Browse the list of majors at Catholic colleges and universities, and you'll notice that many offer theology and/or religious studies. Don't make the mistake of confusing the two, as they're actually very distinct fields.
Every student at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, has to take two religious studies classes, from Catholicism to Islam and Hinduism. “We take a broader view of the religious traditions of humankind,” says Dr. Thomas Forsthoefel, chairman of Mercyhurst’s religious studies department. Scholars examine how religion is portrayed in popular culture and how religious fundamentalism affects world politics.
Studying theology helps students better understand their faith in a larger context, says Dr. Robert Krieg, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. “They want to understand why they’re Catholic,” Krieg says. “Similarly, they want to understand what they can learn from Jews or from Buddhists.” Theology also examines how faith impacts one’s perspective on social or political issues.
Students often combine their religious major with political science, finance, history, or psychology, but not always. Some go on to work in Catholic ministry, volunteer work, or education, and some get jobs in fields like publishing and business. Catholic Relief Services, a humanitarian agency with projects in more than 100 countries, hires people of all faiths. Some work overseas, teaching local people how to grow crops or set up programs that give poor people small loans to finance their own businesses. Those jobs usually require a graduate degree, plus the ability to relate to people from different cultures, says David Palasits, Director of Workforce Development. The agency also has about 300 people at its headquarters who work in communications, fundraising, accounting, and other jobs. A degree from a Catholic college can help if the applicant draws on Catholic teachings. “A typical interview question we ask is, ‘Why do you want to work for Catholic Relief Services?’” Palasits says. “The ultimate aim of this is to enhance the dignity and sanctity of human life.”
Education grounded in Catholic principles leads to all kinds of fulfilling careers.
Maureen Smith, Public relations coordinator
Smith’s major in radio, television, and film prepared her for a job in television. But her other major, theology, gave her a better understanding of her Catholic faith. Studying theology became her calling as she continued her education at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. “It was a way for me to participate in my faith,” Smith says.
After graduating in 1994, she started working as a TV news producer. She helped reporters put stories together and planned news broadcasts. A few years later she went back to Spring Hill for a master’s degree in theology and started working with a public relations and advertising firm so she would have more time for course work. She’s been at that company, Red Square Agency, for eight years. Red Square represents clients such as health care companies and energy firms. Smith helps get their messages out to the public, which means working closely with local journalists and media outlets to produce press.
While the master’s degree in theological studies she earned in 2004 doesn’t directly relate to her work, it has enriched her life. She draws on what she learned about faith as a wife, mother, public relations professional, and member of her church council. “For me, the study of theology was not sort of end-oriented. I just loved the study itself,” Smith says. “It really has deepened my faith and understanding of my faith, and I hope it helps me become the person I want to be.”
Bernadette McClain, Teacher
While still in high school, McClain took some classes at a nearby Catholic college, Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania. “I had to walk by the chapel to go to my classes,” she says. “I would often step into the chapel for 10 minutes.”
McClain had always attended Catholic schools and didn’t think she’d pick a similar college. But after spending so much time at Villanova, she realized she wanted a college that would support her desire to build her faith and relationship with God. She ended up choosing The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where she majored in French for secondary education. McClain always wanted to be a teacher, and when she started looking for her first teaching job, the University’s career services office did more than help her with practice interviews. “These were people of faith too,” McClain says. “They would encourage me, ‘Pray about this.’”
After graduating in 2007, she started teaching French and religion at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, where she met her husband, a fellow teacher.
McClain loves that she doesn’t have to leave her faith behind in the classroom. Her French lessons can talk about the history of Mardi Gras, the day before the beginning of Lent. She can quote Scripture and talk about morals in everyday life. “My faith permeates my entire life,” McClain says. “I want it to be integrated into my teaching.”