March 4, 2011

School of Ministry controversy at UD

Within the past 36 hours, the University of Dallas has been in quite an upheaval over the establishment of an undergraduate pastoral ministry major. This was mainly due to the reported heterodoxy among some of the professors in the School of Ministry (SOM) and the students' concerns with protecting UD's Catholic identity. Some background on the situation should explain the essentials.

The professors in question were exposed in a piece of commentary written by the parent of five UD alumni (two of whom I personally know) the day before the vote by the Board of Trustees was to take place. This led much of the University community -- particularly the resident students -- to gather at the campus' main student center near 7:30 Thursday morning to hand out copies of the above article to board members. As it turns out, however, the members had already read the article and the process was in the planning stages for months.

I received a letter from President Keefe in response to my email, and it reads as follows, with my emphases:

Dear _________,

I believe there has been a serious misunderstanding regarding the formation of the undergraduate degree in pastoral ministry. The program was developed at the specific request of Bishop Kevin Farrell, Bishop of the Dallas Diocese, because of the urgent need in the Dallas diocese and in the Church at large for additional lay ministers. Bishop Farrell has 64 active priests to serve the over 1.3 million Catholics in this diocese. There are presently seven parishes that have no priest to serve the parish, and over 15,000 Catholics go without the benefit of Mass each week.

When the University of Dallas was founded in 1956, Bishop Gorman stated that the purpose of the University was to support and serve the Church. This program was designed to do just that. Requested by Bishop Farrell and supported by Bishop Kevin Vann, Bishop of the Fort Worth Diocese, the program was developed by a joint committee of faculty, including distinguished members of the Constantin College Department of Theology and members of the faculty of the School of Ministry, and the program was approved by the Faculty Senate, the governing body for academics, and the Board of Trustees. The curriculum that was developed has been thoroughly reviewed and scrutinized by Bishop Farrell and Bishop Vann and has received their unqualified endorsement.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II promulgated directions for Catholic universities in the world through Ex Corde EcclesiaeEx Corde is very clear that the core of the instruction of theology at a Catholic university is to be reviewed and approved by the local ordinary and that the faculty assigned to theology instruction are likewise to be thoroughly vetted and reviewed by the local Bishop. Bishop Farrell has stated it is his responsibility to assure that the instruction of theology, the School of Ministry, and the attendant courses of study are truly orthodox. In a video on the UD pastoral ministry program, Bishop Farrell said, “Let me remind the Catholic people of the diocese that this is my responsibility, and I’m the one who has to stand before God. I do not take it lightly.”

I know that we all want what is best for the Catholic Church and the University of Dallas.  I can assure you that the President and the Board of Trustees want the same thing, as do Bishop Farrell and Bishop Vann. You can watch a video from Bishop Farrell about his rationale for this program at  You can also read a letter from Bishop Vann online at  I also invite you to fully explore the courses involved in the program itself, which include the entire Core curriculum, the Rome program, additional theology coursework taught by our theology department, an internship and a capstone project.  

I apologize for the length of this e-mail, but I know how important this is to all of us. 


Thomas W. Keefe
University of Dallas

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