Left to right: Rev. Waldemar Latkowski, Dr. Joseph Gower, Dr. Johann Vento, Sister Mary-Paula Cancienne, Deacon James Knipper, Irene Domenica Clark, Rev. Lukasz Drozak
The vibrancy of the Department of Religious Studies, Theology, and Philosophy at Georgian Court University emerged clearly at a sunset ceremony on April 20 in the Dorothy Marron University Community Chapel. There, students, faculty, and staff gathered to support this year’s inductees into Theta Alpha Kappa, the national honor society for religious studies/theology.
The inductees, Father Waldemar Latowski and Father Lukasz Drozak from the Warsaw Province of Redemptorists in the Diocese of Metuchen, and Mrs. Irene Dominica Clark of Holy Angels Parish, Woodbury, received proclamations noting their achievements. They also received scarlet cords that that adorned their academic robes at GCU’s Graduate Commencement Ceremony on May 24.
Meeting the Needs of the Parish
Looking on as the three were honored was the night’s keynote speaker, Deacon James J. Knipper ’15, himself inducted into the honor society in 2015 when he received his M.A. in Theology from GCU.
And, as Mercy Sister Mary-Paula Cancienne, Ph.D., department chair and assistant professor of religious studies/theology, and Joseph F. Gower, Ph.D., professor of religious studies/theology, noted, their membership in the honor society speaks not only to individual academic achievement, but the sense of community at the heart of the discipline.
The new inductees echoed Sister Mary-Paula, sharing their appreciation for the support they received from the university. Mrs. Clark spoke of the “professors who sacrificed their time to travel to the Camden diocese to make the courses available,” preparing them to “face the challenges of ministries in our parishes.”
Father Latowski, the pastor of Perth Amboy’s St. John Paul II Parish and Father Drozak, the parochial vicar there, shared their hope that the two years of spiritual and intellectual study at GCU will be of benefit to their merged faith community where four languages—English, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese—reflect the cultural dynamic.
While the honor is reserved for those who achieve a 3.5 or higher average in their theological studies and a 3.0 overall, achieving it, “speaks to the breadth of GCU, of the work we do with the community,” said Sister Mary-Paula. She noted that along with programs offered to candidates for the permanent diaconate from both the Trenton and Camden dioceses, the university draws students around New Jersey and internationally as well.
“We offer courses on campus and online in theology for men and women—lay and religious. Courses are open to anyone who wants to deepen their awareness and knowledge,” she said.
The approach of the department dovetails with the goals of the honor society, which are to further the study of theology and religion as a form of continuing learning for their pastoral service to the Church, said Dr. Gower.
Recognizing these achievements annually with community prayer and a prominent guest speaker as the spring semester draws to a close is a way of celebrating Georgian Court’s valuing of the connection between faith and reason.
Deacon Knipper, who serves the parish community of St. Paul in Princeton, New Jersey, embodies the spiritual, societal, and community attributes at the heart of the religious studies and theology program, Sister Mary-Paula said in her introduction.
“Make Time Every Day to Meet God”
A GCU trustee and a nationally recognized health care executive, Deacon Knipper is the CEO of Lakewood-based J. Knipper and Company, Inc. He is also a principal in the award-winning Clear Faith Publishing house, a Christian press that donates proceeds from its Homilies for the Homeless series to organizations that feed, shelter, and provide counsel for those in need.
The father of four sons, he and his wife, Teresa, reside in Princeton.
In his presentation, titled “The God We Have vs. the God We Live By,” Deacon Knipper shared some of his own experiences as a married father of four, who strives daily “be honest in living who we are in Christ.” He urged the new inductees and all those in attendance to face the “crossroads in our lives that can lead us to uncomfortable spaces” with courage, strength, and the faith that they first had as children.
He summed up with a nod to technology, using the term “FTP,” translating the file transfer protocol acronym into something else: Fear, Trust, and Prayer.
“Let go of fear of what others think…and become what you really are,” he said. “Trust in God, who always has your back,” he proclaimed, and “above all, make time every day to meet God in the stillness of prayer.”