LOS ANGELES — Loyola Marymount University has been awarded a $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to expand educational opportunities for pastoral leaders across Southern California and create new pathways for prospective students to study theology.
The three-year grant will enable LMU to pursue a robust interdisciplinary scope of work led by the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts’ Theological Studies faculty and the university’s Center for Religion and Spirituality, which offers programs for adult learners that strengthen their religious and spiritual formation as ministers, educators, and community leaders.
This new effort is being funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. It is a three-phase initiative designed to help theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges they face as they prepare pastoral leaders both now and into the future.
“As a Catholic, Jesuit and Marymount university, we have always been committed to building and growing a new core of leaders who will really help bring the Catholic Church into the future in our country,” said John Sebastian, LMU vice president for Mission and Ministry. “This grant provides an opportunity for LMU to be part of the evolution of our Church, the future of which is Latino, and to educate leaders who will help make the Church’s presence stronger in our communities.”
With the Lilly Endowment funding, LMU aims to increase access to theological education and pastoral formation for underserved populations and younger populations, including prospective undergraduates and non-traditional students who have not earned baccalaureate degrees. Additionally, LMU will equip local Catholic pastoral leaders with more tools to address the most challenging aspects of ecclesial life in greater Los Angeles — racial and ethnic injustice, disaffiliation, a lack of understanding about growing religious diversity, and leadership transitions due to the retirement of senior pastoral ministers.
Professor Amir Hussain, who chairs the Department of Theological Studies, said the university also plans to establish and grow online learning programs, build a pipeline to LMU from religious schools in Los Angeles, better support graduate students without a family history of higher education in the United States, and offer free workshops and resources to faith communities in Southern California, especially to those that are economically challenged.
“This grant will allow us to start thinking: Who are we not yet serving? Who are the people who don’t get access to this sort of education? Where are the parishes that will benefit from getting some trained educators?” he said.
The grant will also provide support for the Center for Religion and Spirituality’s Mantener el Camino (“Stay On Track”) program, which began in fall 2020. The program, taught by LMU faculty, enrolls Hispanic pastoral ministers who have not yet earned college degrees in courses that are relevant for work in ministry.
The program also provides mentorship and aims to assist these students with their educational goals and gives them options, said Robert Hurteau, director of the Center for Religion and Spirituality. Students can earn a professional certificate or matriculate to Los Angeles Trade-Technical College and other community colleges to pursue an associate’s degree.
Mantener el Camino welcomes church ministers like Citlali Soriano Cruz, who volunteers regularly at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Compton. “I literally never imagined myself setting foot at a university, especially in the United States,” said Cruz, a Mexico City native who immigrated to California in 2001 and had not pursued higher education until now. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to be studying and taking courses at LMU.”
Lilly Endowment in late 2021 awarded 84 grants totaling more than $82 million to help U.S. and Canadian theological schools prioritize and respond to pressing challenges for church leaders.
About Loyola Marymount University
Loyola Marymount University is an elite, top-ranked national university by U.S. News and World Report, which places LMU among the top five Jesuit universities in the country and in the top six private universities in California. Founded in 1911, LMU is a Catholic, Jesuit, and Marymount university with more than 6,500 undergraduate students and more than 3,000 graduate and law students. LMU offers 60 undergraduate majors and 56 minor programs, along with 49 master’s degree programs, three doctorate programs and 14 credential/authorization programs. LMU’s intercollegiate athletics teams compete in the West Coast Conference with 20 Division I and varsity sports.