The story of ‘this little diocese that could’


villanovasigning-webPhoto by James A. McBride

Representatives of the Diocese of Camden and Villanova University participate in the signing ceremony March 31 at the Pastoral Center in Camden to formalize the partnership between the two institutions in providing a church management degree program for parish leaders and managers. Signing documents at the table are (from left) James Danko, dean of the Villanova School of Business; Sister Roseann Quinn, SSJ, delegate for Lifelong Faith Formation, Diocese of Camden; Father Peter Donohue, president of Villanova University; and Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden.


Sister Roseann Quinn, SSJ, delegate for Lifelong Faith Formation for the Diocese of Camden, delivered these words at the signing ceremony to formalize the partnership between the Diocese of Camden’s Office of Lifelong Faith Formation and the Villanova School of Business in providing a church management degree program for parish leaders and managers on March 31 at the Pastoral Center in Camden.

Today, I am going to tell you a story, based on the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. My hunch is that, since that book was written more than 80 years ago, everyone gathered here today is familiar with it, yes?

Once upon a time, less than four years ago to be exact, there were no Catholic colleges in the Diocese of Camden. This was a very serious problem for this land of 500,000 Catholics spread out over six counties. Catholic college and university education, readily available across the river in Philadelphia and even in mid- and northern New Jersey, was simply an “impossible dream” in South Jersey.

What to do, when a dream and also a need to have women and men well-prepared for parish ministry, seems nigh impossible to effect in real life? What to do when nothing exists locally? While we all know and believe that our magnificent universe was created out of nothing, we also know that, unlike God, we are incapable of building anything from nada. Nevertheless, we were determined not to be relegated to forever being a little diocese without a Catholic college or even to being a little college that could.

And so, we did what we could. We knew that what we could do was to pray and hope and dream and invite and meet and meet and meet, and as nodding heads in this room confirm, we could do and did just that. After examining parish needs, participating in countless meetings, campus visits, conference calls, interviews, information sessions, formal agreements, and climbing other seemingly insurmountable hurdles, our dream was realized.

South Jersey is now a diocese with a wide array of formation opportunities from no fewer than seven institutions of higher learning and other formation centers as well, all thoroughly Catholic institutions. With our partnering institutions, we now proudly offer 19 specializations in parish ministry for our co-workers in the vineyards, at the seashore, in the towns and cities of South Jersey. Some colleges offer their programs in Spanish as well as in English and so they meet the needs of a large percentage of the Latino people in South Jersey.

We now have, as Bishop Galante so often proclaims, “a small Catholic college in South Jersey,” where almost 300 women and men from more than 75 percent of our parishes form an amazingly diverse and deeply committed student body of present and future lay ministers.

One of our students, Maryann Exler, a member of a parish in Gloucester County who is studying for a master of arts degree in theology at Georgian Court University, was recently asked: “What difference does your studying theology make in your current parish ministry and in your faith life?” Without hesitation she responded, “It has made a world of difference. It empowers me. I am much more confident in my encounters with parents and parish staff members, both formally and informally. My classes have enabled me to be theologically grounded and more innovative in planning faith formation events and evangelization tools with and for people of all ages. My mind has grown. The more I learn, the more confident I become. Studying theology has increased my passion for my faith and relationship with Jesus, as well as my ability to speak about the teachings of the Catholic tradition and our spiritual heritage.”

Today, we will sign an agreement with our newest partner in lay ministry formation, Villanova University, ranked number one in the set of regional universities, North, according to the 2011 US News & World Report. Their graduate program from the Villanova School of Business and their Center for the Study of Church Management will now provide the highest quality faith-based managerial education to church leaders in our parishes, enabling participants to apply sound business approaches to temporal issues and decision making. At the completion of their studies, students will receive a master of science degree in church management. This new degree program will assist our parishes and pastors administratively and also free our clergy to focus on the sacramental and spiritual needs of their congregations.

This story, this little diocese that could, did grow, not a college or university campus, but a new genre of higher education in South Jersey, a whole community of colleges. We are now a diocese with many university and college partnerships, able and ready to form our people in their faith and in parish and diocesan ministries.

Our hope is that this story of what could be, and is, will become a legacy of active faith formation across the life cycle that will be felt in every parish and in every Catholic heart and home throughout South Jersey. Our vision is becoming a dream made possible. Now and into the future, our parishes can thrive with new vitality and new ministries that will serve the needs of our people, our world and our Church.

Thank you for becoming part of our history and the foundation of the one and only Catholic college of South Jersey. And thank you for being with us on this important day in our shared histories, and for enabling our story to continue, with God’s grace and our response, toward “a future full of hope.”

Sister Roseann Quinn, SSJ, is delegate for Lifelong Faith Formation, Diocese of Camden.

To find out more about the program

The Lay Ministry Formation Program offered by the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation of the Diocese of Camden provides degree and certificate courses for parish leaders and staff members who serve in various pastoral ministries.

For more information about the Lay Ministry Formation Program, call Linda K. Robinson at 856-583-6116. For more information about the Hispanic track of the program, call Kathia Gomez at 856-583-6135. More information is also available by going to and clicking on “Lay Ministry Formation Program.”