Reviewed by Mary Garvin SNJM, Gonzaga University, SPOKANE, WA 99258
Katarina Schuth's book will be of interest to anyone who cares about the future of the U.S. church. Her comprehensive researched inquiry into contemporary theological education and ministry formation in seminaries and theologates introduces the reader to a new generation of ministerial students facing shifting ministerial circumstances . Schuth visited the majority of the forty-four schools included in this study who enroll seminarians and lay ministerial students. She conducted personal interviews with over 550 students, faculty and administrators. She supplemented her field research with other data to insure her goal "...to explore how and how well the schools are fulfilling their mission of preparing men and women for ministry in the twenty-first century" (p.xiv). Schuth's skill and insight provides the reader with a valuable aid for assessment and planning the future of theological education and ministerial formation.
Since theological education does not exist in isolation from the world, but rather in its midst, Part One offers three additional authors whose essays contextualize contemporary theological education as background for interpreting Schuth's data. R. Scott Appleby explores "United States Catholicism in the Twenty-First Century" and provides a profile of the changing Catholic culture with its challenge of diversity facing a new generation of priests and lay ministers. Diminishing religious literacy and sense of Catholic identity combined with American culture's consumerism and secularism leads Appleby to recognize "the culture of disbelief" and " the discourse of decline" (p.19) while also appreciating the extraordinary accomplishments of a post-conciliar American church.
The second essay by James Walsh emphasizes priesthood in his chronology of " Vatican influences on U.S. seminaries and National Developments from the Mid-Eighties to the Present", citing Vatican documents and normative guidelines from the U. S. Bishops. These documents, in addition to the visitation of United States seminaries in the 80's, continue to raise issues of priestly identity and the theology of orders in an increasingly multicultural church holding conflicting ecclesiologies and emerging lay ministries.
In the final essay of Part One Victor Klimoski examines "The Priest as Parish Leader". He wishes to clarify the mutual expectations of people in the parish and their priests. So he asked seminarians, "Why do you want to be a priest?" Then he asked parish members, "What do you expect of your priest and yourself as a parish member?" This essay identifies the tensions that emerge from quite different expectations. All three essays in Part One present significant content with serious and thoughtful observations related to church and culture with a major emphasis on parish and priestly ministry.
Part Two, "Mission and Members of Theological Communities," and Part Three, "Formation Programs," present Schuth's research through charts, descriptive text and summary analysis. In Part Two Schuth considers the "Mission, Identity and Foundational Values" of the seminaries and theologates. She analyzes mission statements and how they reveal an institution's identity and emphasis. She notes one of the changes in the last ten years is the attitude about laity. Some intentionally downplay the presence of laity while others include them (p. 57). Next she examines "Students and their Backgrounds: Religious, Intellectual and Human". She offers eight composite portraits which vividly represent diverse populations of students. She concludes with comments on "Boards, Administrators and Faculty Members".
Part Three develops various aspects of "Formation Programs", their evolution and development as well as the specifics of human, spiritual and intellectual formation. This is an extensive and particularly valuable section. The book ends with a short chapter on the Future and a Conclusion which raises awareness of " Accomplishments and Critical Concerns". Schuth recognizes accomplishments in the areas of management, programs and improvement in campus facilities. Her concerns focus on curriculum, ecumenism and collaboration. She also raises concerns about recruiting students with an aptitude for ministry, the need for scholarships to attract lay students and human and spiritual formation programs for lay students.
Schuth's writing is realistic, straightforward and balanced. She successfully presents comprehensive material in ways accessible to readers, indicating interpretations and implications of the data without being dogmatic. Schuth does not avoid the hard issues of diversity, polarization in theologies of church and ministry, sexuality, overworked seminary faculty and administrators. Her candor is refreshing and engaging. The reader can opt for sections from the beginning or topics of specific interest ("Formation" for example). Those familiar with Schuth's earlier work, Reason for Hope (1989), will follow with interest the changes and developments during the ten year period since its publication. Her most recent book's practicality and immediacy will appeal to those associated with theological education, whether as material for a faculty discussion, a board retreat, or for lay leaders in ministry who will be working with the priests educated and formed in these institutions.
However, what is left unsaid does concern this reviewer. I hope that Katarina Schuth will continue to bring her skills of research and analysis to the full exploration of the future of church ministry and that her next project will explore the issues of the growing number of laity preparing for ministry and the institutions (other than seminaries and theologates) which are educating them.