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Catholic Voice
 October 15, 2012   •   VOL. 50, NO. 18   •   Oakland, CA
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FST moving to San Diego

More than four decades after moving to Berkeley to join the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of religious schools, the Franciscan School of Theology will be returning to its roots in Southern California.

FST will form an affiliation with the University of San Diego — an arrangement both schools describe as mutually beneficial — and relocate to the grounds of Old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside. The mission, run by the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, is about 35 miles north of the USD campus.

Rev. John Hardin, OFM, leader of the Franciscan friars in the west and chair of the Board of Trustees at the Franciscan School of Theology, said this new relationship with USD "gives FST an opportunity to explore new ways of expressing our faith in the 21st century."

"We are excited about bringing together the spiritual, theological and social riches of the Franciscan tradition and USD's excellence in contemporary sciences, nonprofit management, public service, peace work and more," Father Hardin said in a statement Sept. 27.

The plan to move to southern California follows a three-year-process of discernment, said Rev. Joseph Chinnici, OFM, president/rector of the FST. It is an "internally driven decision" that was looked at and studied and driven by the need to "better ensure the school's long-term sustainability."

The GTU is an interreligious graduate school consortium of until now nine schools and about a dozen multifaith centers, the largest partnership of seminaries and graduate schools in the United States offering advanced degrees in theology and religious studies.

The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University are the remaining Catholic institutions.

In an unattributed statement issued Sept. 28, the GTU said: "We will miss FST and the FST community greatly.

"The decision may raise concerns about the future and the sustainability of the GTU. While this will change the composition of our consortial membership, it does not alter our ecumenical and interreligious educational mission. There will be some fiscal implications and these issues are being aggressively addressed by the administration and the Board of Trustees.

"We … are confident that the GTU will continue to thrive."

While the departure of the Franciscan School of Theology will change the composition of "the consortial membership" at the GTU, "it does not alter our ecumenical and interreligious educational mission," reads a statement posted on the GTU website (www.gtu.edu). "There will be some fiscal implications and these issues are being aggressively addressed by the administration and the Board of Trustees. We recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" and are confident that the GTU will continue to survive."

Despite having the distinction of being the only freestanding Franciscan graduate-level school of theology in the English-speaking world, FST, like other theological programs has had its share of challenges because of the economy and other factors. "Theological schools everywhere have been on the decline," Father Chinnici said, citing among other things the increasing costs of technology.

Size also matters. "We are a small school," Father Chinnici said of the 4,400 students enrolled at FST. The University of San Diego, chartered in 1949, enrolls approximately 8,300 undergraduate and graduate full-time equivalency students.

USD also has a good background in nonprofit management and peace and justice work, the priest added. "The university is known for its service to community in San Diego."

Additionally, location and size are huge factors in FST's plan to move. FST's new home on the grounds of Old Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside totals some 54 acres. The largest of the California missions, Mission San Luis Rey, like FST, is owned by the Franciscan's province of St. Barbara. The mission has served as a working retreat center. Established in 1789 the friars have had an almost continuous presence at the mission ever since.

Because the mission is next to one of the largest parishes in San Diego, the theological school will benefit by having a parochial base. "It will be a good training ground for future church leaders," Father Chinnici said.

At the same time the mission is about 45 miles from the border with Mexico, which will allow the friars to "provide a larger outreach to the Latino population" in both countries.

While the theology school is moving the Franciscan friars who serve in the Oakland Diocese are not. The friars and the Oakland Diocese have had a long and amiable relationship that goes back to founding bishop, Floyd L. Begin, noted Father Chinnici.

During this time of transition — which will span some 60 months — the needs of current students will have high priority. "We want to take care of the students now," Father Chinnici said.

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