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placeholder April 22, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
School of Applied Theology
offers new summer program

Jim Briggs

For years, the School of Applied Theology has offered sabbatical programs for priests, religious and others who toil in the vineyards of the Lord.

Those programs, offered each fall and winter, provide four months of renewal, drawing people from around the world.

But not everybody who needs renewal can get away for four months, or can afford to do so. "People find it hard to get relief time," said Jim Briggs, executive director of SAT Sabbatical.

Declining numbers of priests and religious have also affected the number of program participants.

"A short sabbatical is better than no sabbatical at all," Briggs said. To that end, the school is offering, for the first time, a summer sabbatical program. Applications are available for the program, which is being offered in four one-week modules throughout the month of June. Participants may enroll for one week, or all four.

School of Applied Theology

In offering the option of enrolling in weeklong increments, Briggs said the school is opening up the sabbatical program to the local church.

The interest in such a program was found by a study commissioned by the school, surveying people from the five dioceses of the San Francisco Bay Area. "There seemed to be a need for continuing education," he said, particularly in "a format to keep people fresh and energized, renewed in ministry."

Summer 2013 will be its maiden voyage. "This is our first effort to serve two audiences with one program," Briggs said.

Among the advantages of the program are significantly lower costs than the traditional four-month program, and the opportunity for local people to attend as commuter students, shaving the cost of room and board.

The study also showed that at the top of the list of topics of interest is spirituality.

The summer program will feature four presenters on four topics. They include:

"Becoming the Beloved—with Henri Nouwen as Guide," presented by Sister Sue Mosteller, CSJ; "Scripture and Spirituality —The Emerging Global Ethic of Compassion," presented by Rev. Tom Bonacci, CP; "Exploring our Sacred Universe — Cosmology and Spirituality," presented by Sister Linda Gibler, OP; and "Contemplative Spirituality," presented by Rev. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB, Cam.

Details on the courses and presenters are available at www.satgtu.org/program/summer.html.

The idea to offer the sabbatical program to the local church circles back to the school's beginnings. It was founded in 1960, by Jesuit Rev. Eugene Zimmers, as the Institute of Lay Theology. It was a pre-Vatican II attempt to help lay people take a more active role in parish life, particularly in evangelizing.

The school was invited to join the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, and moved to St. Albert's Priory in Oakland 30 years ago.

As the sabbatical program grew, a residence was opened at St. Albert's in 1990. Previously, the program participants stayed in local convents and rectories.

With two floors of a residence hall — one floor for men, one for women — and easy access to BART at Rockridge, it has been a welcome place of rest and renewal for participants who were getting the chance to get away from daily duties.

Until 2003, people could earn a master's degree in applied theology.

But the degree program, with its exams and readings, was antithetical to a sabbatical experience, Briggs said. Many participants already had graduate degrees. Although the degree program was discontinued in 2003, participants can receive continuing education credits if they need them.

What they all need, Briggs has observed, is a time of rest, reflection and renewal. He has been an eyewitness to the power of a sabbatical: "You see these people, upon arrival, just exhausted from their years of giving and giving and serving and serving."

At the school, they get time for rest and theological review, with "heavy emphasis on spirituality," he said.

"You see them reconnect in deep ways with God and with church," Briggs said. "You can see it visibly. How they're ready to go back with new energy to whatever is next."

The school is also planning to offer some workshops for the local church, including some in Spanish, which could be offered as early as mid-summer. Plans for the 2014 summer program are under way as well. Among the presenters will be Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI.

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