WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Dr. Stephane Saulnier leads noon-hour seminars at Newman College 4 days a week.
Registration is free, there's no homework and no prior knowledge is necessary. Upon completion, the students are granted neither a diploma nor a degree. Yet the Treasures of the Faith seminar series garners plenty of attention.
By all accounts, the seminar series adheres to the Newman Theological College's motto: Faith Seeking Understanding.
Carla Smiley, who works in the Edmonton Archdiocese's development office, attends the Thursday seminar on the new evangelization, attending for both professional and personal reasons.
"We are asked at the archdiocese office, whatever department we are in, to integrate the principles of evangelization into our work," said Smiley.
Since January, the Thursday group has studied Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation, On Evangelization in the Modern World, and will next delve into Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.
Pleased with the convenience of the program, Smiley said, "I will continue with this, for sure. I think it is just fantastic to be able to walk across the street and continue my faith formation."
Until Jan. 25, the seminar series was hosted by the college's Scriptures, history and foundation department, chaired by associate professor Dr. Stephane Saulnier, also the director of undergraduate programs at Newman.
At that time, the seminar series became part of the faith formation programs offered by the Benedict XVI Institute for New Evangelization. It continues to be hosted by Saulnier, who hopes that evening and weekend classes will soon be offered as well.
The series is designed, as the name suggests, to explore the treasures of the Catholic faith through reading texts that have shaped the Catholic faith and tradition.
"There were initially two main motivations for these seminars. First, the college had moved into its brand new building in December 2010 and I felt it was important to offer something to the Catholic community who had been and was continuing to support the mission of the college with such dedication," said Saulnier.
"So I thought of offering these seminars for free as a small token of our appreciation."
He felt it was important for the seminars to be rooted in the treasures of the Catholic faith, and from there the title for the seminar series became obvious.
Saulnier said the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Divine Revelation provides the principle for the series – Scripture, Tradition and the Church's teaching office "are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others." Together, they contribute to the salvation of souls.
The seminars focus on those three facets in order to help participants grow in their knowledge and understanding of the faith, he said.
Participants now come from "all walks of faith and life," Saulnier said. "There is a growing number of regular attendees and a steady flow of newcomers every term, with participants from various Christian denominations, seasoned in their faith or just embarking on this exciting journey of faith."
Only 10 per cent of those attending are current college students.
Terry McGhee had attended summer school at the old Newman location, but is new to the noon seminars.
"We gain a lot of knowledge, and with the knowledge we are able to move forth and serve God in a greater way," said McGhee.
Each series lasts a semester and focuses on a particular period of Church history, a specific theological theme or a prominent person in the Church.
In 2010, Saulnier started a seminar on the writings of the Church Fathers, which still continues. They are currently reading St. Augustine's On Sacred Doctrine, with about a dozen people attending each time.
In 2011 this developed into the Treasures of the Faith seminar series. Added to the series were two more seminars: Sacred Scriptures (Wednesday) and the magisterium (Thursday).
The Scripture group, which is currently reading some of the letters of St Paul, has been the most popular, now drawing more than 30 people. The Thursday seminar has about seven people.
Saulnier said Edmonton Catholic Schools has shown interest in the seminars. Having people involved in the school system participate live through videoconferencing is one goal.
Linda Hrubizna enjoys the fact that Saulnier allows the participants to tell their individual stories, and share what is affecting their personal lives. She attends all of the noontime seminars.
She especially wants to engage with the younger generation and let them know there is hope through Jesus.
Since Jan. 17, a Friday group of up to 15 people has been studying the Catholic mystics. They are currently reading The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Kristina Perkins started coming to the classes seeking knowledge, but has received much more.
"I came to the seminar hoping to learn more about my faith, thinking it would be through studying the life of a saint. What I have experienced is that Dr. Saulnier is able to hold a space where we can see where this saint has been and relate it to our own lives," she said.
Perkins said the real treasure is how the students have been guided to bring their own experiences into the conversation. "It shines a light on that saintly path and makes it more attainable."
A friend recommended the seminar series to Andrea Hamilton about two years ago, and she has been attending ever since. She wanted to engage in interesting theological discussions without registering for classes.
"Short of enrolling at Newman, this is the only venue for it, and seems to be the only place available to me with my low level of commitment and time. I don't want to be a full-time student anymore," said Hamilton who, although non-Catholic, feels welcome at the seminars.