Citlali Soriano Cruz was born in Mexico City and immigrated to California in 2001. She volunteers regularly at her parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Compton. She has no formal college education and never in her wildest dreams did she image that she would be attending LMU. “This is a wonderful opportunity that I never thought I would have. I literally never imagined myself setting foot at a university, especially in the United States,” said Cruz. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be studying and taking courses at LMU.”
Cruz is part of the Center for Religion and Spirituality’s “Mantener el Camino Program,” which helps Hispanic pastoral ministers who have not yet earned a college degree become better educated. Now, thanks to a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc, more people like Cruz will be attending LMU.
The Theological Studies Department was the lead along with the Center for Religion and Spirituality in receiving a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc to help develop Catholic leaders in Southern California. The grant, part of Lilly Endowment’s Pathways to Tomorrow Initiative, which is helping theological schools in the U.S. and Canada to prioritize and respond to their most pressing challenges as they work to prepare pastoral leaders for Christian congregations, now and into the future.
Robert Hurteau, the director of the Center for Religion and Spirituality says this grant will help people who are working in ministry on the ground level – those who are responding to people going through a crisis — have a chance to get credentials and a formal education.
Amir Hussain, chair of LMU’s Theological Studies Department, is also excited about the grant because he believes it will foster visibility for the department, educate leaders and ultimately help future work in Catholic parishes. “I want to create a pipeline with Loyola High School, Verbum Dei, and all the other Catholic schools. I want to go out there and challenge those students to think critically about studying theology,” said Hussain. On the graduate level, Hussain says Theological Studies is already doing a lot of work in formation with priests, deacons, and lay people who are working in parish leadership.
The partnership between the Center of Religion and Spirituality and Theological Studies will allow them to continue to think outside the box. “We are doing a lot of great work in the department,” said Hussain. “But this grant will allow us to start thinking about who are we not yet serving, who are the people that don’t get access to this sort of education, and where are the parishes that will benefit from getting some trained educators.”
Hussain believes creating hybrid programs, flexible scheduling and offering financial relief will help serve more students. “LMU students are out there in the world. Many of them are working, not just with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but with the Diocese of San Bernardino with the Diocese of Orange . . . We help parishes, Catholic schools and religious institutions in California and across the U.S.”