By MARY JO CURTSINGER
CHICAGO — On Nov. 3, 1988, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin came to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago to receive something and to ask for something more.
What he received was an honorary doctorate, bestowed for his lifetime of selfless pastoral leadership, especially as reflected in his promotion of morality and ethical study. Then he expressly asked that CTU “take as its special mission the promotion of the vision of the Church proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council.” This challenge turned out to be the genesis of The Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry, inaugurated this year at CTU. The purpose of this academic center is to prepare future church leaders in the spirit that Cardinal Bernardin exemplified, through theological study and research, pastoral reflection and public discussion.
The plans for the center were reviewed by the cardinal shortly before his death and given his blessing in a letter dated Oct. 9, 1996: “I am deeply honored by his wonderful gift from my dear friends at CTU and give it my heartfelt blessing. I am very pleased that you will continue my legacy and ecclesial vision, which are based on the teaching and reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”
One year later, on the eve of the first anniversary of his death, the cardinal’s sister, Elaine Addison, was on hand at CTU to recognize the first six Bernardin scholars. The center awards scholarships to gifted master’s and doctoral students who will focus their studies on the issues and vision embodied in the cardinal’s legacy: his teaching on the church’s “Consistent Ethic of Life,” his collegial and open spirit of pastoral leadership, his commitment to ecumenism and the Catholic-Jewish dialogue, and his tireless efforts to find common ground among various perspectives and groups within the Catholic community and in other faiths. Addison, from the Diocese of Charleston, greeted the newly chosen scholars in his name and gave to each a personal copy of the cardinal’s last writing, The Gift of Peace.
CTU will operate the Bernardin Center of Theology and Ministry in close collaboration with the Archdiocese of Chicago, including the Bernardin Archives and Records Center, Mundelein Seminary, and other archdiocesan agencies. The cardinal himself has previously designated CTU as a collaborator with the archdiocese in the preparation of lay students, and in a special way, of future leaders for the Hispanic and African-American communities.
Catholic Theological Union was founded in 1968 and is sponsored by 36 religious communities. It has become the largest Roman Catholic school of ministry in North America, preparing over 350 graduate students in master’s and doctoral programs for church service. Sixty percent of its student body are seminarians from religious communities. The remainder of its diverse population is composed of lay students preparing for careers as teachers, chaplains, missionaries and a host of other ministries, as well as experienced priests, religious and laity returning for continuing education.
For information about the Bernardin Center of Theology and Ministry at CTU and its scholarship application process, call Pattie Sporrong at (773) 753-5316.
Mary Jo Curtsinger is from Columbia and is currently a full-time student in one of CTU’s master’s programs.