When Adela Del Río left her home in Mexico and established a new life in California, one of her first priorities was to join a Catholic church. “I’m a single mother with four children, and my eldest daughter has autism,” Del Río explained. “Things haven’t been easy, but I’ve always loved taking an active role in the church community – it’s helped me a lot in my personal life over the years. I’m determined to keep learning and growing in my faith, to take on greater responsibilities beyond my duties as secretary or treasurer. But again and again, I was told that I just didn’t have the qualifications.”
Opportunities for parishioners such as Del Río to gain theological training are increasingly important as the number of ordained priests declines in the United States, requiring a high-impact strategy to support the development of lay ministers in underserved Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and Pacific Islander communities. That’s the driving motivation behind “Transforming Catholic Leadership in Southern California,” a program envisioned by the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts (BCLA) Department of Theological Studies, in collaboration with Mission and Ministry’s Center for Religion and Spirituality. LMU has been awarded a $1 million grant by Lilly Endowment through its Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, which is designed to help theological schools prepare pastoral leaders for ministry.
“A Catholic university should be a place where the Church can do its thinking – a space to think through the pressing issues and challenges of ecclesiastical life today,” said Robert Hurteau, Ph.D., director of the Center for Religion and Spirituality. “The support from Lilly Endowment is a vital recognition of work that we’ve been doing for decades at LMU. At the center, we’re committed to opening educational pathways for minority groups, especially the Hispanic Catholic community, the largest Catholic group in the United States. It’s imperative that our courses can overcome the economic, linguistic, and social constraints that may prevent competent individuals from achieving the credentials they need.”
One approach is the bilingual “Mantener el Camino” program, in which Del Río is enrolled. “For me, the classes have been a lifeline,” she explains. “I love and I live my Catholic faith, and after years of hard work bringing up my children, I finally have the opportunity to return to my studies – to follow my vocation and be of greater service to my community.” Lilly Endowment’s grant will significantly expand and strengthen current initiatives, as well as streamlining access to undergraduate and graduate programs in theology. “The funding comes just at the time we need it,” said Amir Hussain, Ph.D., professor and chair of Theological Studies. “The $1 million grant was preceded by a $50,000 planning grant from the Lilly Endowment that enabled us to closely examine and critique practices in our department, identifying what’s truly required to meet the needs of these underserved populations.”
The commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity is central to BCLA and the university as a whole. “Over the last few years, our leadership, faculty and staff have engaged in a strategic and collaborative process to uphold representation and inclusiveness in our organizational culture and structure, as well as in our curriculum,” said Robbin Crabtree, Ph.D., dean of BCLA. “Similarly, we strive to cultivate an appreciation for the role of interreligious dialogue in building a more just world, recognizing that our religious foundations call on us to fulfill these goals. The Lilly Endowment funding will help us to increase access to LMU’s theological and pastoral education as grounded in this Ignatian and liberal arts tradition.”
As one of the largest Catholic universities on the West Coast, with close ties to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, LMU is in a position to make a decisive difference. “In a city as richly diverse as Los Angeles, it’s vital for Catholic leadership to reflect the demographics of the region,” said Hussain. “By extending our reach to communities across Southern California, we’re seeking to act in the spirit of magis – the impulse to do more, to touch the lives of more individuals, all in service of the greater good.”
You can support programs in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts and Mission & Ministry here.
For more information about supporting BCLA, contact Tony Yost, senior director of development, at 310.258.7852 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To support Mission and Ministry, contact Dan Montoya, executive director of development, at 310.338.1796 or email@example.com.