Todd Christopher Mesler, Jr., (at left) earned his BA in Theology in 2017 and is now working toward his MA (Theology) degree. A published composer of liturgical music, Todd serves as the director of music and youth ministry for Immaculate Conception Parish in Monroe, Missouri. “The study of theology has made all the difference in the world in my career,” Todd says. “As a music director, I am constantly planning and preparing music to go with the readings, interacting with the clergy and laity, and so much more. In my work as a youth minister, I am always on call to answer any and all questions I can about the faith. Both positions call for me to rooted deeply in my faith with the knowledge and understanding to ground me.” “CDU offers a learning experience unlike any other,” Todd says. “The university, while global, still offers a feel of closeness and connectedness to all of the students, faculty, and staff. I leave each class with a good relationship with the teachers and my fellow classmates. The material is amazing, and the learning platform is very user friendly! Every teacher has been extremely helpful, kind, and truly Christ-like. I feel very blessed to be a part of the CDU community and to study here.” “Immaculate Conception Parish is a faith-filled community fervent in prayer and devotion to Our Mother,” Todd says. His typical work day can include playing music and singing at Mass, preparing music for the liturgies, running rehearsals, planning events and meetings, and interacting with a multitude of people involved in the ministry. As youth minister, Todd leads teens in faith formation through Mass, Life Nights, Edge Nights, and service and social activities that are organized by a group of dedicated and faithful adults. “The theology that I’ve learned from CDU so far has made an immense difference,” he says. Todd, who has been composing liturgical music for 12 years, got his start after beginning to play music at Mass. “I began to feel the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write music for the Church and began writing music for psalm settings to be used at daily Mass, and it grew from there,” he says. Todd found that writing music became part of a special relationship and prayer. “It continually called me to reach beyond myself and deeply study and pray on the words,” he adds. When asked what led him to study theology, Todd says, “I’ve always had a desire to learn about our faith, however it wasn’t until after I read Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, that I decided to follow and pursue that calling. St. Therese’s little way truly taught me the importance of giving myself fully to God in all that I do, especially through my music, relationships, schooling, and work.”
Doug Spriggs, a dedicated English teacher and high school football coach who is also involved in local parish ministry, has been accepted into a PhD program at the United States Sports Academy for Sports Management. Through his sports career, Doug became a campus minister at the University of Arkansas and a leader in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. His education in the MA (Theology) program has benefited his professional life. In public schools, Doug strives to ensure that the English curriculum eliminates bias against Christian denominations, literature, and the Catholic Church, and his theological education allows him to refute many philosophical ideologies used to defend unethical behaviors and unfair treatment of student populations. “The fidelity of my studies within the Catholic Faith guides all of my decisions as I advance my career outside of the Church,” Doug says. “My rigorous study at CDU prepared me to succeed on a higher level. I am now seeking employment at the collegiate level as an athletic director.” Doug’s education in the PhD program at the United States Sports Academy for Sports Management will help prepare him for the career transition. Doug sees the impact his MA degree has in the secular world and is eager to effect a profound change within the growing world of collegiate sports. His graduate experience at CDU helps guide his life in a manner that is grounded in faith. He hopes that this combination of studies will inspire the next generation of Catholics to expand their notions of “vocation” and fulfill God’s calling in their lives.
Daniel Colón earned his BA degree summa cum laude this year. He is an information technology professional and also serves as a coordinator of religious education at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Palmyra, PA. Daniel attended two other institutions and switched his field of study several times before settling on theology at CDU. “In 1986 I began attending Sacred Heart University in Santurce, Puerto Rico. I was majoring in telecommunication (radio and TV), however after two years I realized it wasn't what I wanted to do. I changed my major to psychology because I always felt drawn to help to others in some way, so psychology seemed like a good bet,” he says. “Unfortunately, due to life's circumstances, I had to drop out with a year and a half left to complete the BA.” Some years later, Daniel attended a computer technical school. After obtaining a certificate and various IT certifications, he began his career in the IT field. “About 6 years ago, I ran across CDU's BA completion program and thought, ‘what a great way to learn more about my faith and complete my degree,’” he says. “I have always been driven to help, teach, and mentor others. A degree in theology sounded like a great way to be more helpful and effective when talking to others about my faith.” Daniel found the asynchronous online classes very convenient. “They also allow for more meaningful conversations as students have the chance to develop a thought through and then share with the class,” he adds. Though Daniel was raised Catholic, he left the Church for a time. “In my late teens I got involved with a Pentecostal church, and I had an encounter with Christ,” he says. People from the church were very welcoming, and they helped Daniel to get involved in youth ministry, music ministry, and increase his knowledge of Scripture. Looking back, Daniel says, he was drawn away from the [Catholic] Church by the lure of novelty and the rush of excitement from more charismatic religious practices. “I guess you can say I didn't leave the [Catholic] Church all at once but rather slowly trickled away,” he says. “I know now that the reason I walked away is because I did not understand nor appreciate the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I thought I had found Jesus, yet he was there in the tabernacle at my parish the whole time. This is why as a religious educator, I try to focus on the Eucharist to help students understand that they will not find the Eucharist anywhere else but in the Catholic Church.” He advises young people who may be thinking of leaving the Church to get involved in their parish and find ways to participate in youth ministry, altar serving, or volunteering. “This is especially true for Confirmation students,” he says. “I always remind them that confirmation is not graduation and that it is a beginning rather that an end. Teens considering leaving the Church should remember that God loves them, and He will never tire of reaching out in love to draw them back.” After many years the Holy Spirit moved Daniel to return to the Church, and that is when he discovered CDU. “I responded to this call with an intense feeling that God was preparing me for something,” he says. “I had an insatiable desire to study Church history, theology, and teaching, and the more I studied, the more I wanted. So I took the next natural step, which was to pursue a theology degree.” Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio was Daniel’s favorite professor. “I took 2 classes with him, and he is wonderful. THEO 503 The Catholic Theological Tradition was a fantastic course. His method of teaching and delivery is very conducive to great board discussions, and he is extremely knowledgeable,” he says. Daniel developed a good rapport with a few of his fellow classmates, sharing notes and having great discussions. “In general, I found students at CDU a very cordial and smart. It was great reading their stories and comments,” he says. As coordinator of religious education, Daniel helps prepare children to receive the sacraments, assists with the RCIA process, teaches classes, helps to coordinate adult Bible studies, and serves as a premarital marriage mentor along with his wife, to whom he has been married for 29 years. They have two daughters and two sons. Though being a coordinator of religious education is very rewarding, there are many challenges, one of which is avoiding discouragement, he explains. “It breaks my heart when a 14-year-old receives Confirmation and then we never see them again,” Daniel says. “This has been a source of frustration and pain. However, I remind myself that God is in control, and I must trust the Holy Spirit. It is not about me but about what God is doing in the life of that young person. If we have done a good job laying a solid foundation, I trust that they will come back." Another challenge is getting parents and families involved in the religious formation of their children. “Far too often, I notice parents dropping off their kids in the parking lot without setting a foot in the church or going to Mass. I think parents are missing the boat when they do that,” he says. “God has a plan for everyone,” Daniel says. “If you had told me 5 years ago that I would have a degree in theology and be coordinator of religious education for a church I would have laughed. You never know where God is going to take you, and He usually takes you in directions that are neither comfortable nor easy but are filled with blessings and rewards. We must listen to the voice of God and prayerfully allow the Holy Spirit to complete his work in us; only then can we be truly fulfilled and happy.” Recently, Daniel was asked to speak to a group about Lent. “Five years ago no one really cared what I had to say about anything, and now I get invited to speak. God is good!” Daniel says. “In only a couple of years, I have gone from a life of little to no involvement in church and community to a life of service to others and sharer of the good news of Christ. I am truly blessed. To God be all the glory!”
Raymond Clement of Jalan Novena Utara, Singapore, works as an in-house counsel for a bank. In late 2018 he earned his MA degree in Theology. “I decided to study theology after experiencing a nagging feeling for a number of years that I was not plumbing the inexhaustible richness of the Catholic Faith,” Raymond says. “I also felt a keen awareness that in order to engage intelligently in the culture wars that are shaping the times we live in, I needed to be equipped with the right tools.” He chose CDU primarily due to its completely online teaching format. “Other universities I came across uniformly had a residency requirement that I would have found difficult to fulfill,” he says. “CDU’s faithfulness to the Magisterium and the quality of its faculty were also important considerations.” Despite working in banking—a field seemingly unrelated to theology--Raymond finds his degree useful in his work. “My knowledge of theology has helped me to see my work in a different light and shown me more opportunities to practice my faith in the workplace,” he says. Raymond took a break from volunteering at church while studying at CDU but intends to begin again now that he has completed his degree program. In the past he has led a church choir and advised churches on legal matters. “Church attendance in Singapore is high, and there is a deep hunger for God’s Word,” he says. “I hope to help in a small way to fulfil this need after having completed my studies at CDU.” What Raymond enjoyed most about his experience at CDU was the sense of belonging to a Catholic community and the passion he developed for sharing the Faith with others.
Mary Kate Budd, pictured with her fiancé, Jason, recently completed her AA degree in Liberal Arts while working full-time for the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. “CDU gave me a chance that I didn’t think I would have at first--a chance to study theology online in a way that would be easy for me as a working young adult,” she says. With a passion for youth ministry, Mary Kate looks forward to using her education to share with young people the beauty of having a relationship with Jesus. “I can’t wait to use the tools that I have gained from CDU to accomplish what Christ is calling me to,” she says. Mary Kate attended Franciscan University at Steubenville at first, where she planned to major in English for a career in education. While she loved the university, it was expensive. To avoid being saddled with student loan debt, she decided not to return following freshman year and switched to a community college near home. One day her brother suggested that she should look into studying theology. “It was then that a light bulb went on in my head,” she says. “Why in the world had I never considered that before?” Mary Kate found the major to be a perfect fit. Knowing she would have to pursue her education online because she was working full time, she began researching programs. “Eventually, I stumbled upon Catholic Distance University, read the entire website, and applied that very same night. It was with joy that I found out a few weeks later that I had been accepted and that a lot of my credits had also transferred,” she says. “I liked how helpful the professors were and how concerned they were for their students,” Mary Kate says. “I also enjoyed the interactions I had with my fellow classmates. Every class started with an introduction, and it was so interesting to read about all the different classmates I had, where they came from, and all the different walks of life they came from as well.” Kathy Vestermark, her first professor at CDU, was her favorite. She teaches THEO 101 and THEO 102, which cover the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Professor Vestermark was always ready to help, and studying under her was such a pleasure,” Mary Kate says. “We were truly able to dive into the beauties of theology in those classes, and she did such a wonderful job presenting the Catechism to us.” Mary Kate grew up in a strong, close-knit, faith-filled Catholic family as the youngest of six children. “Growing up, my mom would take us all to Mass every day and to Perpetual Adoration at least once a week. I grew up learning through the Baltimore Catechism and reading books about the Saints. The Faith was just a part of our daily lives,” she says. As she grew older, the Faith fascinated her, and she wanted to learn more. “My Confirmation in 2007 at the age of 14 was such a joyful moment, and it spurred me on to continue learning,” she says. “When I came back home from Franciscan, I knew I was going to need to find a community of young Catholics to back me up after losing the community I had while away at college,” Mary Kate says. She joined a Catholic youth group at a local state university as well as a young adult group in her diocese that her sister had founded. The groups were great for helping her grow in her faith and providing community, but they were small, and it was hard to gain traction and the attention of Catholic young people. Going to Mass on any given Sunday she noticed high attendance among older people but few young people. “This broke my heart, and I knew something needed to change,” she says. “I wanted to show other young Catholics not only how fun our groups were, but how beautiful the Catholic Faith was, and the love that can only come from a relationship that has to constantly be growing with Christ.” “Through the two young adult groups I met my future husband, Jason,” Mary Kate says. He was in seminary at the time, but in early 2017, he announced that he would no longer be studying for the priesthood. “This sounds funny, but I was a bit disappointed! I thought he would make a great priest,” she says. After a while, they began dating. He proposed to her in the Adoration chapel she had routinely visited as a child. “I, of course, said yes,” she says. Their wedding is scheduled for June, and they look forward to having a family someday. “After our marriage, I hope to be able to find a job in youth ministry in our area if I can and to keep learning and studying on my own the Catholic Faith. I hope to also enter the BA program at CDU at some point to earn my Bachelor’s degree in theology,” she says. “But my biggest plan is, and will remain, God willing, that I will be able to help young people come to know, love, and serve God in this life, so to be happy with Him in the next.”
Graduate student Andrew Toscano of Brooklyn, NY, works for Quality Services for the Autism Community (QSAC), which serves New York City and Long Island. As a Family Support Services Coordinator, he helps families obtain eligibility and the necessary funding to access services from New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. “As everything I do in some way helps the individual and his/her family, the most rewarding part for me is helping all of the people I work with to become as independent as possible,” Andrew says. Though he already held a J.D. degree from New York Law School, Andrew earned an M.S. in Special Education and Teaching from Mercy College in 2011. He attributes the change in career path to an eventful life and divine providence. “God allowed me to freely make decisions and brought me people who led me to my current position both professionally and personally,” he explains. “I decided that I wanted to help those in most need and chose a career working with the mentally and developmentally disabled,” Andrew says. “My JD was useful for several years (and still is), but the MS in Special Education was the degree I felt would be most useful in a variety of positions.” Andrew student taught middle school for a semester and planned to teach special education, but a chance meeting on the subway led him to work with disabled adults in a different capacity. “I had a conversation with a woman who mentioned that there was a position open at an agency. I decided to follow up, was offered the position, and thus began my work with disabled adults,” he says. Andrew and his wife, Margrett, both lector and teach RCIA at All Saints Roman Catholic Parish in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Both are pursuing graduate theology study at CDU, which the Diocese of Brooklyn generously funds for those working in ministries with in the diocese. Andrew says they are both grateful to the Diocese for making Catholic higher education possible through CDU for those who serve the diocese’s parishes. The Diocese of Brooklyn is the nation’s fifth most populous, serving 1.5 million Catholics and spanning a 179-square mile area. “My wife and I both wish to become DREs and work full time with the Diocese, and this program so far is exceeding our expectations. The online aspect is the biggest asset for us as we both work full time and it allows us to obtain a quality education without affecting our employment and exhausting us with physical classes,” he says. “We are very happy to be with CDU,” Andrew says. “In addition to the online aspect, the professionalism and enthusiasm of the CDU team is refreshing. We also feel comfortable because CDU seems to believe in authentic Catholic teaching without some of the abuses we have seen in other ‘Catholic colleges.’” he adds.
Katlyn Lawler, who recently earned her BA in Theology, was promoted to Director of Religious Education at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Lake Ridge, Virginia, where she has worked for several years and been a parishioner for most of her life. Katlyn recently married and lives with her husband Benjamin, pictured here, and puppy in Woodbridge, Virginia. She was raised in a large family of nine who have always encouraged her to obtain her dreams. “Catholic Distance University did not just prepare me for my job but gave me an opportunity to grow in my Faith with a wonderful community of classmates and professors,” Katlyn says. “I am so grateful for my time at CDU and cannot wait to share what I have learned with my family, Parish community, and all those I encounter in my lifetime.” Katlyn began serving as a catechist aide for the church’s religious education program in middle school and continued to volunteer as an aide, catechist, and retreat leader through high school. While in college, she was offered a job as the Administrative Assistant for the Director of Religious Education for Middle School and Confirmation Prep. “Three years later,” she says, “I have graduated from CDU with a Bachelor's in Theology and have been promoted to work as the Director of Religious Education. It has been a great journey, and I love working with the youth of the parish.” As DRE, Katlyn is responsible for kindergarten through eighth grade religious education classes and sacramental preparation programs for Penance, Eucharist, and Confirmation. “My degree in Theology will not only help me as the Director of Religious Education but also as a Catholic Christian living in the world,” she says. “I am able to better dialogue with my family, help others, grow in my own spiritual journey, and share my Faith more beautifully. No matter where God takes me and my husband, I will be able to use my degree in my career, in my home, and in the world.” Katlyn attended Catholic schools her entire life, and the Faith has always been important to her. “Since middle school, I have felt called to work for Christ's Church, and my heart was always pulled toward teaching,” she says. Before leaving high school, Katlyn thought she was being called to nursing. She entered college and began to pursue a degree in that field but found that her heart was not in nursing. “After praying and discerning, I knew I was being called to teach, to pursue a degree in Theology,” she says. “I began looking for colleges and saw CDU advertised in my parish bulletin, and I checked it out. I was so excited to find a school that would allow me to continue working since I was paying for school myself. I was absolutely thrilled to be accepted and enroll in CDU.” “I love CDU and would recommend it to everyone,” Katlyn says. “It has been a blessing to be a part of the school community, and the ability to work on my courses at home or during my lunch break at work was the best. I loved being able to open up about my Faith and the Catholic Church with my peers and professors,” she adds. “My biggest takeaway from my education at CDU is the ability to dive deeper into the Catholic Church and the life of God,” Katlyn says. “We cannot just scratch the surface our entire lives; we would miss the true beauty of God. CDU challenged me to go deeper and seek God in a more intimate way. I cannot express how grateful I am to CDU and the staff who journeyed with me during this part of my spiritual and educational journey.”
MA (Theology) alumnus Deacon Gerard-Marie Anthony is an, author, apologist, and religion/bioethics teacher. He was ordained a deacon for the Diocese of Arlington in January 2017 and also serves as a member of the diocese’s Black Catholic Ministries and Evangelization Board. “I'm proud to be a CDU alumni!” says Deacon Anthony, who earned his CDU degree in 2009. “My degree in theology has helped me tremendously both as a professional and as a deacon.” Since then Deacon Anthony has earned his Virginia Catholic Education Teaching Certification through George Mason University, taught religion and bioethics at John Paul the Great High School, and has served as a professor for Christ the Teacher College. He is now taking a break from teaching to pursue a counseling degree at Divine Mercy University. The flexibility of CDU and the quality of classes are what Deacon Anthony enjoyed most about CDU. “I wanted a good quality program that would allow me to grow, challenge me to know more about God, and allow me the flexibility to study and work,” he says. “I use what I learned from my Master's programs to teach theology at my parish assignments,” he says. “I have taught on topics ranging from Books of the Bible, the Mission of Jesus, to Humanae Vitae and the diaconate. The [CDU] class on the vocation of the laity helped me to see how to motivate the laity to take up their role of apostolate in the Church,” he says. “And of course, my theology degree helps me tremendously with homilies.” Deacon Anthony has written many articles and books, including Who Am I: The Theology of the Body in Prayer and has contributed to Lay Witness, Immaculate Heart Messenger, and Spirituality Today magazines, and is a frequent contributor to Catechist and The Josephite Harvest magazines and blogs at CatholicMatch.com. He has also been a guest on EWTN radio shows on numerous occasions with appearances on Catholic Connection and the SonRise Morning Show and has appeared as a special guest on the EWTN television show The Church Universal. He has worked with teens for over 15 years and frequently gives talks for people of all ages including teens at Confirmation retreats, adults seeking faith education, and young adults. “The thing that I enjoy the most about teaching is seeing how the knowledge that you impart can bring people closer to truth, thus improving their lives and helping the student to better him or herself,” he says. Because he thinks theologically, Deacon Anthony says, “I see in this the power of the Word, and it reminds me of the importance of being disciples of Christ and letting His Word guide our lives as a teacher helps guide a student.” Deacon Anthony is a longtime member of the world’s largest lay apostolic organization, the Legion of Mary. He says, “The things that led me to pursue the diaconate were a love for helping people, that is, service, people telling me I should be a deacon, prayer, and the Legion of Mary, which promoted an active participation in the service of others under the guidance of the Church.” Deacon Anthony runs an apologetics website at gmarieforG-O-D.com in his spare time.
MA (Theology) student Father Captain Joseph W. Reffner, a Chaplain in the US Army, was ordained a Catholic priest for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter in Houston, Texas, on May 31, 2018. Father Reffner, who was an Anglican priest prior to his ordination in the Catholic Church, is married and has five children with his wife. He converted to Catholicism in 2011 after many years of discernment. Bishop Steven J. Lopes, Bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, conducted the ceremony, and Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, and Chancellor of CDU, concelebrated the ordination Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham. Father Reffner was raised as an Evangelical Protestant in Pennsylvania and felt a call to ministry in 2004. “I started to realize I had a heart for ministry when I was an Infantry officer about 15 years ago,” he says. “Soldiers would express personal things to me and look for guidance and counsel. I think they knew I was religious, was approachable, and they were looking for answers. I realized that I really wanted to help these men, but I could only help so much before having them seek the Chaplain,” he says. “I didn’t have the experience or wisdom, plus I needed to focus on mission and training. It really opened up the discernment process to pursue full-time ministry.” Father Reffner entered a Protestant seminary, and after taking a Systematic Theology course, became Anglican. He later became a deacon and then a priest in the Anglican Church. Over the years the richness of Catholicism appealed to him, and during his discernment he developed a great love and devotion for the Eucharist. Father Reffner’s wife converted to Catholicism in 2012. Father Reffner wanted to pursue the Catholic priesthood but was concerned about how he would be received as a married Catholic priest. After lots of prayer, discernment, and conversations with deacons, priests, and lay people, he decided to move forward. He says both parishioners and priests have been supportive, open, and loving, and there has been no negativity from anyone. As an Active Duty Army Chaplain, Father Reffner’s focus is on the men and women who currently serve or have served in uniform along with their families. He serves the military community at the chapels on post and the unit where he is assigned. His garrison is Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington state. “There is also always the possibility of getting deployed to another country or a field training exercise that lasts several days to months,” Father Reffner says. “The important thing is to be where the Soldiers are by providing ministry, counseling, advising the Commander and staff on various issues such as religious area analysis that may affect the mission, morale, moral implications of a decision, resiliency, etc.” When asked how he balances his roles as a military chaplain, priest, husband, and father, Father Reffner says, “First, I think it comes from the call to holiness from Jesus. As Pope Francis recently said in Guadete Et Exsultate, ‘A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness.’” “My mission is as a priest and husband, and since I have received the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony in which Christ is present, I need to ensure I don’t get in the way of Christ or use him as an excuse to put myself against one over the other. I’m no good as a priest if I abandon my family, and I’m not a good man of integrity if I put off my duties and dignities as a priest,” he says. “Yes, there is tension, but I find my inspiration and reflection in my devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” “Second, is manage expectations,” Father Reffner says. “There is a balance, and it has to be communicated to the chapel staff, the unit, and the family. There are many late nights and weekends away from the family in the military. The best is knowing that there are other priests who are there to help cover when I may be gone on retreat or vice a versa. The beauty of having other devoted Catholic priests and lay faithful is knowing it’s not about me and doesn’t depend entirely on me,” he says. Of CDU, Father Reffner says, “The faculty and staff express a true, lived-out Catholic faith. Several professors head their own apostolates or are active in others, and some teach at other Catholic institutions.” He loves the emphasis on St. Thomas Aquinas in CDU’s courses. “I dabbled with The Summa Theologiae to some extent while in a Protestant seminary, but CDU has really emphasized him and I have come to really enjoy him. It has actually helped me learn to listen to arguments better and form my thoughts with an understanding of how another might hear them,” he says. Last summer Father Reffner was in Syria taking Christology. “Some Soldiers and Airmen asked if I could start a weeknight study of some sort, and I agreed,” he says. “I was able to formulate a simple approach to Christology for them because I was taking the class at the time, and the notes and Scripture references where right there. The men and women loved it.” Given Father Reffner’s multiple roles, the flexibility of CDU has been important. “I have moved twice during my time at CDU and been deployed. I have been able to choose the classes that fit my situation the best. Plus, CDU is military friendly and very supportive. The professors have been very supportive in understanding my role in the Army.”
Denise Spivey, assistant principal at St. Anne and St. Jude Catholic School in Sumter, SC, recently earned her MA (Theology) with a concentration in Ecclesial Service. Born in Louisville, KY, she attended Catholic schools, joined the U.S. Air Force, and earned a B.S. at North Carolina Wesleyan College. After 26 years of honorable service, Denise retired from the military and began to pursue her passion: the study of theology. When asked what led her to theology, she says, “Well, the short answer is God.” Born Catholic, the only public schools she attended were kindergarten and college. “During my freshman year in college I learned about the Apocryphal books in the Bible. I had never heard of them. I guess the seed, the desire to know more, was planted then. Decades later, my husband and I talked for several years about pursuing our Masters Degrees. The seed came alive and I naturally chose theology,” she says. About a year into her studies, Denise--then a middle school religion teacher--accepted the full-time position of assistant principal. Understanding theology has given her a fuller ability to pass on the knowledge, understanding, and mercy that the Church teaches. “Many non-Catholics come to our school seeking something better for their children,” she explains. “Through the grace of God and the teachings I have learned, I feel better equipped to help these and all of our families, especially the children, come to know the love of God in their lives.” This, in turn, gives them confidence, which helps improve the children’s grades and empowers them to show the love of God to others, she says. Denise continues to teach middle school religion. “My students are really benefiting from the expertise of CDU’s professors!” she says. “We get into some great discussions, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge I have acquired plays a very important part of our conversations. Sometimes I get to ‘blow their minds.’” “I am also more inclined to take these teachings out into the public,” she says. “The Holy Spirit prompts each of us to get out of our comfort zones and show the love of Christ to the world. I have known this for a long time, but the lessons I have learned with CDU help me to proclaim it much more effectively.” Of her time at CDU, Denise says that what surprised her most was how much she enjoyed the lessons. “I loved learning new concepts or understanding ideas in a different light. I really appreciated the video chats that Dr. Peter Brown offered. It gave me an opportunity to flesh out ideas more fully,” she says. Denise and her husband Dan have three children. In her free time, Denise enjoys spending time with her family, especially her granddaughter. She also enjoys cooking. “God led me to CDU, and I am very happy that I followed His prompting,” Denise says. “My life has changed in ways I never imagined.” Her thesis, “Pope Francis’ Key to a Life of Witness to Obedience is Mercy,” was published in the Easter edition of Digital Continent.
Clarissa (“Lissa”) Hutcheson recently earned her MA (Theology) with a concentration in Ecclesial Service. She currently works as the director of catechetical ministry at Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church in La Jolla, California. She serves as a Master Catechist and also teaches for the San Diego Diocesan Institute.“I am forever grateful to CDU for offering the gift of continuing my education in a format that allowed me to fully participate in my ordinary life of work, home and play,” Lissa says. “I only hope that I am able to share what I have received with whomever God send’s into my life.”After earning a BA degree in political science and history from the University of La Verne, California, Lissa participated in classes at the University San Diego while discerning a Master’s degree in history. But she developed an interest in theology after taking classes at the Diocesan Institute in San Diego. “Having received a certificate in catechetical ministry, I sought to know more,” she says. After considering Boston College and the University of Dayton, where she had taken some online courses, she chose Catholic Distance University. “The Holy Spirit led me to CDU,” Lissa says, and she remembers the day very clearly. “When I thought to apply, I just really had a sense that CDU was the place for me. The professors are at the top of their field of study, and working with students from around the world appealed to my nature.” Through studying theology at CDU, Lissa says she has come to know the Trinity more profoundly and understands her call to evangelize in and through her daily living experience. “I have gained a greater sense of belonging to a Catholic community, deeper knowledge and a renewal of mind, and a joyful encounter with Christ,” she says. Her education has fostered a passion to share the Catholic faith with others as well. Lissa, who is a lay Dominican, finds peace and comfort in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. She has been married to her husband, Todd, for 33 years. Together, they have raised two beautiful daughters and are deeply in love with their three grandchildren and their sons in law.
Aiko Foster-Sutherland, a wife and mother living in Okinawa, Japan, recently earned her BA degree in Theology. A convert to Catholicism in 2011, she began her studies at CDU because she wanted to learn the truth from a Catholic perspective. Aiko worked as a portrait photographer and ran a guesthouse until last year, when she took time off to raise her 2-year-old daughter. Aiko enjoyed the opportunity to interact with people she might not have met otherwise. “One can be in a classroom with a member of the military, a stay-at-home mom, a homeschooled teenager, and a brother who is on his way to priesthood! CDU is truly international and friendly to anyone who wants to deepen one’s faith,” Aiko says. Far from being impractical, the study of theology helped Aiko integrate her faith with her work as a portrait photographer. “My main goal is to empower young women through photography to help them to know they are beautiful just as God made them, and they don’t need to be anyone else or try to fit into the standards of society.” I want them to understand, “you are precious in my eyes.”(Isa 43.4) “Learning theology changed how I approached my clients,” Aiko adds. Learning about the significance of man’s body and soul in her Fundamental Moral Theology class struck a chord with Aiko. “The idea was not foreign to me when I read it, but it spoke to me,” she says. “Although physical beauty fades away, there is spiritual side that can’t be neglected if one is to be the kind of person that God wants one to be.” Aiko says it was a bit difficult at first because her business was to sell beauty, but she knew in her heart that her work and faith could not exist separately. Aiko has also handed on the faith to others. She was at a party mingling with prospective clients and began a conversation with a woman in her mid 20s. Their conversation led to friendship; Aiko shared her faith with her new friend and was able to answer questions she asked about Christianity. “A year later, she got baptized in the Catholic Church,” Aiko says. “Because I was studying theology, I was able to share not only my experiences of God but also theological answers to questions she had.” In Japan, Catholics comprise just 0.5% of the population. “In my church, you can count young families on one hand,” Aiko says. Many priests are from overseas, and there are few Japanese priests in her diocese. “There is an interesting history behind how the Catholic Church came to Japan, and it is profound to know how the missionaries did their work in such an unfamiliar culture,” she says. “It’s culturally challenging for Christianity to grow here. There is a lot of work to do in the Catholic Church in Japan.” Aiko was Protestant before she converted to Catholicism in 2011. “I wanted to deepen my relationship with God but could not find what I was looking for and did not know where to look,” she says. Aiko started reading more books and realized that many were written by Catholic priests “by chance.” “I grew to love Catholicism,” she says. Aiko’s husband was raised Protestant as well, but a priest he met while working in Malaysia inspired him to consider the Catholic priesthood. He chose to marry Aiko instead. “We attended a Protestant church for a while, but both of us felt that we were led to the Catholic Church. After a year of examination and prayer, they decided to become Catholic. “I searched high and low to pursue a degree in theology as a lay person, but I couldn’t find a school I was interested in. Then I found CDU, or more accurately, CDU found me!” Aiko says. When asked what she enjoyed most about her education at CDU, Aiko mentions the weekly discussions. “Students have the same faith, yet they have different ways of thinking,” she says. “It was truly interesting to read other students’ posts.” She also appreciated the diverse makeup of students. “Most of the students are from the States, but some were from different parts of the world, and it made the conversations interesting,” she says. While earning her degree, Aiko was working, studying, and raising a child, which was not easy. “But by the grace of God, I was able to graduate,” she says. Aiko says that learning theology helped her to fall in love with the word of God and learn to serve Him better. “It transforms your approach to God. Studying theology will not leave you unchanged!” she says. “As St. Jerome said, ‘Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,’” she adds.
Rev. Christopher Bragg Etheridge, IVE, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, was recently ordained at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Father Etheridge serves as the Dean of Studies at the Ven. Fulton Sheen Seminary and the Parochial Vicar at St. John Baptist de la Salle in Chillum, MD. After earning his BA in Theology degree at CDU in 2016, he enrolled in CDU’s MA degree in Theology program. “My experience in the BA program was such a positive one that it was almost natural to consider CDU as my choice for a Master’s program,” Father Etheridge says. “One of the great advantages of studying through CDU is that I know for sure that what my professors have taught me is the same truth that has been handed on and guarded by the Church for centuries.” Father Etheridge first enrolled at CDU after entering the seminary. “Our seminary here in Washington is still very young,” he explains. “Getting accreditation takes a while and is very costly, so for those of us who have not completed our bachelor's degrees, CDU has provided an affordable and trustworthy option for getting a Catholic education.” “The integrity with which CDU aims to teach the faith was also a major draw for me, considering that in our modern era the devil works with greater subtlety,” Father Etheridge says. “Seeking the truth means seeking the fullness of truth, without compromise.” As a junior in high school living in Alabama, Father Etheridge began to discern his vocation after going on a mission trip to Akil, Yucatan, Mexico, through the Archdiocese of Mobile. “The experience in Mexico as missionary changed me in ways I didn't expect,” he says. “It opened my eyes to the reality that life was meant to be ‘spent’ living for others. The volunteer experience also showed me the joy that comes through poverty and the gift of self.” Father Etheridge did not immediately enter the seminary after high school. “Knowing that God was calling me to a missionary vocation, I was hesitant to enter the diocesan seminary right away,” he explains. “Instead, I went to the University of Alabama to study Spanish, trusting that the Lord would show me where to go next, and He did! Midway through my freshman year I went to Washington, DC, to take part in the March for Life,” he adds. During the March, Father Etheridge stayed with a small religious community, the Institute of the Incarnate Word, which has as its charism the inculturation of the Gospel. “A month after the March for Life, I returned to DC to take the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and it was through this retreat that I clearly saw God's will and was given the grace to follow it,” Father Etheridge says. “After finishing the spring semester at Alabama, I packed my bags and entered the IVE novitiate. Now, a little over eight years later, after ordination I look back and can only marvel at the Lord's plan and the abundance of His mercy.” When asked how his CDU education has prepared him for the priesthood, Father Etheridge says, “A priest's whole life involves studying. Ongoing formation is a must for any priest who wants to be an effective instrument in the hands of God; but that ‘ongoing’ formation needs a foundation, which comes through his initial years of education.” “CDU helped to form that foundation in my life. It provided me with an opportunity to study the truths of the Faith in all their beauty and richness, without compromise.” Father Etheridge offers the following advice to other students who are considering studying at CDU. “The online format is certainly a great convenience for people with busy schedules, but don't let that be the only motivating factor; see the eternal advantage to studying at CDU.” “Yes, ‘eternal,’” he adds. “At CDU you do not simply learn the truth, but you get to know Truth Himself. St. Philip Neri once said, ‘those who seek for anything but Christ do not know what they are looking for,’” Father Etheridge explains. “By getting a degree through a Catholic university such as CDU, you are giving yourself the opportunity to know the fullness of truth found in Jesus Christ, who is the light for all humanity.”
Following a year of study in the BA completion program, Michael Ryan Grasinski has earned his degree. “CDU exposed me to the treasure contained within the Tradition of the Church, and I can honestly say I learned more about my faith in the past year than at any point prior,” he says. “It really seemed to be the answer to my prayer. I never thought I'd be able to finish my BA, but by the grace of God I was able to do that.” Michael worked in sales and account management when he began to sense that God was calling him to a different path. After a long period of discernment, he matriculated at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. “My year in the seminary was pivotal in my continued education and my overall formation; it laid the foundation for my life,” he says. “After I spent a year in the seminary, I knew I wanted to finish my BA, but it seemed impossible due to practical reasons, mainly time, money, and location. Stumbling upon CDU was a true grace, and it provided the perfect opportunity to not only finish my undergraduate education, but to do so in the area of greatest interest to me,” he says. As Michael transitioned from Mount St. Mary’s to CDU, there was a continuity of intellectual formation that he says was invaluable in his spiritual growth. “The value of an education is realized by the effort you put in to it, and for me personally, it was CDU that provided the framework and instruction necessary to make that effort fruitful,” he says. Class discussions helped Michael learn to articulate what he knew, which was sometimes more challenging than he expected. “A true test of what one knows is how simply one can explain it,” he says. “This became a great exercise in learning how to synthesize extremely complex thoughts.” “To study theology through the lens of the Church is to put on the mind of Christ,” Michael says. Like many other students, he finds that theology informs his thinking on a range of subjects, especially Christian vocation. “Christian vocation is both a gift and a mission,” he explains. “We receive a vocational call from God to bring the light of Christ to others, and at the same time, this mission is a gift. As we read in the Gospel, we are called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth; this means being transformed in the spirit of our mind and following Christ every day.” He also clearly articulates the interplay of faith and reason. “Both faith and reason are necessary, and they in no way negate one another,” he explains. “By the grace of God, I have faith, and I now seek understanding. Faith is not merely blind acceptance; rather, through our God-given intellect, we plunge into the mysteries of God through the life of the intellect, thus further informing our faith.” In an increasingly secular world, theology is also useful in responding to contemporary challenges. “We live in a world where man's fundamental identity has become lost, and it is the practice of theology that can respond to this identity crisis,” Michael says. “Theology explains the deepest yearnings of man's heart and thus is able to respond to the many challenges facing modern man. Gaudium et Spes explains this perfectly in that theology, as viewed through the lens of the Magisterium, can answer the many questions that trouble man today.” In his free time, Michael enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife contemplating the beauty of God’s creation, immersing himself in the intellectual tradition of the Church, doing DIY projects, and learning how to be a better cook. “I'm very grateful for my opportunity at CDU,” Michael says. “Coming from a business background, I can see the immense value a school like CDU will continue to have in a world that is quickly changing and lacking orthodox Catholic schools.”
“Graduating with a BA in Theology this Advent Season is the greatest gift,” says Lan Nguyen, who is now continuing her studies in the MA (Theology) program. “I could not have accomplished this milestone without the grace of God and the support of my wonderful family, especially my husband.” “Every time someone asks me, ‘why are you studying theology, and what are you going to do with that degree?’ I always reply with a gentle smile and say, ‘I really don’t know, but one thing I do know is that studying theology is like heaven opening the door for me. I feel an angel walking with me through each class,’” she says. Lan is an active volunteer at Our Lady of La Vang Mission, which currently operates out of St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, Virginia. Though OLL Mission first began with just 30 families, now more than 422 families are registered. On September 3rd , 2017, the Our Lady of La Vang Catholic Community was established as a mission of Holy Martyrs of Vietnam Church in Arlington by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge. “As our membership has grown, the CCC program has grown along with it,” says Lan. Catechists are always desperately needed, so she volunteered to be a substitute catechist in 2012 and eventually became a regular catechist. Lan currently volunteers at OLL Mission as multicultural representative and diocesan liaison. Her work includes managing the child protection program, working with the Asian and Pacific Island Catholic Community, assisting the DRE as a coordinator of the diocesan CCD program, and serving as a catechist for the Confirmation class. “On occasion, I have had the opportunity to direct the entertainment program, including the Christmas play and Mariam dance for the community,” she adds. Lan enrolled at CDU in 2015 after completing the Diocese of Arlington’s Master Catechist Training Program, which was led by Rev. Paul F. deLadurantaye, the diocesan secretary for religious education and the sacred liturgy. “After that, I was still yearning to learn more and deepen my faith and my involvement in the catechetical ministry of the Church. Through the Arlington DRE network, I discovered CDU,” she says. “Going back to school as an adult is quite difficult. It’s even harder when English is your second language,” says Lan, whose first language was Vietnamese. “With these concerns, I was excited to find that CDU has developed a very convenient online program with a great support system.” “Each course has introduced to me a different piece of the Church’s doctrine and God’s Word, where I then find truth and authentic love,” she explains. “The thing I love most is having access to my coursework anytime and anywhere; and the staff is amazing. They are always there to help and support,” she adds. One of her favorite “places” is the CDU chapel. “I often click in there to just say a prayer or discuss something with God.” “I am always fascinated with the Bible every time I read it, and therefore find that I have so many questions,” Lan says. “God says, You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13).” “I would like to invite those who want to learn more about the Church’s teaching to take one course at CDU,” Lan says. “I guarantee you will have a rewarding experience. CDU has a vibrant learning community that truly reflects the universality of the Church.” She adds, “Theology can be a very difficult subject, but just remember what Jesus said: With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).” “I am so thankful for the professors and programs at CDU that continue to guide me on this spiritual journey,” Lan says. “These professors are teaching the authentic, life-giving Gospel.”
Theresa (Terri) Thomas recently earned her BA in Theology and plans to continue her studies in the MA program next year. Since 2008 Terri has served as the Adult Faith Formation Coordinator for Holy Trinity Church in Peachtree City, Georgia. “My relationship with God has deepened and my heart has been set on fire through my education at CDU,” Terri says. Her work in the Church led her to want to learn more. Finding a university that was faithful to the teachings of the Church was important to Terri. “I had taken classes in the past from another Catholic university but was deeply disappointed because most of the professors were not faithful to the Magisterium. Negativity and criticism of the Church permeated many of the classes, and it was a very deflating, stressful and exhausting experience,” she explains. “CDU was a breath of fresh air for me.” Because she works full time, Terri also needed a university that was fully online without a summer residency requirement. CDU’s asynchronous classes easily fit into her schedule. “The degree completion program was a wonderful and doable option for me because it allowed me to utilize all of the classes that I had already completed,” she says The program has better prepared her to share her knowledge of the faith with others, she explains. “ I personally feel much more competent to teach classes on a variety of topics. I hope to foster a love and appreciation for the great gift of our Catholic Faith and to open people’s eyes as to how very practical it is for our everyday lives,” Terri says. “[CDU] is definitely a means to mature in Christ. I am not the same person I was when I began this journey.” “I have always felt a great responsibility to pass on the true teachings of the Church in the most charitable way possible because I firmly believed that the closer I come to the Truth the more fruitful it will be for the people I serve,” she explains. CDU’s courses and theology curriculum led to a better view of the whole picture. “Before CDU, I would randomly select different topics to read and learn about based on my interest at the time. I was deeply touched and benefitted from that method of learning, but there were many ‘holes’ in my education/formation. I did not understand how everything I was learning fit together,” she says. “CDU has given me a very balanced and complete education and a solid foundation to build on. It was a wonderful experience to learn how deeply connected every aspect of the Catholic Faith is from the seemingly smallest teaching—such as why we genuflect--to the grandest teaching, such as the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls.” Terri says that CDU has fostered in her a deeper appreciation for “all things Catholic.” “This education has given me a more comprehensive understanding of the teachings of the Church, which is very important when planning and selecting the classes, programs and events that will be offered in order to provide a well-rounded formation here at Holy Trinity.” “My desire was to take my time earning my degree so that I could contemplate and pray about what I was learning in order to apply it in my job and in my life in the most fruitful way possible,” Terri says. “As a result, I have grown as a person and this has had a profound effect on all of my relationships, especially in my family and in my role as the Adult Faith Coordinator,” she adds. Terri particularly appreciated the faculty members who taught her. “The professors and course authors are well known in their areas of expertise, and I knew that I could trust them,” she says. “They consistently exhibited patience with our continual questions and wrong assumptions. They clearly articulated true Catholic teaching and gently corrected any false notions and distorted understandings of Church teaching.” All in all, she says of the BA program, “It was a very uplifting experience and a wonderful example of how to evangelize and catechize!” “Catholic Distance University far exceeded my hopes, dreams, and expectations,” Terri says. “ I was a little apprehensive when I began this journey. I was not sure if I had what it would take to complete my degree at this time in my life. The staff and professors were so helpful and encouraging while at the same time they challenged and stretched me in many wonderful ways. I am so thankful for that!”