graduates, faculty, staff, and students an opportunity to celebrate the university’s 38th year and to look toward its future. The Academic Convocation Mass, with principal celebrant University Chancellor Archbishop Timothy Broglio, included a graduation ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

The Gala program featured Bishop Robert Barron, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire, who received the Founders Award, CDU’s highest honor, for his use of the internet and social media to spread Christ’s teachings throughout the world. His work dovetails with CDU’s own mission to communicate the mind and heart of the church in a digital world. Watch the Gala program and Mass videos!

We look forward to celebrating with you in 2022!

Join us for a Free, Live Open House on August 17th!

Are you looking for a theology program that is 100% faithful to the Church, 100% online and easily fits into your busy schedule? Then sign up for  our Online Open House being held this Tuesday, August 17, at 7 p.m. (EDT).

This event will introduce you to our different theology degree and certificate programs so you can choose the right program for you.

You’ll also get:

  • A chance to hear from our admissions director, dean, director of student life, and professors about what sets CDU apart from other online universities.
  • An overview of several fascinating courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels that will introduce you to the
    study of theology.
  • Information on transferring credits, ensuring you a smooth transition into our program, and the opportunity to finally finish your undergraduate
  • An overview of the online Student Life Center, where you’ll obtain resources to help you successfully complete your degree.
  • Breakout sessions to ask our dean and professors questions.

Be sure to stick around until the end of the webinar, where you’ll have a chance to win free CDU gear and books by our professors!

The event will last about 40-50 minutes, and it’s completely free. Once you’re through, you’ll be well-positioned for an easy transition into one of our online theology degree programs.

Register Now!

Enjoy a presentation about The Genealogical Adam and Eve

CDU hosted Dr. Joshua Swamidass, a computational biologist at WUSTL, to present his book “The Genealogical Adam and Eve” to the CDU faculty. The book argues that it is quite consistent with human genealogy that all people alive in the world today or even in first century Palestine descended from a single couple. Swamidass asks provocatively if and how the Church can present that story alongside the conventional biological story of human evolution that took place over millions of years. Responses to his book were delivered by two members of the CDU faculty: Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio and Dr. Cathy Gara.

Watch it here!

From Our President

The 2020 Annual Report tells a profound and inspiring story of the CDU Community, a mission-focused, pioneering educational venture that most recently demonstrated its worth in response to the worldwide pandemic. While most of higher education responded in panic-mode, CDU continued doing what we do so well every day, as we are experts in the pedagogy of online education. Our colleagues at the International Federation of Catholic Universities reached out to us at the beginning of the pandemic to ask that we teach international faculty how to teach online. We are continuing that service into the future.

We understand the richness of theological education in our world of contemplative conversations and digital imagery that draws our students into the beauty of the Church’s 2,000-year history of art, music, culture, and writings. We also have a global footprint as the premier Catholic online educational institution of worldwide service and international charity at a moment’s notice wherever we are needed.

What inspired me especially about the Annual Report this year was the glimpse it gives into the unity of our communal dedication to our mission so united to the Church’s mission of the new evangelization.

Our mission, handed on from Jesus himself, embodies our community. Trustees like Dr. Joe Braddock never grew weary of inspiring us to find the gaps in Catholic higher education that CDU could fill. The Annual Report documents the effective transition of leadership from Dr. Charles Wasaff to our new Board Chair Stephen Pryor, as well as the quality and dedication of our faculty, the hard work of our staff, and the achievements of our graduates. The CDU community lives out education of the mind and heart.

Our Annual Report enables us to reflect more deeply on the story of our donors, who generously share in this mission. We know so well how many worthy organizations and activities deserve financial support. However, the value of our mission is deeper and perhaps more lasting as we feed the mind and heart of each student who in turn becomes a passionate disciple eager to give back and share the joy that comes from the gift of a CDU education.

A very significant milestone for us is the retirement of Sister Mary Margaret Ann Schlather, SND, who on June 30 will bid farewell to her position as Dean of Catechetical Programs and Accreditation Liaison Officer. She has been a rock and source of wisdom and strength to all of us who have been privileged to work with her for many years. Our students have a deep affection for her because of her devotion to them through a commitment of personal communication to each one of them and the respect she has garnered from many dioceses who have worked with her to bring a CDU education to their catechists and lay leaders. Sister Margaret Ann embodies the institutional values of CDU, and she will be a part of our institutional history as a gift of self to a mission that brings transformation and joy. Sister and I share a deep, personal friendship. Her return to her Provincial Home in Chardon, Ohio, will keep me connected to my own family in Ohio and keep us connected to our roots with the Sisters of Notre Dame. Let us all pray in gratitude for the exemplary life of Sister Mary Margaret Ann Schlather, SND, who found her inspiration in the truth and call of CDU’s mission.

Professor Bonagura Publishes Second Book

Undergraduate Theology professor David Bonagura, Jr., has published a new book: Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God’s Plan of Salvation, which explains the mystery of the Church and why we need her to encounter Christ in light of contemporary challenges. This book is a reassurance for readers that the Church’s ultimate mission remains to aid sinners in the achievement of salvation, in spite of, and despite, the frailty of its members and leaders alike.

Professor Bonagura was inspired to write the book in 2018, after the revelation of a new wave of scandals within the Church hierarchy. “So many Catholics were angry, confused, and questioning how such things could happen in God’s Church,” he says. “These reactions are understandable—I shared them. But, if the Church is what we know in faith that she is—the Body of Christ, the temporal extension of the Incarnation—then there has to be more to her than the sins of her members.”

“I set out to explain what the Church is, why Christ founded her, and what her mission is in the hope that Catholics would understand that the Church is a great mystery, a collection of sinners ministering divine healing to sinners, that is worthy not only of our continued support, but our faithful love,” Professor Bonagura says.

The book can be ordered on Amazon or from Scepter Publishers.

Lilly Endowment Awards Initial Grant to CDU

The Lilly Endowment has launched an initiative to strengthen and sustain the capacities of theological schools to prepare and support pastoral leaders. The Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative is a multi-phase initiative open to ATS (Association of Theological Schools) accredited graduate schools including CDU.

The initial grant is non-competitive and awards schools $50,000 to research and conceptualize a proposal that will explore emerging challenges and opportunities, gain clarity about their mission in light of these challenges, assess the effectiveness of their educational strategies, and design and implement plans to make their institutions more effective and financially viable. Phase 2 grants are highly competitive and will award schools up to $1 million to fund initial implementation.

CDU has assembled a task force under the leadership of board trustee, Brian Corbin, Executive VP of Catholic Charities USA. The task force is exploring Pope Francis’ inspiring social encyclicals including (Laudato si, 2015, Fratteli tutti, 2020) and popular writings (Let us Dream, 2020) and his emphasis on the Gospel message of responding to the needs of the underserved, the poor, marginalized, and most vulnerable members of our communities.

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