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First MAFC Grads Embody Faithful Citizenship

Photo: Fr. Nesti, Dr. Martinez and Glenn BisqueraNearly two years after the first students enrolled in the Master of Arts in Faith and Culture program at the University of St. Thomas, six students from the first cohort graduated on May 12.

The graduates come from diverse professional backgrounds and plan to apply their degree in a variety of ways.

“Each and every one of the members of the first graduating cohort has demonstrated their unique talents, interests and abilities to bridge faith and various aspects of American culture,” said Dr. Martinez, MAFC program director. “With diverse backgrounds in engineering, higher education, theatre, pastoral and young adult ministry, these graduates have been prepared to engage in various aspects of civic society, having grown through a richer experience of their faith and a vision for how they can make a significant difference in leading others towards faithful citizenship.”

The Master of Arts in Faith and Culture is a unique degree program of the university’s Center for Faith and Culture, which is directed by the Rev. Donald Nesti, CSSp. The MAFC program combines theology with the liberal arts and other academic fields and challenges students to answer the question of how they can resolve the tensions between their faith and the culture around them.

Learn more about our graduates:

Sara Kumar – Theatre

Photo: Sara KumarAlthough her formal education is in engineering, Sara Kumar has always been passionate about the arts. Since graduating with her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2003, Kumar has worked as an engineer by day while spending her time away from work as a theatre artist, writer and producer.

After learning about the MAFC program in 2010, Kumar left her engineering job at Worley Parsons in Los Angeles, California, to enter into the MAFC program. According to Kumar, these past two years have helped her increasingly discern that her vocation lies in the intersection of her faith and the arts.

While completing her MAFC degree, Kumar has directed a theatre production company called Paragon Arts, which is dedicated to using the performing arts to understand and impact the relationship between faith and the many cultures that constitute the American way of life.

Drawing on what she learned in the MAFC program as well as her own life experiences, Kumar wrote a play on the conversion experience of the biblical figure of Mary Magdalene. “Magdalene,” opened at Obsidian Arts Space on May 4.

Kumar now seeks to continue growing her ability to integrate the artistic life with the spiritual life. She will attend Columbia University in New York this fall to pursue a Master of Fine Arts with a concentration in playwriting.

“I’m hoping to bring my life experiences, my talents and the gospel into stories that people can relate to on a personal level,” Kumar said. “Whether those stories are told on a Broadway stage or somewhere else, that is up to the Holy Spirit to decide.”

Jun Orteza - Engineering

Photo: Jun OrtezaWith a doctorate in mechanical engineering and 20 years of experience in senior positions in the engineering industry, Jun Orteza entered the MAFC program with vast technical knowledge. In pursuing the MAFC degree, Orteza has sought not to strike out in a new direction but rather to bring his technical knowledge into harmony with his faith.

“My acceptance into the MAFC program has allowed me to forge ahead in academic research and dialogues with fellow scholars, engineers, scientists, theologians and academicians,” Orteza said. “This dialogue is aimed at the formulation of a series of common principles that would serve as a basis for determining the ethical use of technology, guarding against its misuse and devising thoughtful principles that help to guide new technological advances for the benefit of mankind.”

Currently, Orteza is applying to several doctoral programs that would allow him to continue exploring this integration of faith and technology, including the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy at Loyola University Chicago, the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Angelicum in Rome.

As he pursues these doctoral programs, Orteza is thankful for the new dimension the MAFC program has brought to his technical expertise.

“I owe everything to the MAFC program because it uplifted my engineering, technical and scientific stature to another level of human transformation,” Orteza said.

Glenn Bisquera – Pastoral Ministry

Photo: Glenn Bisquera Glenn Bisquera has spent many years studying and working within the broad auspices of the Church. Having studied philosophy at San Pablo Major Seminary and theology at the Immaculate Conception School of Theology, both in the Philippines, Bisquera completed his Masters of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas in 2008.

Outside of academia, Bisquera has given pastoral care to the elderly and worked as a catechist for youth groups. Bisquera said the MAFC program taught him how to charitably dialogue with himself, others and God.

“Reading the book Transformation in Christ led me to a deeper understanding of what I was called to do,” Bisquera said. “That is to be a leader of faith and charity in a culture that is fragmented by individualism.”

Fueled by this understanding and desire to serve, Bisquera joined the Passionist Congregation in January. Since then, he has served as a pre-novitiate with the Passionist Community at Holy Name Retreat Center in west Houston. Bisquera will enter the novitiate stage of his formation process by August, and the Passionist Order is sending him to Catholic Theological Union in Chicago this fall to obtain a Doctor of Ministry degree with a concentration in spirituality.

“I always struggled to identify with God’s desires for me, but this time I was summoned and could not resist any longer,” Bisquera said. “I lost my life to gain a life of love through the Passionists.”

Crystal Ramirez – Education

Photo: Crystal Ramirez Like many of her classmates, Crystal Ramirez entered the MAFC program with a particular area of interest – education. After receiving her undergraduate degree in December 2006, Ramirez worked as a regional recruiter for Eastern New Mexico University and later as an admissions counselor for Texas Tech University. In these positions, Ramirez focused on assisting underserved and marginalized students, and she credits those experiences with helping shape her perceptions of the American educational system, especially with regards to the changing demographics of the country.

“God had opened my eyes to the countless students who were falling through the cracks in our education system, lost without hope,” Ramirez said. “He softened my heart to comfort and accept students in their circumstances of hunger, poverty and homelessness and shower them with His love.”

With the help of the MAFC program, Ramirez has further discerned how her faith and passion for serving marginalized students could manifest themselves as one.

For her Service-Learning and Leadership Practicum – a final project in which students lead a selected group to connect their faith with certain aspects of their life – Ramirez hosted workshops at Pasadena Memorial High School and Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory, focusing on college readiness and discernment of vocation. Utilizing various modules, Ramirez challenged the students to explore the process of discernment and ask themselves what career or academic path might be a good fit for their God-given talents.

“Through my MAFC Practicum, I realized that my professional background, passion for education, service to others and my desire to serve the Church could be intertwined,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez has begun constructing her own comprehensive mentoring program that focuses on college readiness and discernment from a Catholic perspective. She hopes to find grants that allow her to develop this project and ultimately bring it to dioceses around the country. She is also looking for opportunities to work in Catholic colleges or high schools in student mentoring or counselor positions. 

Noel Rodriguez – Social Justice

FPhoto: Noel Rodriguezor Noel Rodriguez, the challenge has been to look at issues of social and individual justice from a holistic perspective. As a UST undergraduate, Rodriguez majored in philosophy, focusing particularly on ethics and political philosophy. Rodriguez also developed a theological background as he studied social teachings of the Catholic Church and how they relate to issues past and present.

After graduating in 2010, Rodriguez turned to the MAFC program to help him continue growing in his ability to integrate the Catholic intellectual tradition with issues of social justice. Rodriguez feels he has achieved this objective through the MAFC program.

“The biggest benefit that I gained from the MAFC program was an ability to view an issue from multiple points of view that all integrate into a holistic vision of the truth,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez put this framework to use in the project for his Service-Learning and Leadership Practicum. Rodriguez interned with Catholic Charities’ Community Relations and Advocacy Department. It was there that he began to focus on the impact of payday loans and their impact on various subsets of our population. Consequently, Rodriguez chose to center his Practicum project on exploring the economic, cultural and political aspects of payday loans.

As he leaves the MAFC program, Rodriguez is looking to continue developing a holistic framework through the pursuit of an academic career. After finishing his internship at Catholic Charities, Rodriguez will apply to doctoral programs in philosophy and apply for adjunct professor openings at community colleges in the Houston area.

April Chambreau – Pastoral Counseling

Photo: April ChambreauBefore entering the MAFC program, April Chambreau had begun to pursue a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies degree at UST’s St. Mary’s Seminary. Chambreau began the MAPS program with an emphasis in pastoral counseling, seeking to integrate spirituality into the practice of counseling.

After some changes related to the pastoral counseling course of the MAPS program, Chambreau began to discern other options that would more appropriately suit her career goals.

“After I found out I wasn’t going to be able to take the Pastoral Counseling class, Fr. Nesti invited me to consider the MAFC program, and I knew the Holy Spirit was guiding that decision,” Chambreau said. “In fact, I got chills. I felt that the MAFC program was the perfect solution to my dilemma.”

Through the MAFC program, Chambreau has been able to explore her interests in counseling and spirituality. Along with several theology courses, Chambreau has taken “Introduction to Pastoral Care” and ”Theories of Personality,” and she feels that she has grown significantly in her ability to harmonize her interest in counseling and spirituality, while adding another dimension to her undergraduate degree in social work.

“I didn’t want to be another counselor that was afraid to broach the subject of spirituality in my practice,” Chambreau said. “This degree has given me the ability to do that intelligently and with confidence.”

Chambreau is planning to pursue a professional license in counseling, and she is also considering doctoral programs in counseling.

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