As part of an effort to open theological studies to more laypeople, Chaminade has significantly broadened its Master of Pastoral Theology (MPT) program to include opportunities for those interested in education, ethics, campus ministry, pastoral counseling and other direct service positions.
The MPT master’s degree at Chaminade has traditionally been geared toward a diaconate track.
But the program now welcomes those outside of that cohort—and is already seeing more students.
Dr. Dustyn Ragasa, director of the Pastoral Theology master’s degree program, said difficult philosophical and ethical questions facing our communities have driven up interest in theological studies programs nationally. He added that the MPT program at Chaminade is individualized to each student, offering a diversity of pathways and a curriculum designed to promote personal growth.
“Someone once told me that Hawaii is not a melting pot, but a mixed plate,” Ragasa said.
“Each culture’s specific contribution is not homogenized or boiled down to a set of common denominators, but preserved in their integrity so as to enrich through diversity. The MPT recognizes the specific gifts of culture that our students make to the learning experience. This kind of ‘mixed plate theology’ draws upon our heritages (and place-based theologies) so as to share them.”
Finding his way
Ragasa ‘07, who is also an assistant professor of Religious Studies at Chaminade, followed his own unique pathway to leadership at the university. He said he came to Chaminade a bit lost after dropping out of Waimea High on Kauai and then completing his GED. On his first day on campus—as the first student in his family to ever attend college—he wasn’t sure if he would be able to “hack it.”
“I thought, ‘I’m going to fail my first week.’ But the professors I had were so supportive from the beginning. When I was struggling, I knew they would be there,” he said, adding he was determined to succeed. And that’s exactly what he did—so much so that his professors encouraged him to pursue graduate studies and then helped him plot a course to a theology program on the mainland.
“They identified strengths in me that I couldn’t see in myself,” Ragasa said.
After graduating from Chaminade, Ragasa went on to earn a master’s degree from The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology and a doctoral degree from the Graduate Theological Union. He said while earning his graduate degrees, he pledged to himself to use all he was learning to do two things: “I knew I wanted to be of service to my community and I knew I wanted to help other students.”
And after receiving his doctoral degree, an opportunity at Chaminade just happened to open up.
He quickly applied and Ragasa joined Chaminade’s School of Humanities, Arts and Design faculty in August 2019.
For Ragasa, returning to Chaminade was an opportunity to give back—just as his mentors at the University offered guidance and inspiration to him. And he jumped at the chance to reimagine the MPT program, widening its scope and potential impact to bring in more students.
He said he wanted to focus on helping MPT students apply what they were learning to real-life problems. He also wanted to integrate laypeople in the program with those on the diaconate track, creating a rich and robust dialogue and building relationships that last long after graduation.
“Laypeople and candidates preparing for the diaconate learn side-by-side,” he said. “Contact with candidates helps laypeople to think more pastorally. Similarly, contact with laypeople helps candidates remain grounded, and many candidates will often learn from the academic insights of the lay students.”
Ragasa is also looking for new ways to expand and enrich the program.
Moving the MPT program forward
He said he’s interested in striking up partnerships with Chaminade’s Education and Data Science programs to offer Pastoral Theology students hands-on learning opportunities, such as in-classroom teaching experiences. And he wants to build relationships with theology programs on the mainland so that students who are interested could get the chance to study at another university for a semester.
Whatever the additions, Ragasa is confident the program’s faculty members—who come from a diversity of academic backgrounds—will continue to provide a rich and individualized experience for each student that includes both robust academic study and direct service opportunities.
With fieldwork and academic contemplation combined, he said, “it’s my hope that someone who reflects on theology will approach their ministry empowered by the intellectual tradition of the church.”