Testimony From Alum, Ryan Mayer

Mayer B&W selfieI’ll admit that I went into the distance MA in theology program at Holy Apostles College & Seminary with some skepticism. I had never taken a distance course and this was my first foray into graduate work. But like many others, I’ve become an unofficial advocate and walking advertising firm for the distance graduate programs at Holy Apostles. In 2004, I earned my BA in philosophy, theology, and literature from Mount Angel College & Seminary in Oregon as a seminarian for the Diocese of Phoenix. I thank God for the excellent, life-changing formation I received there. After four years I wanted to take some time to try classroom teaching. Since then, I’ve taught theology at three Catholic high schools in Arizona and California and absolutely love what I get to do everyday.

By the fall of 2009 I knew I was ready to go back to school to continue studies in either theology or philosophy. As a full-time, newly married teacher, I quickly became frustrated by the dearth of flexible and authentically Catholic graduate programs in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live and teach. There was one very good Dominican school in the area but I would have had to quit my job to be able to go to class in the middle of the day. There were some more flexible programs at some…let’s just say “less than authentically Catholic” schools, but I wasn’t willing to compromise on quality and integrity and enroll in a program just to be doing something. I was frustrated.

In fall of 2008 the Archdiocese of San Francisco hosted a conference for the National Catholic Bioethics Center which was attended by theology and science teachers in the Archdiocesan schools. I had recalled that at the conference, they offered brochures advertising a certification program in health care ethics. After my frustration in finding a workable graduate program, I decided to “settle” for the certification with the NCBC. It wasn’t a graduate degree, but it was something.

I went to the NCBC website to register and read that the certification program could also be counted as 12 graduate credits toward a MA in theology through Holy Apostles College & Seminary. I was familiar with Holy Apostles as I had read about the school in the Newman Guide and had some friends who had been seminarians or knew seminarians there. I was relieved to have found a MA program at a reputable Catholic institution, but I was still skeptical about the prospect of “distance” learning. Would it be too easy? Too confusing? Would I actually get to know other students and have a chance to interact with them?

My fears and skepticism were quickly allayed. I completed the MA and NCBC certification in two years by taking, for the most part, 2 courses at a time each trimester, which I found manageable, even while working full time (though in that time I did cram on an occasional paper or two). The trimester schedule is nice because it takes advantage of the fact that a distance student need not necessarily take a break over the summer to move back home. It also allows the student to take fewer classes at a time but still make progress through the program. One summer, I was even able to complete two courses while traveling with my wife and one-year old in Europe using only an iPad. Yeah…it’s that student-friendly.

Communication with Holy Apostles is fast, personal, professional, and helpful. The courses are challenging, but because the cohorts are relatively small, professors are accessible and even collegial with their students. Different professors make use of the distance format according to their preferences and personal “styles”. Some may rely more on students reading texts while others may rely more on weekly audio lectures; some prefer that students write papers and post to discussion boards while others expect projects. Even though I already had undergraduate degrees in philosophy and theology, there was not a single course I ever thought was boring or in which I didn’t love what I was reading or learn something entirely new. I even got to know many of my fellow students pretty well and we still collaborate on other projects, converse frequently on social media, and pray for each other, though we’ve never met in person! I enjoyed the theology program so much I enrolled in the MA in philosophy distance program!

The Holy Apostles MA has opened up some new opportunities as well. With the certification from the NCBC, I developed and now teach an Honors Bioethics course at Marin Catholic College Prep, where I’m chair of the theology department (send me an email if you want to come teach with me: rmayer@marincatholic.org). My thesis was also published in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly (Summer 2011) and I have been in contact with the National Catholic Bioethics Center to assist them in developing high school bioethics materials. Next year, my family and I plan to move to Rome, Italy where I’ll work toward a licentiate in bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.

Hindsight is 20/20, and so is the evidence of God’s providence. By His grace I stumbled upon Holy Apostles College & Seminary and my experience there has been life-changing. I love sharing my experience through Holy Apostles. If you’re looking for authentically Catholic, personal, affordable, and flexible degree programs, look no further than Holy Apostles.

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