Friday August 5, 2005

Online Spanish Religion Classes

The University of Dayton is teaming up with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to pilot four Spanish Catholic faith formation classes over the Internet, starting in August. It's an effort to minister to Hispanics, the city's largest ethnic group.

By January, the University of Dayton plans to expand the program across the country, where Hispanic Americans now outnumber African Americans as the nation's largest minority group. In Los Angeles, they make up nearly half the city's population.

"I'm not aware of any other online Spanish classes in the country in the area of Catholic adult faith formation," said Sister Angela Ann Zukowksi, M.H.S.H., director of UD's Institute for Pastoral Initiatives and a proponent for expanding faith formation from the traditional classroom to cyberspace.

"The Catholic church is exploring different ways to reach out to Hispanics. While Hispanics are the fastest-growing Catholic population in the church, we are aware that they represent a significant population that is being attracted to evangelical groups and churches," she noted. "Hispanic Catholics are deeply spiritual and religious and are seeking ways to maintain their Catholic identity while deepening their faith experience. This is one way to support their spiritual journey in relationship with the local Catholic church."

In partnership with 21 dioceses in 16 states, the University of Dayton's Institute for Pastoral Initiatives already offers more than two dozen online classes through a program called "Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation." Last year, more than 1,000 students took 26 classes in topics ranging from Catholic beliefs to social justice. The initial four courses in Spanish will cover Catholic beliefs, Jesus, sacraments and Mary.

"There's a big need for this," said Ida Miranda, a bilingual consultant and a religious educator for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "Some directors of education are unable to seek certification or receive updates on their faith (because they can't attend traditional classes) because of the hours. Others have difficulty comprehending the material in English."

Miranda is designing the first four courses, recruiting facilitators and marketing the pilot curriculum through a brochure in Spanish.

The need is real: The Hispanic population in the United States increased 58 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the U.S. census. Hispanics now account for 45 percent of all Catholics under age 30 in the U.S., according to Instituto Fe Y Vida, which issued a recent report, "The Status of Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry in the United States."

The "Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation" initiative began as a pilot program between the University of Dayton and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1997. It was expanded in 2000 to include a number of rural dioceses. Today, students are enrolled from more than 100 dioceses in the United States and seven countries. In collaboration with the Federation for Asian Bishops' Office for Social Communications in Manila and St. John's University in Bangkok, Zukowski is even exploring developing classes for Catholics in Asian countries.

Participants earn continuing education credit from the University of Dayton. Diocesan catechists, youth and lay ecclesial ministers and deacons in training can receive credit toward their diocesan certification in many dioceses. Classes, which take four to six weeks to complete, cost $40 for students from a partner diocese and $80 for students from other dioceses. The program is supported by the University of Dayton and the Marianist Province of the United States. For more information, see

For media interviews, contact Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, M.H.S.H., at (937) 229-3126 or via e-mail at Ida Miranda can be reached at (310) 371-5936 or