Washington Theological Union

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The Washington Theological Union, located in metropolitan Washington, DC, is a Roman Catholic School for ministry and graduate theological studies owned and operated by several religious communities. Incorporated as the Washington Theological Coalition in 1969, the school was accredited in 1972 by the Maryland State Board of Education, the Commission of Higher Education of the Middle States Association, and by the Association of Theological Schools, to offer masters degrees in theology. In 1977 the school changed its name to the Washington Theological Union (WTU) in recognition of the reality that it was not a temporary alliance, but a unified and stable educational institution.

The Union was formed from several of the Roman Catholic seminaries in the Washington area that functioned independently before the Second Vatican Council. In 1968, in the aftermath of the Council, several leaders of those schools worked out a collaborative arrangement, which they first named the Coalition of Religious Seminaries. Their aim was to draw upon the resources of all of the schools, faculty, students, libraries, and classrooms, and pool them for more effective theological education, but maintain their independence as institutions. Their focus was on religious candidates for the priesthood, but they were open to others preparing for ministry in the church.

The interchange was successful and matured into a joint effort under the vigorous leadership of the first president, Conan Gallagher, ST. The trustees were the superiors of the six founding religious communities: Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans, Missionary Servants, Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, and Viatorians. Over the ensuing years several communities departed as corporate members, and others joined, e.g., Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, Conventual Franciscans, and Redemptorists. Other religious communities of women and of men send their students to the school.

Robert Welch, OSA, former president of Villanova University, became president in 1972 and solidified the school's governance structures and academic procedures. At the time, the enrollment was 278 students, and nonordinational candidates, including women students, were officially welcomed. The full-time faculty numbered twenty-nine. Over the years the student enrollment remained between 210 and 280, with about 20 full-time faculty. Both faculty and students include lay persons as well as religious men and women. Under the third president, Vincent Cushing, OFM, lay persons joined the board of trustees, and WTU initiated a development program and established an endowment.

From the outset the Union stressed ecumenical engagement. It helped to found the Washington Theological Consortium, the grouping of all the theological schools in the Washington area, and remains a full and active partner in its activities. The Union's ethos, programs, and theology were strongly influenced by the spirit and teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The school has worked to read and respond to the ministerial needs of the contemporary church, adapting its theological and pastoral programs in view of "the signs of the times." Its offerings include the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies, and Master of Arts in Theology degrees, as well as certificate and sabbatical programs.

[j. a. coriden]

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Washington Theological Union

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Washington Theological Union