School of Theology and Ministry Professor Thomas Groome makes a point during the October 19 book launch as co-editors Hosffman Ospino and Colleen Griffith look on. (Photo by Ann Hermes)

New book looks at formative theological education

Nine School of Theology and Ministry faculty members contributed to the volume

A new book from faculty members in the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry offers a guide to the art of theological education from the perspective of formative education sensibilities and commitments. As described by co-editors Professor of the Practice of Theology Colleen Griffith and Associate Professor of Theology and Education Hosffman Ospino, formative theological education encompasses a spiritual vision that seeks to “encourage spiritual maturity, ethically responsible lives, and leadership in the pursuit of justice.”

Formative Theological Education (Paulist Press) was officially launched at a recent campus celebration that marked the School of Theology and Ministry’s 15th anniversary and included remarks from STM Dean Michael McCarthy, S.J., and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley.

Celebrate the STM's 15th birthday with current STM students, esteemed alumni, and Dean Michael C. McCarthy, S.J. The event features nine STM faculty authors sharing their hopes for Formative Theological Education, and the launch of the new book of the same title co-edited by Colleen M. Griffith and Hosffman Ospino (Paulist Press, September 2023). 

Presenters: Michael C. McCarthy, S.J., dean and professor, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry,  Colleen Griffith, professor of the practice of theology and faculty director of spirituality studies and Hosffman Ospino, associate professor of Hispanic ministry and religious education, chair of the department of religious education and pastoral ministry, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry
Panelists: John F. Baldovin, S.J., professor of historical and liturgical theology, Andrew R. Davis, associate professor of Old Testament, Thomas Groome, professor of theology and religious education, Callid Keefe-Perry, assistant professor of contextual education and public theology, Melissa Kelley, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, Richard Lennan, professor of systematic theology, chair of the ecclesiastical faculty, Theresa A. Oâ  Keefe, professor of the practice, religious education, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

School of Theology and Ministry faculty members (front row, left to right) Hosffman Ospino, Theresa O'Keefe, Melissa Kelley, Andrew Davis, (back row, l-r) John Baldovin, S.J., Thomas Groome, Colleen Griffith, Callid Keefe-Perry, and Fr. Richard Lennan contributed chapters to the new book. (Photo by Ann Hermes)

“Boston College is a leader in formative education,” said Griffith, faculty director of spirituality studies. “Hosffman and I felt the next step in BC's efforts to underscore formative education as central to its mission would be for individual disciplines to articulate what this vision means in their respective areas of study. So, we set out to provide an articulation of what formative theological education would look like.

“We knew the STM had a distinctive contribution to make here. The STM has a large religious education faculty of national and international repute, a group of women and men that thinks creatively about pedagogical strategies and has shown leadership in doing so. STM is a place that has much to offer in terms of a vision and approach that other theological educators might be able to lean into. Because we're a school of theology, ministry, and faith-based service we think in practical terms about how very rich theological insights hit the ground, how they get appropriated, and how ministers and faith-based service leaders are able to sustain themselves in mission in changing seasons.”

“This book is a sampler of what formative theological education is,” said Ospino, who chairs the STM’s Department of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. “It doesn't exhaust the concept; there are many other aspects that could be and should be considered about formative theological education, but whoever is reading this book will be exposed to 10 of the best entry points into formative theological education. And we are privileged to have most of these voices at Boston College.”

At the book launch, Griffith and Ospino spoke about their vision for the book and introduced the STM faculty members who wrote essays for Formative Theological Education. Along with Griffith and Ospino, contributors are John Baldovin, S.J.; Andrew Davis; Thomas Groome; Callid Keefe-Perry; Melissa Kelley; Fr. Richard Lennan; and Theresa O'Keefe. Each contributing author shared an insight of how they understand and do formative theological education. Not present at the event was contributor Nancy Pineda-Madrid, a former STM faculty member who now teaches at Loyola Marymount University.

The book is organized into three sections. In the first section, “Grounding the Discussion,” Davis, Griffith, and Fr. Lennan address how Scripture and spiritual tradition encourage a particular “way of knowing” that undergirds formative theological education.

The second section, “Foundational Commitments,” features essays from Groome, Ospino, and Pineda-Madrid on faith formation, the primacy of cultural contextuality, and educating in the way of justice.

The third section, “Hopes and Outcomes,” includes essays from Fr. Baldovin, Keefe-Perry, Kelley, and O’Keefe that address the importance of mentoring and imagination as well as fostering communities and resiliency.

Formative Theological Education was written to invite primarily theological educators in colleges, seminaries, and high schools as well as religious educators who do adult faith formation in parishes to think more intentionally about what they do. “But there are certain things about this book that I think appeal to anybody who's in a formative role and is interested in moving with people into deeper spiritual realms,” said Griffith.

Added Ospino: “In a Catholic university, the different fields, schools, and departments need to wrestle with the question of ‘What does it mean to do formative education?’ I think that this book is a must-read for anyone teaching in a Catholic institution or a faith-based university.”

“Even if another department did not want to engage in a conversation with theology per se,” added Griffith, “everything that's said about formative education points in the direction of a spiritual vision. That's what needs to really be engaged.

“We're stepping forward with theology as our discipline, but we hope every part of our University will do this. It asks us as educators to think about content choices, practical relevance of the discipline, advisement, and what you're going to make more dominant in the teaching/learning dynamic in and outside the classroom.”

“We cannot educate theologically as if we were living in the 16th century, or the 19th century, or even the middle of the 20th century. In the 21st century, we need fresher approaches to theological education that are distinctly formative."

Ospino noted that the book comes at a time of immense change in the theological education landscape in the United States and across the world. He cited demographic, social, cultural, and technological changes, but also changes in the role of religion in society, the future of theology in Catholic universities and Catholic high schools, and the struggle of the institutional Church to remain credible and relevant among the younger generation.

“One thing is clear,” he said. “We cannot educate theologically as if we were living in the 16th century, or the 19th century, or even the middle of the 20th century. In the 21st century, we need fresher approaches to theological education that are distinctly formative. From a Catholic perspective, to assert that theological education is formative is to envision this important task as an exercise that mediates the richness of the Christian tradition that we received as believers while always remaining ready to respond to the questions and needs of God's people here and now.”

He continued: “Formative theological education must be deeply ecclesial, prophetic, contextual, imaginative, embodied, collaborative, and expansive in its understanding of the complexity of the human experience. It must be inclusive of voices, texts, and experiences of the baptized and others, with particular attention to those who have been marginalized, ignored, or forgotten. And it must be responsive to the needs and questions of humanity as we make meaning of our historical existence, honoring commonalities and differences.

“So in a sense, this is a book that breaks open the idea of theological education, improving and strengthening what happens in the classroom, but looking at the much bigger picture.”