STEP Online Learning Program at McGrath Institute Celebrates 20 Years of Global Impact

By Anna Bradley

20 Years Of Step20 Years Of Step

Notre Dame, IN — On January 1, 2020, the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame will celebrate the 20th anniversary of STEP, its online theology program. 

STEP is a visionary initiative that shares the University’s world-class theological scholarship and resources with Catholic dioceses, parishes, and ministers around the globe. The program has expanded the number and variety of participants over time, exceeding 4,000 enrollments between 2018-2019. In recent years, STEP launched a sister initiative, Camino, offering theology courses in Spanish to respond to the Church’s need for Hispanic leaders.

“The courses have been accessed in every United States diocese and 15 countries over the past two decades,” said McGrath’s program director for STEP and Camino, Kelly Culver. STEP has served the sisters of St. Teresa of Calcutta in India, a group from Lagos Resource Center in Nigeria, a college in Ireland, and numerous Catholics in Australia—to name a few. 

Bridget Itsueli, a Nigerian STEP participant, found the Catholic Social Teaching course offerings so empowering that she felt moved to implement what she learned in her local, developing community to effectively manage poverty using the principles of the Common Good enunciated in her coursework. 

STEP offers a catalog of more than 50 full-length courses that address topics including Church history, liturgy, Scripture, doctrine, and Christian life. Each six-week course is moderated by a facilitator who possesses a master’s degree in Theology and has experience in ministerial work. During each class of up to 20 members, participants experience lectures, discuss their learning in online discussion forums, and reflect on how their learning affects their lives and ministry work. 

“This is not a passive or isolating experience. Each class forms a small faith community centered around their studies and always has access to discussion leaders and experts for assistance,” Culver said. “These viewers enjoy experiences of both the local Church and the universal Church as they share insights with each other, after receiving authoritative instruction from recognized experts and reading relevant Church documents as preparation.”  

Program participants are active in various ministry roles, ranging from parish school teachers, catechists, RCIA leaders or students, liturgists, and lay ministers, to permanent deacons who are enrolled in classes that address their educational formation at the diocesan level. Other course participants are Catholics who choose to register for a course simply because they want to advance their knowledge of their faith in a particular area.  

STEP’s longevity is borne out of a strategic utilization of new media to plant seeds of knowledge about the faith that grow to enrich dioceses, parishes, and schools—building community while doing so. “There’s always a sense of joy as parishioners gather to watch and discuss a leading scholar’s insights about the faith,” Culver said. “We feel really honored to be part of this piece of people’s lives.”

Contact: Amy North, Program Director of Communications, 574-631-2894, anorth1@nd.edu