New Newman Chair at APU helps Catholics bring their faith to the public square

By Annette Alleva

The North Star Catholic

A spiritual and academic treasure can be found at Alaska Pacific University (APU) in the Cardinal Newman Chair of Catholic Theology and its newest assistant professor, Kevin F. Jones, Ph.D. Jones brings to this position academic and theological excellence, an impressive resume, and youthful enthusiasm. He has held this position since July of 2020.

Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, Jones, who was baptized Catholic but raised in the Presbyterian faith, entered into full communion with the Catholic Church during his senior year in high school. Educated in Catholic schools, he was influenced in that decision by Catholicism’s “serious intellectual coherence, the Eucharist, and God’s grace,” he said.

After graduating from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, Jones attained a Master of Arts degree in Theological Studies at Catholic University of America (CUA). He immediately went on to complete his doctorate in Systematic Theology at the university.

Jones has taught various subjects, including—but not limited to—theological anthropology, political and moral theology, ecclesiology, environmental theology, and theology and literature.

His advanced degree thesis focused on the writings and works of Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in relation to the role of religion in the public square; and the nature-grace debates as illustrated in the writings of Catholic author Flannery O’Connor. Jones has published several peer-reviewed articles in religious journals and is currently working on a book-length manuscript in his area of specialty and his personal interests.

Religion and its place in society, particularly in the politics of nations and states, is his focus for both his writings and for the academic goals of Alaska Pacific University through the Newman Chair. Following in the footsteps of Regina Boisclair, PhD., who held the position for over 20 years, Jones hopes to make religious study and inquiry accessible to the public through various academic courses, seminars, guest lectures, and other educational opportunities.

The Cardinal Newman Chair at Alaska Pacific University was endowed in 1991 through a generous grant from the Carr family. It is the only religious academic chair in Alaska. The chair is named in honor of St. John Henry Newman, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the nineteenth century, who was originally a priest of the Anglican Church. His name is attached to centers at U.S. public and private universities that honor and continue his passion for education in theology and religion.

When Jones applied for the open position at the university, he said, “I didn’t seem to be who they were looking for.” But, despite his doubts, this married father of three young children loves the outdoors and has found Alaska and the natural and religious environments a good fit. He and his family attend Mass at Saint Patrick Parish.

When he was hired, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he had extensive teaching experiences at CUA, Marymount University, Christendom College Graduate School, and the University of Holy Cross in New Orleans. As a result, he was already well-versed in presenting online courses and adapted quickly to the pandemic’s restrictions on in-person learning.

As he begins his second year at Alaska Pacific University, Jones will offer synchronous classes that can be attended in person or accessed through virtual technologies, which have flourished in the past year. Prospective students and observers can sign up for courses through email: newmanchair@alaskapacific.edu. “As far as Newman observer opportunities, anyone can take my classes at APU at an observer rate of $50 per credit ($200 for each class)—they can email me and I will get it set up with APU,” Jones said. The Newman Chair also has a Facebook page where information about courses and other offerings can be obtained.

Newman observer classes have been well-received by the local Catholic community. Jones, through APU, has an interface with the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, which acts in an advisory capacity, he said. Together they are devising course offerings that “fit his interests and make theology open to the public,” he added. “Theology, by its nature, is rooted in faith. There is a place for good theology and I don’t think we do enough of it.”

Jones will be teaching courses in the fall on biblical theology at APU and an online course, World Religions. Then, in the spring semester, “I’ll be teaching courses on Ecological Theology, America’s Religious History, and Mythology and Folklore,” he said. He also hopes to bring in guest speakers on topics of interest to catechists and those involved in parish ministries.

As the fall semester rapidly approaches, Jones, through the Newman Chair, wants to show others that there is something beautiful about the Catholic faith and present the Church’s view of the human person in an attractive way while respecting the liberty of others, he said. “As Catholics, we have to take what we believe into the public square.”


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