Grant Funds Hispanic Outreach

The University of Dayton's Institute for Pastoral Initiatives has received a $17,459 grant from the Our Sunday Visitor Institute to develop online distance-learning courses to support catechist and adult faith formation in the Catholic Church for Hispanic communities in the U.S. and abroad.

The grant will help support the creation of seven new Spanish-language online courses intended to increase the faith knowledge of Hispanic lay leaders in parish and diocesan roles.

“The rapidly growing Catholic Latino and Latina faith communities within our dioceses and parishes invite us to be present, attentive and supportive in accompanying them on their faith journey,” said Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski, MHSH, professor in the department of religious studies and director of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives.

Zukowski said the grant also enables the Institute to enhance and strengthen its existing Hispanic online courses with video components.

“Furthermore, we are able to explore how diverse social media resources can complement faith formation outreach for our Latino and Latina Catholic family members,” she said.

The mission of the Institute is to mobilize the resources of the University to engage in partnerships to create and implement innovative pastoral initiatives that will meet the needs of the Church and to articulate faith in the context of contemporary culture.

In 2000, the Institute launched its worldwide Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation to develop and deliver religious programs to a wider audience. The Internet-based initiative partners with more than 55 dioceses around the globe to offer online distance-learning to support adult faith, lay ecclesial ministry and catechetical formation in the Catholic Church. It serves more than 7,000 students in 40 countries, offering more than 112 courses in English and Spanish.

Reaching those in the Hispanic community involves more than translating existing English-language courses into Spanish. In 2011, the VLCFF began a new pastoral approach, using a blend of online, traditional and small-community learning for faith and lay leadership formation among growing Hispanic Catholic communities.

The number of Hispanic participants in VLCFF courses has nearly doubled since 2012. Last year, nearly 670 Hispanic Catholic adults actively participated in Spanish-language online courses from Ohio, Maryland and Texas, as well as Colombia and Mexico.

Zukowski said the VLCFF’s online outreach to the Hispanic faith community allows for deeper adult faith formation, pastoral initiatives for nurturing young Catholic Hispanics in parish leadership, and greater resources for animating the New Evangelization in their communities. This is precisely in tune with the invitation and challenge of Pope Francis today.

“With the growth of Hispanic communities throughout the United States, we have a responsibility to practice what Pope Francis calls 'the art of accompaniment' to support and nurture their faith along their pilgrimage journey,” she said. “The VLCFF is one of the supports that the University of Dayton seeks to offer today.”

Each new five-week course engages 12 to 15 participants. Up to four sections of any Spanish-language online course may be offered during VLCFF’s seven annual course cycles. These new Hispanic online courses will build upon current course offerings. Initially, the courses will be marketed and promoted through existing VLCFF diocesan partnerships. After the courses are completed with videos from the pilot sessions, they will be sustained through VLCFF partnership, course registration fees and contributions made to the VLCFF Hispanic Initiative.

Our Sunday Visitor is a national Catholic newspaper founded in 1912 in Huntington, Indiana, by the late Archbishop John Francis Noll. The Our Sunday Visitor Institute supports innovative Church-related programs and activities that are in accord with the mission established by Noll to serve the Church by articulating its teachings, educating its people and evangelizing the broader culture.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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