Alaskans have a new opportunity for adult faith formation via the internet as the state’s Catholic dioceses enter a partnership with The Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCFF) at the University of Dayton.
Deacon Mick Fornelli has worked with the University of Dayton on the project, which offers adult religious education and faith formation online anytime and anywhere.
Deacon Fornelli, who oversees the deacon formation program for the Anchorage Archdiocese, said he was asked by Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz to look into “greater opportunities for faith formation” for Catholics across the state.
“I’m very excited about this,” Deacon Fornelli said. “We’ve had unbelievable levels of cooperation and support and ongoing dialogue with Dayton about making this thing work.”
Most courses last about 5-6 weeks, and there are no set meeting hours during the week. Students sit down to the computer on their own timeline. Participants are required to post on an online discussion board, moderated by a facilitator, to form an e-community with other students.
The program is coordinated and sponsored by the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives — a Marianist institution at the university.
Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, a member of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart, directs the institute and founded the online program. She has also taught at the University of Dayton for 35 years.
Sister Zukowksi said their programs are offered in partnership with 80 dioceses in 40 countries.
Catholics anywhere can sign up to take courses, but it costs $90 – soon to be $95 – to take a one credit course if your diocese is not a partner. If you belong to a partnering diocese, the cost per course drops by about half. Textbooks are additional.
Alaska is getting a special deal. Although partnership costs a diocese $3,000 a year currently, the three dioceses of Alaska will have this fee waived through a grant for two years. In the third year, all three will pay a total of $5,000 for the partnering agreement.
“We are very much committed to supporting missionary dioceses,” Sister Zukowski said. “And we need to adapt to different environments.”
Because of Alaska’s sparse population and mission status, the church won’t pay as much as more populous places.
Currently, the program offers about 175 online courses, and provides certificates in areas like catechesis, adult faith formation, youth ministry and social justice. Most courses could also be taken for undergraduate college credit, Sister Zukowski said, but the workload would be greater and the cost significantly more, although still much less expensive than enrolling on campus.
While most of the program partnering is done in English-speaking dioceses, about 25 courses are offered in Spanish. Many diaconate programs use the courses, and the program is currently working with dioceses to develop more courses specifically aimed at deacon formation.
“Anyone with web access can participate,” Deacon Fornelli said. “I hope that many people in the archdiocese will take advantage of this.”
For informational videos and instructions on enrolling, visit the website at vlc.udayton.edu.