Some call it fate. Some call it destiny. Jim Barton calls it "divine inspiration."
In 2008, Jim, a retired attorney at Manhattan Legal Services, was grieving the recent passing of his mother. He stopped at the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Ridgewood, New Jersey) to say a prayer for her when he spotted a brochure for Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology (ICSST)'s STEPS program (Seminary's Theological Education for Parish Services). The question on the cover, "Has your faith grown up with the rest of you?" struck him. "I felt a desire to grow closer to God in my grief, so I decided to enroll in the class," Jim explains. "I loved it so much that I never left." Jim ultimately took the enthusiastic step of enrolling in the School's M.A. in Theology program, and five years later, he graduated.
Christ: The Unseen Teacher
Looking back on his time at ICSST, Jim recalls that he was "consistently impressed" by his professors' level of expertise. "They have given me a much fuller understanding of my Roman Catholic faith," he says. The knowledge that his professors brought to class every day was supplemented by the experience of learning with a diverse, yet close-knit, group of peers – a learning environment that, according to Jim, helped him see that "the spiritual dimension was the most important part of our studying together – that Christ was the reason for our being here, that he was the unseen teacher present in all our classes."
Growing Closer to the Blessed Mother
As Jim deepened his relationship with the Lord, he also found himself growing in devotion to the Blessed Mother. He had begun his studies at ICSST just five months after his mother's passing, and it wasn't long before he started to "look forward to walking through ICSST's front door and seeing the beautiful statue of Mary in the lobby, almost as if she were welcoming me." Throughout his studies, he would gain a deeper understanding of his courses by pondering the Blessed Mother, and he even developed an interest in Cardinal Newman's focus on the implications of the Incarnation.
A Life-Changing Experience in Rome
During Jim's first year at ICSST, he was given the opportunity to study in Rome during the summer – an opportunity he enjoyed so much, he went on to take five additional courses in Rome over the next four years. It was his time in Rome that eventually led to his master's concentration in Church History. "It is hard to describe the impact of praying at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, as well as all the many other martyrs and saints in the basilicas and churches of Rome," Jim says. "The history of our faith is palpable in Rome – you can almost touch and feel it." He also looks fondly on the friendships he made there with teachers and fellow students from various parts of the world, "which greatly increased my appreciation for how Catholic, with a big 'C', our Church is."
An Unexpected Blessing
Only a few years after stumbling upon a STEPS brochure, Jim earned his M.A. in Theology, gained a richer understanding and appreciation of his faith, and embraced a deeper relationship with the Lord and the Blessed Mother. "I'm profoundly grateful to God for bringing me here," he says. "It was a totally unplanned and unexpected development in my life, and it has been a great blessing to me."
To take the first step in your journey, contact Kimberly Mailley at (973) 275-2435 or Kimberly.Mailley@shu.edu, or simply fill out the form on the right.