Sacred Heart's new course seeks to empower lay Catholics to 'understand their calling and live their faith in the world'

DETROIT — When Sacred Heart Major Seminary offered its first “massive open online course” earlier this year, Matthew Gerlach, Ph.D., wasn't sure what to expect.

But after signing up nearly 3,000 people to take part in the six-week, non-credit course, called “The Beauty of Belief,” with enrollees from 46 states and 38 countries, it was clear the seminary had struck a chord.

Now, Sacred Heart is again hoping to inspire people in Metro Detroit — and around the world — to give online learning a try with its second free web-based course.

“We were delightfully surprised by the response (to “The Beauty of Belief”),” Gerlach, associate professor of theology and dean of the seminary's Institute for Lay Ministry, told Detroit Catholic. “People found the course rich and helpful in renewing their faith. One of the surprises came from people saying they were going through it in groups. People were using it in parish study.”

The new course, called “The Mission of the Laity,” starts July 8 and runs for three weeks. 

The course consists of three video lectures, each focusing on a different part of the laity's threefold call to holiness. The course draws its inspiration from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (897-913), which proclaims the laity's mission as sharing in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of Christ. 

“The Priestly Mission,” taught by Gerlach, will be available July 8; “The Prophetic Mission,” taught by John Gresham, Ph.D., will be available July 15, and “The Royal Mission,” taught by Gerlach, is available July 22. Each lecture is about 20 minutes long, and there’s a course introduction video that’s eight minutes in length. 

“We’re here to serve the everyday Catholic and allow them to live as missionary disciples,” said Ryan Cahill, the course designer and director of admissions at Sacred Heart. “People seem to be very excited.” 

In addition to the video lectures, the course also includes supplemental reading materials, weekly online discussion with other enrollees, self-knowledge quizzes and testimonials.

The course isn't designed to be strenuous, and doesn't offer credit toward a degree program. Instead, it's for people who would like to have a deeper role in the Church, but need flexibility, Cahill said. The videos allow students to work at their own pace.

So far, more than 500 people have signed up for “The Mission of the Laity,” and there is no deadline to sign up. 

“It’s great to see such an energized and engaged Catholic community,” Cahill said.

John Gresham, Ph.D., theology professor and director of online learning at Sacred Heart, is one of the two instructors for the course, teaching “The Prophetic Mission.” 

“It’s really helping people see they have a mission,” Gresham told Detroit Catholic. “It’s to help lay Christians to understand their calling and live their faith in the world.”

Of the priestly and royal classes, Gerlach says each person, from the laity to the ordained, shares in the original mission of Jesus. 

“Everyone who is baptized into Christ shares in the anointing of the Holy Spirit with which Christ himself was anointed,” Gerlach said. “He is the perfect priest, prophet, and king. By being spiritually configured to him in baptism, each of us is assigned a unique share in this priestly, prophetic, and royal mission. 

“If we want to be faithful to our mission and unleash the Gospel more fully into our families, work and communities, we need to study this mission and ask the Lord to help us live it out,” Gerlach said.

Everyday Catholics are crucial in helping to spread the word of God to places only they can reach, Cahill added, which is why the seminary is trying to reach Catholics all across the globe. 

“It’s part of the initiative for the seminary to make SHMS available to all members of the Archdiocese of Detroit and the universal Church,” Cahill said.

Gresham said the response to the seminary's first online course during Lent was “tremendous,” which inspired the creation of “The Mission of the Laity” as a follow up to “The Beauty of Belief,” which focused on giving people a deeper encounter with Christ through the beauty of truth, Scripture, the Church, virtue, spirituality and hope.

“The number of people, the feedback we got, it was all positive,” Gresham said. “You could tell it was really transformative in people’s lives.”

“We hope to offer something during Advent and Lent, at the minimum, every year,” Gresham said, adding the online courses are part of Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s vision for Unleash the Gospel. “We’re trying to do our part to evangelize the world.”

The final video will be up until July 28. Students can enroll by going to the seminary’s website, http://explore.shms.edu/missionofthelaity


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