One of the greatest needs for the Church in America is an Orthodox school system. With few exceptions, Orthodox Christian children attend public schools. Yes, some attend private religiously affiliated or secular schools. But there are very few Orthodox parochial school. A noticeable exception to this, is Three Hierarchs Eastern Orthodox School (THEOS), “a private, non-public, non-profit religious school” that services children in the metropolitan Pittsburgh area.
Turning from elementary school children to older students, the lack of Orthodox educational options is even more striking. With the exception of Hellenic College, in Brookline, MA there are simply no Orthodox institutions dedicated to undergraduate education. While there are no doubt a number of reasons for this, it is hard for me to avoid thinking that all of this represents a significant failure of the Church in America. For all practical purposes, with the exception of seminaries, the Orthodox children are educated by State, by the faithful of non-Orthodox Christian communities and by the faculties of private educational institutions.
God willing, at least as far as undergraduate education is concerned, all of this will change in the Fall of 2011 when St Katherine College begins offering classes in San Diego, CA.
For the last several months, I have been in conversation with the founder and president of SKC, Frank Papatheofanis, MD, PhD. Reflecting on his reasons for founding St Katherine College, an Orthodox Christian, a physician-scientist and educator with over 30 years of experience in academic medicine and science, Dr Papatheofanis turns first to Scripture. “St Paul writes in 2 Peter 1:5-10,” says, that “we increase in our faithfulness to the Lord.” He points out that the Apostle
…first mentions goodness as an important quality for us to seek before identifying knowledge as another desirable quality. St Paul tells us we should increase in knowledge about the Lord. Some come to know, increasing their knowledge of, Christ from a spiritual direction whereas some come to understand Him more from knowledge of His Creation or other routes. As a physician-scientist I have been supported in my faith through glimpses of the Divine in the created world. The notion of “inquiry seeking wisdom” emerged from these experiences. Rigorous inquiry is the bulwark of scholarship and research. But why? Why does inquiry matter? I think it matters because Wisdom, Jesus Christ, is revealed to us as we learn more about what He has created. I think such an approach to scholarship probably reigned when the world’s great centers of learning were organized. I also think that an institution founded around such a principle is again needed in the world today.
St Katherine’s will “emphasizes teaching and research—with relevance to the practical world and Christian witness as guiding principles.” The College will offer “degree programs leading to the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in Art, Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Economics, English Language and Literature, History, Interdisciplinary Studies, Music, Philosophy, Public Policy, and Theology.”
Besides the natural challenge of starting a new college, one of the things that I find most interesting–and exciting–about SKC is that the academic program will not only “encompass several academic disciplines and degree-granting programs … leading to the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in Art, Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Economics, English Language and Literature, History, Interdisciplinary Studies, Music, Philosophy, Public Policy, and Theology” but do so within the context of “interdisciplinary collaborations, laboratories, and programs whose work cuts across traditional departmental boundaries.” Where typically an undergraduate education leads to a fragmentation of knowledge the goal at SKC is to create “a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere” that educates “students to become creative members of society.” Finally, and I think most importantly, all of this is within the context of the tradition of the Orthodox Church.
Thinking about my undergraduate education as a Roman Catholic at the University of Dallas (itself a Roman Catholic institution) I remember how important it was for me, and for the majority of the students, to see our professors not only in the classroom but to stand with them at Mass and receive Holy Communion together. I also remember how formative it was to have priests as professors. These men not only taught in the classroom, they celebrated Mass in the chapel, heard our confessions, and celebrated our marriages. Especially through their example, many of us became priests or, in the case of the women, entered became religious sisters and nuns.
Speaking as a psychologist for a moment, the four years that are typically spent at college are incredibly important to a person’s religious faith. If the empirical evidence tells me anything it is the local parish and the campus Orthodox Christian Fellowship simply can’t be expected to meet the spiritual and developmental needs of 18-21 year old Orthodox Christians. And, to be fair, institution like St Katherine College isn’t going to meet the needs of anything but a small fraction of Orthodox Christian undergraduates. But this shouldn’t stop us from wholeheartedly supporting SKC.
Please let me encourage you to look at their website and, if it looks like something that might be of interest to a young person you know, place along the link.