Engaging a culture in decline
Legate Dr. Tim Gray leads the Augustine Institute’s mission to re-evangelize Catholics . . .
Named for a saint who lived in times remarkably similar to our own — and led by Dr. Tim Gray, a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter — the institute offers on-site and distance education classes toward master’s degrees in theology and leadership for the New Evangelization. Other offerings include catechetical and youth ministry programs and leadership formation for parishes and dioceses.
The idea for the institute grew out of conversations among Catholic leaders in a group that included Archbishop Charles Chaput, who led the Denver archdiocese at the time. The early envisioning sessions were a team effort, said Jonathan Reyes, Augustine’s co-founder and first president.
Reyes, who now leads the U.S. bishops’ department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development, said he remembers sitting under a photograph from Denver’s 1993 World Youth Day, talking about what to call the institute.
“That’s when the name Augustine emerged. I said, ‘Hey, I think it should be called Augustine,’ and everybody said, ‘That’s it!’ Augustine lived at a time when there was massive cultural transformation and the Roman Empire itself was falling, yet it was also a time that gave birth to the renewal that became Christendom. We thought Augustine was the perfect bridge figure.”
“Augustine taught Christians how to live well in a declining culture and to be a light to renew it, to bring about a new and better culture. That’s really what we are trying to do.”
Gray said AI students learn a Catholic biblical worldview from Augustine’s writings that engages a secular world. “Augustine used all these great gifts to bring about a season of transformation for the Church that would last for generations. That’s what we want to give our students.”
From humble beginnings in rooms rented from the chancery and with an enrollment of 35 students, the institute outgrew its space within just two years, relocating to larger quarters in Loretto Heights. A few years ago, the institute moved to its own building in Greenwood Village, south of Denver, thanks to the generosity of a Legatus-member donor who offered a lease at a discounted price with a purchase option.
After starting with an on-site master’s program, Augustine added distance-learning, the YDisciple program for parish youth ministries, the Symbolon catechetical program, and training for parishes and dioceses on the New Evangelization, adult faith formation and the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
By 2012, the Augustine Institute had risen to No. 3 on the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) list of lay ecclesial ministry master’s level formation programs. Interest also is building in AI’s outreach to parishes and dioceses through partnerships with Ignatius Press and Lighthouse Catholic Media, which distribute materials for the YDisciple and Symbolon programs.
Dr. Edward Sri, Augustine’s vice president of mission and outreach, said AI sees itself as a think tank for the New Evangelization with two lungs: one for the graduate school, which trains those who want to work in the Church or learn more about the faith, and the other for parish programs.
An important aspect of the institute’s work with parishes, Gray said, is using technology to create programming that is effective in educating laypeople.
“Pope John Paul II said the New Evangelization must be new in method and expression. We’re really trying to do that with the technology.”
The graduate school, Sri added, largely attracts laypeople, but also some religious, priests and deacons. Graduates often go on to become Catholic school principals, religious- education directors and campus ministers.
Gray said the curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the New Evangelization by showing students how the truths of the Church fit into cultural engagement with post-modernism. “They want to know how we tell the truth of the faith so that it’s compelling for people in modern culture.”
For parishes, the institute developed YDisciple to serve the estimated 88% that have no full-time youth minister — and Symbolon as an adult evangelization program that can be used with groups, including RCIA, as well as by individuals or families.
YDisciple uses small groups and adult leaders to disciple teens in an environment where they can learn about their faith.
Gray said his 15-year-old son Joe has been in a YDisciple group for the last year. “It’s had a huge impact on him. As a parent, I’ve loved knowing every week the topics they’re discussing so I could talk with Joe about it.”
Symbolon, on the other hand, is aimed at adult Catholics, many of whom have never had a deep conversion, Sri said. The 20-part program covers everything from human sexuality to the sacraments.
“When we created this, we brought in catechetical experts from around the U.S. and Canada to help,” he said. “They encouraged us to use the beauty of tradition, the saints and the arts to engage the culture. The teaching is orthodox and it’s calling people to conversion.”
And in October, AI will launch another adult faith formation program called Lectio. Gray said such programs are important because the New Evangelization requires an engaged laity.
Building the Church
Father Scott Traynor, chaplain of Legatus’ Denver Chapter and rector of St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, said the Augustine Institute has a passion to serve the New Evangelization in an innovative way.
“It’s exciting to see an organization that is creative and using new technology to deliver content,” he said. “It’s not just your typical nice thing. It’s really taking a look at where people are, and how the Augustine Institute can help them grow in faith and provide resources and trained people to accompany them in doing that.”
Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila called AI a blessing for his archdiocese and an example of the New Evangelization at work.
“I have had the opportunity to know many graduates of the Augustine Institute, and I am continually impressed not only by their knowledge and understanding of Church teaching, but more importantly by their love for Christ and for his Church.”
Asked what makes the Augustine Institute different from other similar academic programs, Reyes said, “It’s mission-oriented, the mission being the New Evangelization understood as not just new techniques, but a vision of a kind of personal formation and transformation of the culture with a deep understanding of culture, what’s at stake and what the issues are in the world.”
In today’s secular culture, Gray said, Catholics will only succeed in their faith with good formation. “We’re at a point in the culture today where we have to be well formed to sustain our Catholic identity.”
At the time of the 2012 CARA study, Augustine had 288 degree candidates and 23 certificate candidates, putting it in third place behind Boston College and Franciscan University of Steubenville. Today, more than 300 students from 40 U.S. states and places as far away as Australia, Europe and Asia are enrolled on campus and through distance-learning.
Thousands more are being reached through the institute’s parish and diocesan programs. In just four months, Gray said, AI has sold more than 4,000 Symbolon DVD sets, half of them to parishes.
“When we started,” Reyes said, “we weren’t quite sure what was going to happen, but it’s a testimony to God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit that we’re doing really well.”
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.