Rev. Christopher Bragg Etheridge, IVE, a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, was ordained on May 28th 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.”
Clarissa (“Lissa”) Hutcheson recently earned her MA in 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.
On April 23, 2016, MA candidate Julianne Stokes presented her Master’s thesis at the First Annual Graduate Conference on Personalist Philosophy, which was hosted by The Hildebrand Project in conjunction with Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.Julianne and her husband Jon live in New York State. They have eight children, and both serve as catechists in the Syracuse Diocese, where they promote Theology of the Body, Teen Star, Respect Life, and New York State Right to Life. Julianne also works as a substitute teacher at a Catholic elementary school.She received an invitation encouraging the submission of graduate papers on personalism from John Henry Crosby, founder and president of the Hildebrand Project. Her thesis just happened to address personalist thought on women.Titled “Geborgenheit and the ‘Tabor Vision’ Beheld and Treasured in the Heart of Woman: What Modern Personalists Reveal about Women,” Julianne’s thesis shows that the unique insight of a woman reveals the image of God as ‘safekeeping’ by comparing a bride’s ‘Tabor Vision’ of her beloved as described by Alice von Hildebrand with Hans Urs von Balthasar’s concept of geborgenheit. The key to likening these two concepts is the Blessed Virgin Mary, informed by the Gospel concept of kenosis, a state in which one becomes completely receptive to God’s will.”CDU introduced me to the thought of the great personalists of the 20th century,” Julianne says. “Dr. Aaron Urbanczyk taught me the philosophy of Hans Urs von Balthasar and shepherded me through the thesis writing process.””As a Master’s candidate, I have been able to find work as a teacher in both private and public schools,” Julianne says. “Every member of the faculty, along with the administrators and the staff, has encouraged and inspired me. Personally, the entire course of classes for my Master’s has informed my life and developed my Faith in every aspect,” she adds.”The community here online is a great joy to me,” Julianne says. “They have enriched my relationship with God and my neighbor. I love my alma mater, Catholic Distance University!”
Judith M. Stegman of East Lansing, Michigan, has been named CDU’s Outstanding Graduate for 2016. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission, CDU’s accreditor, honors an outstanding graduate or alumnus each year from its member institutions. Stegman is a worthy honoree, having attained a 4.0 GPA while earning her MA degree in Theology with a concentration in Philosophy.Stegman, a CPA, owned an accounting firm in Michigan when she decided to pursue advanced studies in canon law. She chose to pursue the prerequisite MA degree in Theology at CDU so she could study from home while transitioning from business to full-time student. Stegman is currently pursuing advanced studies in canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.“I highly recommend Catholic Distance University to anyone interested in pursuing a study of their faith,” Stegman says. “The professors were of the highest caliber and always available. The coursework was challenging and the daily interaction invaluable. CDU provided a transition from the business world to the study of canon law,” she adds.Stegman’s education at CDU not only prepared her for continued study, it has also provided new resources upon which she draws as she writes and speaks to Catholic audiences throughout the US.
MA degree graduate Dr. Angelo P. Giardino is a pediatrician with a clinical focus in Child Abuse Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital.
“I felt a call to study more about God’s plan for us and what His Church expects of us in our faith walk,” Dr. Giardino says. “I searched for online programs and found that CDU had the programs and flexibility that I sought.”
Dr. Giardino, who holds both an M.D. and a Ph.D., lives in Houston with his wife Eileen and mother-in-law Margaret. He has completed the coursework for the Master’s in Theology and is currently writing his Thesis.
“I spend a lot of time studying medicine and I feel led to spend a comparable amount of time studying my faith. I feel like CDU has provided me with a vehicle to study my faith [that] is rooted in the Church’s teachings and the Word of God contained in the Sacred Scripture.”
“Knowing what I believe and what the basis of those teachings and beliefs is has helped me immensely,” he says.
The flexibility CDU offers was a must for Dr. Giardino. “I work full time and absolutely needed the asynchronous format where I could work on the courses when I had time during the day, weeks or months, etc.,” he says. “I could not fit a traditional face-to-face course format into my schedule.”
“CDU allowed me to grow and develop, form deep roots in the foundational documents and teachings of our Church, and I feel closer to Jesus Christ as a result of learning from the outstanding faculty at CDU,” he says.
When asked about his favorite coursework, Dr. Giardino says, “I enjoyed reading the documents related to Vatican II since that was so formative for me during elementary and high school.”
Dr. Giardino mentions CDU’s accomplished faculty as what he likes best about CDU. “The faculty is committed to sharing the truths of the Church’s teachings, so I felt very comfortable in the learning environment.”
“I think most adults should take some CDU courses to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the Church and our collective and personal faith in Jesus,” he says. “As the younger generation says, “CDU rocks!!”
Doug Spriggs is pursuing his MA in Theology and says he is “loving every little bit of it.” Doug lives with his wife, Lindsey, and children Elijah, Ethan, and Emma in Fayetteville, Ark., where they enjoy the great outdoors.
“I had looked at many other programs online before deciding upon CDU,” he says. “I had taken other courses from Boston College, and although [they were] good, I just wasn’t satisfied with them.
Their online style was too impersonal for me and classes seemed to be overloaded. I wanted something more personal and more fulfilling. That’s when I applied to CDU, and it was a great decision.”
What does Doug like best about CDU? “The class sizes are great, the material is orthodox, the professors are accessible, and the learning atmosphere is extremely efficient. I was unable to find another online school that not only fit my needs but met my needs as well as CDU.” “This has truly enriched who I am as a husband, father, and human being,” Doug adds.
Doug’s studies also helped him make a career switch. After five years of teaching high school English in Wyoming, he began working as a Campus Minister for the University of Arkansas.
“Because of our demographics, our yearning to practice a living faith in the world around us, and our family dynamics, it was necessary to take advantage of an online MA program,” Doug says. “There is just no other way our family could afford such a high quality education with the traditional [university] model.”
Doug’s motivation for pursuing his MA in Theology has evolved over time. “In the beginning I was pursuing this MA degree for many reasons outside of why I am today: family, faith, pay increase, fun, and love of God to name a few reasons,” he says. “God changed me through my education here at CDU, and the main reason I am now continuing on with my education at CDU is because it will serve God for me to do so.”
Doug says his favorite class so far has been Phil 508, Philosophy for Theology. “But all of the classes I have taken have been a great opportunity to learn and grow in the Faith,” he adds.
Michelle Sheehan Tholen graduated from CDU with a Master of Arts in Theology with a concentration in Catholic Culture. She lives in Bayou Vista, Louisiana, with her husband of 19 years and two daughters. Michelle teaches religious education classes and serves as a reader at Mass in her local parish, and she will begin a new job next fall as a high school English/Advanced Writing teacher.
Michelle is the former writer of the CDU Blog, Gaudium de Veritate. She has also written for CatholicLane.com and CatholicFiction.net. Recently, she was named assistant editor at Catholic Fiction.net. “I love writing and teaching about the Faith,” she says.
“I was introduced to CDU by a dear priest friend of mine,” Michelle says. “He had taken a few classes and suggested I might take a few. He didn’t realize, at the time, that I had been secretly dreaming of a degree in Theology for years.”
Michelle thought about enrolling long before she actually did. “I considered a degree in Theology as something more suitable for those men and women who had chosen Holy Orders as their vocation. It took a lot of encouragement from my husband, children, and friends and a lot of prayer before I managed to finally call the school one day for information.”
At the time, a fully online degree program was Michelle’s only option. “My husband was in the military, and I was unable to commit to a program of study that had a residency requirement—we moved a lot. CDU was the only Masters program that did not have that requirement. I would never have fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams without the program being completely online; it was truly a Godsend.”
Though it’s hard to choose, Michelle says her favorite course at CDU was Basics of Catholicism. “I loved it and realized right away that I was doing what I loved, studying the Faith,” she says. “I also really enjoyed Catholicism and Modern Culture, The Gospel of John, and Church History.” Thanks to the latter class, Michelle is now extremely interested in the Church’s past and Catholics’ significant role in world history.
“The quality education I received from CDU was without a doubt the best part of attending the university,” Michelle says. “I was, like most people, worried that I might not get the same quality of education online as in a brick and mortar school, especially at the graduate level. I could not have been more wrong!”
“Having graduated, I feel that I could not have received a better Catholic education anywhere,” Michelle says. “The professors are first rate and are completely willing to go above and beyond what is required to help their students understand the information. They also expect a lot in return from their students, which is so important. Grades at CDU are earned through a student/teacher relationship that enhances and garners respect from both parties—I love that!”
Michelle says that the education she received at CDU has solidified everything about her relationship with Christ. “I was already a faithful Catholic that loved Christ and his Church; I am now, however, more rooted in that faith. I knew what I believed was true, but now I know why it is so. I have answers to so many questions, and this has only deepened my faith and pulled me closer toward God—Father, Son, and Spirit.”
“It is hard to put into words. I’m no different on the outside, but I feel more like the person I am meant to be. I am closer to God and this gives me an unutterable peace within that I know I was lacking until now,” Michelle says.
Do you wonder what you can do with a degree in theology? Karlo Broussard, who received his BA in Theology degree from CDU in 2009, has found a way to turn his passion for evangelization and defense of the Faith into a profession.
Karlo is a full-time speaker and apologist for The Magis Center, which was founded by Father Robert Spitzer to explore and share the close connection between reason and faith as revealed by new discoveries in science, philosophy, and the historical study of the New Testament. Karlo is also the founder and director of The Divine Child Institute for Catechetical Renewal, which is a non-profit dedicated to helping pastors in the Diocese of Yakima, Washington.
Karlo enrolled in CDU’s undergraduate program for two reasons. “First, the program was 100% in harmony with the teachings of the Magisterium. Second, the CDU undergraduate theology program was the only one of its kind,” he says.
Karlo’s busy schedule made CDU’s online degree program an excellent option.
“At the time when I enrolled, I had already started my family with my wife and firstborn son and thus was unable to attend any on-campus program. CDU was the solution to my dilemma. It allowed me to achieve my goals in formal education in theology and further my career.”
As a military spouse, Jennifer Frye changed colleges and majors more than once. But when her husband told her about the degree completion program at Catholic Distance University, where he was enrolled in the graduate program, she enrolled, persevered, and earned her degree—only forty-one years after high school graduation.
Jennifer graduated with a 3.88 GPA from Catholic Distance University. Even while she studied, she used her acquired knowledge in her position as the Director of Religious Education in a small parish in north-central Pennsylvania.
Since her graduation, she has been using her degree to further establish a small, home-based faith-sharing program in her parish, which she hopes to expand to other area churches. Her CDU education is especially helpful with the sacramental preparation courses she teaches, and with training catechists.
“The quality and the relevance of the courses, the expertise of the professors, and the online connection with people from around the world were impressive and made the experience of higher education fulfilling, rewarding, and, often, fun!”
“CDU has deepened my relationship with Christ, by teaching me the ‘why’ of the faith,” says BA in Theology student Andrew Swancer. A Civil Engineer who has served in the U.S. Air Force for 14 years, Andrew has been stationed all over the world. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Andrew currently lives in Bossier City, Louisiana, with Laura, his wife of 11 years. He has always had a passion for ministry, teaching catechesis, and RCIA.
Andrew first learned about CDU through an internet search. He had always wanted a Catholic education, and after doing some research, asking questions, and praying, he decided to enroll at CDU. He had taken courses at a few online schools after being introduced to online education while in the military, but he found that the coursework wasn’t challenging. “With CDU I have never worked harder, and I sincerely mean that in a good way,” he says. “CDU challenges me, which is something that I have been looking for.”
Andrew has been working toward his BA in Theology with CDU and is truly enjoying his experience. “Now I have the opportunity to get a degree in something that has been near and dear to my heart since I was a little boy,” he says. “It is a challenge, and I have accepted wholeheartedly, just as much as I have accepted the challenges God has presented to me in life and the challenges yet to come.”
“For a long time, I, like many, just believed things because that is how we were taught. Now, I understand the richness of our faith,” he explains.
Andrew’s favorite course has been “God, Man, and the Universe.” “Because I am a ‘Cradle Catholic,’ I learned what was required for me to make my sacraments, but never really expanded beyond that,” he says. “This course, which I thought was going to be insurmountable, was awesome because it really expanded on many of the things we sometimes toss around: Sacred Scripture/Tradition, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the like.”
In his free time, Andrew enjoys fishing and the great outdoors
Scott Roy lives in Mission, British Columbia, Canada, with his wife, Colleen, and their six children. He has just completed the AA in the Liberal Arts with a Concentration in Catholic Studies degree and has begun working toward his BA in Theology.
Scott serves as a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach Canada, a university campus evangelization movement, and works on campus at Simon Fraser University in the Communications Department as well. With work, family, and higher education to juggle, Scott needed to find a flexible program.
“Because I have a rather large family, I needed something that would accommodate a dynamic schedule. Also, I didn’t have enough credits in my previous degree program to enter into any bachelor completion programs,” he says. “With CDU’s AA program, I was able to obtain enough credits to enter into the Bachelor degree completion program.”
“Here I found a combination of orthodoxy, an immersion in great Catholic studies, flexibility in schedule, and a step towards my future goals. I didn’t need any more reasons to enroll,” he says.
Scott first heard of CDU while searching for an academic program a number of years ago. However, it was a priest in the diocese who recommended CDU after one of his parishioners took a course.
“I’ve taken a number of diverse courses through a number of different institutions throughout my life. I would like to say that my time with Catholic Distance University has been the most rewarding of them all,” Scott says.
“The education that I have been receiving through CDU has confirmed and deepened my devotion to the Holy Trinity through the Church and Her Sacraments. As my knowledge of the Church has grown through the courses I am taking, I am falling evermore in love with Christ and His Church, and I have a better understanding of where I can go to pursue an even deeper understanding.”
One of Scott’s favorite courses was Catechism of the Catholic Church with Professor Kathy Vestermark. “Not only was her teaching and guidance helpful and encouraging, the material was compelling, educational, and life-changing.”
“The Catechism is one of the greatest gifts to the Church and I would love grow in my knowledge and understanding of its teachings which reflect the heart of the Church,” he says. “This course was not only a great introduction to it, but also helped spark that flame of excitement about knowing and experiencing Christ through our Church and Her teachings.”
When not studying or working, Scott enjoys playing guitar, singing, and spending time with his children. “We home school–and when I say ‘we’ I use the term very loosely, because my wife does most of the work by far–and I love to see and hear all the wonderful things my children learn,” he says.