Little-known Sydney Institute provides high-calibre education

CIS President, Prof. M. Isabell Naumann issm, is a member of the Secular Institute of the Sisters of Mary. Prof. Naumann teaches Systematic Theology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

The Catholic Institute of Sydney is one of the best-kept secrets of the Church in Australia. Tucked away in the green, leafy Sydney suburb of Strathfield, it is the only institute in the whole of Oceania that offers pontifical degrees in Catholic theology.

It’s also a scholar’s dream, housing one of the best theological libraries in Australia.

“It’s really quite a unique setting,” CIS President, Prof. M. Isabell Naumann issm, told The Catholic Weekly. “People are drawn here because of the quality of teaching and the community aspect. Some just want to study at an ecclesiastical faculty.”

As one of the oldest tertiary institutions in Australia, CIS has been teaching theology and philosophy since the 1880’s when it began as St Patrick’s College in Manly, for the formation of seminarians.

CIS’s Veech Library is considered one of the best theological libraries in Australia. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

The Institute was granted the status of an ecclesiastical faculty by the Holy See in 1954 and is governed by the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium.

In 1996 the Institute relocated from Manly to Strathfield. It still provides academic formation for the seminarians of the Sydney Archdiocese.

As an ecclesiastical faculty, CIS can offer pontifical degrees recognised globally by Catholic universities and dioceses and both church and civil jurisdictions. Pontifical degrees are therefore extremely portable. Such qualifications are ideal for those aspiring to leadership roles in pastoral training programs.

As a member of the Sydney College of Divinity, CIS offers students a variety of accredited ecclesiastical (pontifical) awards including the five-year STB (a Baccalaureate of Theology), the STL (a Licentiate in Sacred Theology, equivalent to a Master’s degree at a secular university) and the STD (a Doctorate in Sacred Theology).

Of the secular degrees offered by CIS, the three-year Bachelor of Theology (BTh) is the most popular as it covers the breadth and depth of theology and related disciplines.

There is also the Graduate Certificate in Arts, the Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies, and the Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Theological Studies (MThSt).

Seminarians for the Sydney Archdiocese attend an Ethics lecture at CIS. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“The Baccalaureate of Theology provides, from my perspective, the most rounded formation for those who go into ministry,” Prof Naumann said.

“Particularly for those going toward ordination to the priesthood and it also provides the possibility of going on and doing a licentiate or doctorate.”

“We have lay people who undertake degrees here as well. Either those who want to have a career in ministry or those who are just doing it out of interest, or those who are perhaps in healthcare or other forms of social work.”

There are many other benefits to studying at CIS—the class sizes are small, with usually around 20 students, offering more personalised formation, and there is a strong sense of community among the students and teachers.

The Veech Library houses many rare books with over 4,000 published before 1800. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“It provides for a very good learning environment,” Prof Naumann said.

“It also provides an essential encounter with our Catholic faith and identity. And of course we have a fantastic library here.”

The Institute’s Veech Library boasts a collection strong on patristics, ecclesiology, ethics, philosophy, theology, scripture, pastoral care and practice, church history and liturgy. It also houses many rare books with over 4,000 books published before 1800.

Margaret Keyes who has just completed a Bachelor of Theology at CIS, and is currently studying an Honours course in Pastoral Theology, says her learning experience at the Institute has been beneficial in more than just the academic sense. “As well as gaining greatly from my study here, it’s really deepened my faith-life and my understanding of God,” Margaret said.

Postgraduate student, Margaret Keyes, said studying at CIS has been a spiritually enriching experience. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“Prof Naumann spoke to us about theology needing to be done on your knees. My studies coincided with a difficult time in my personal life but I felt very much that I was helped through doing it. It was a very enriching time spiritually.”

“The key thing is the knowledge of the people giving the lectures and the quality of the teaching. They’re really inspiring lecturers and are exceptionally well prepared for class.”

“I’ve enjoyed the interaction in the small classes. CIS is a meeting place for people across many areas of the Church. It’s altogether been a very special and grace-filled time.”

Deputy President and Academic Dean, Dr Rohan Curnow, said there’s a variety of reasons why people choose to study at CIS. Of the 170 currently enrolled students about 75 are seminarians. The lay students start by undertaking just one unit to see if they like the classes, Dr Curnow said.

CIS hosts many guest lectures that are open to everyone. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“But then of course, theology is addictive. Some come to do a Graduate Certificate then go on to do a Masters and then keep going. Some have just caught the theology bug.”

“The students are very grateful for the resources here. It’s one of the strongest libraries in the Southern hemisphere. It goes back to when the Benedictines were running the show. It’s an old collection and there are some unique things there.”

Prof Naumann, who teaches Systematic Theology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, is the first woman to hold the position of President of CIS.
As a member of the Secular Institute of the Sisters of Mary, she brings the distinct spirituality of the International Schoenstatt movement to her role as president of CIS.

CIS Deputy President and Academic Dean, Dr Rohan Curnow, speaks to The Catholic Weekly. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

This means seeking to live out the charism of the movement’s founder, Fr Joseph Kentenich, who had at his heart the education and formation of the Christian individual, forming genuinely Christian personalities—people who know what they believe, what they stand for and who, after the example of the Blessed Mother, live their life accordingly.

“From this perspective I see it as an essential feature of this institute to provide not only an excellent academic formation but a formation that is contributing and furthering in the students the awareness of their own dignity and giftedness as children of God,” Prof Naumann said.

“An awareness that they are members of the body of Christ who are sent by God into this life, into this world, in whatever profession or state of life thus living their God-given calling.”

Enquires about CIS: 02) 9752 9503

More info: cis.catholic.edu.au

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