Saint Xavier University students get rare opportunity to study with a Bishop
Retired Auxiliary Bishop John R. Gorman teaches 15-week Pastoral Ministry Course
Chicago (May 7, 2007) – A lucky group of Saint Xavier University graduate students have had the rare experience this spring of studying for 15 weeks with a Roman Catholic bishop.
The pastoral ministry course in the theology of the Church is being taught by Retired Auxiliary Bishop John R. Gorman. Meeting Thursday evenings at Saint Xavier’s Orland Park Campus, students have explored how the Catholic Church developed through the centuries with an emphasis on changes from the Second Vatican Council. The course is one of five offered in the Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Studies Program, which collaborates with the Archdiocesan Together in God’s Service Program and Catholic Theological Union in preparing a new generation of commissioned lay ecclesial ministers for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Bishop Gorman, who was ordained a priest in 1952, maintains a pleasant air. He arrives before his students and greets them by name as they enter the classroom. While they organize their presentations for later that evening, Bishop Gorman takes up a blue marker and proceeds to weave a tapestry of words moving from left to right across the room’s erasable board. It begins with Jesus and flows into the Catholic Church, in turn interlacing with 2000 years of society before circling back once again to Jesus.
“The church changes over time with society, but the creed that it supports remains constant,” Bishop Gorman says. “Anything that is not structured will drift away eventually.”
With an easy tone and vivid imagery, Bishop Gorman treats his students to an evening that is part lecture and part discussion, inviting them to share their own experiences and insights into substantive reading dealing with a different theme each week.
“This has been a marvelous, unique experience that this group will never forget,” said SXU Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Studies Director Avis Clendenen. “Think about it, a 15-week course with a bishop. Bishop Gorman is one of just a few bishops, if not the only bishop, in the country teaching a 15-week graduate course. As we say, ‘how neat is that?’”
Bishop Gorman, while retired, continues to serve the Chicago Archdiocese and is in residence at Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park. He favors a teaching style that relies on simple eloquence and fundamental images to show concepts of church and faith. At one point, he uses the basic act of breathing to convey God’s presence in the world.
“So we need a Catholic imagination to understand some of this,” Bishop Gorman said. “Let me ask all of you to take three deep breaths. What did you breathe in? We depend on air, but it is invisible. Invisibility does not mean non-reality.”
“The primary role of a bishop is that of teacher, but they don’t have the time,” Clendenen said, noting the packed schedule of administration, sacrament and ceremony facing most bishops. “This is an opportunity to provide a very, very inspiring environment for the education and formation of the next and new generation of lay pastoral leadership for our local Church and beyond.”
How did Clendenen get Bishop Gorman to teach the class?
“I asked,” she said.
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Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846, Saint Xavier University was the first Mercy college in the United States and is Chicago’s oldest Catholic university. Serving approximately 5,700 students at its campuses in Chicago, Orland Park and its Loop location, the University offers 35 undergraduate majors; more than 40 graduate program options in arts and sciences, business, education and nursing; and a variety of program options in continuing and professional studies. Recognizing Saint Xavier’s excellence in education, U.S. News and World Report has ranked SXU consistently among the Best Colleges in the Midwest.