During the height of the pandemic in 2020, St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry sought to provide a means for community and formation not only to its students, but to everyone. And thus it was that their annual summer offering was born! Their One Free Summer Audit allows anyone anywhere the opportunity to audit one graduate summer course entirely free (a $375 savings).

Four years later, thanks to the generous support of the Knights of Columbus local Finger Lakes chapter, St. Bernard’s continues to open its doors annually for their One Free Summer Audit initiative that to date has attracted over 1,500 people worldwide. The program’s success? An invitation to be immersed in the classroom (in person and virtually) filled with individuals of all ages, vocations, and backgrounds seeking goodness, beauty, and truth. Learn more about this annual offering here. 

St. Bernard’s

For over 125 years, St. Bernard’s has steadily pursued a course of dedication and service to Christ and His Church. Opened as a Roman Catholic Seminary in 1893 in the Diocese of Rochester, NY, and restructured as an Institute for Theological and Ministerial studies in 1981, St. Bernard’s now offers four Master’s degrees in theological studies, pastoral studies, divinity, and Catholic philosophy. It also provides graduate certificates, allowing those without bachelor’s degrees to pursue formation of mind and heart alongside fellow graduate students. Its goal: the reuniting of theology, prayer, and sanctity through a conversion of heart and mind in encountering Christ. 

Diversity of Vocations

St. Bernard’s classes draw students from all walks of life, such as those discerning the priesthood, the permanent diaconate, or a lay person pursuing fields of ministry. 

Dr. Matthew Kuhner, Academic Dean and Vice President of St. Bernard’s, explains:

“When you come to study with us, you’ll find that classes are made up of people preparing for all different dimensions of ministry. So when you come, you’ll find you’re sitting next to someone who wishes to be a lay ecclesial minister. You’ll also be sitting next to someone who is a diaconate candidate, or you could be sitting next to someone who is a pre-seminarian on their way to presbyteral ordination.”

 St. Bernard’s students enjoy a smaller, closely knit community where their spiritual welfare is prioritized and where they’re invited to explore their faith and vocations. There are no auditorium sized classes where students gather in such great numbers that the professors can’t remember names. Rather, staff and faculty make an effort to get to know everyone.

Rev. Peter Van Lieshout, adjunct professor of theology, explains that his consideration for his students does not end after class:

“St. Bernard’s is a small community, so it allows us to work individually with students. I care about the spiritual life of my students. I’m a priest, right? Day in and day out I’m hearing confessions. I’m saying Mass. So I want my students to be holy.”

Free Auditing

When the pandemic began in 2020, St. Bernard’s decided to make their educational offerings more accessible than ever. Equipped with a variety of methods to make distance education more convenient, they opened their summer classes up to be audited for free. Learn more

Auditing a course means attending classes and accessing all course material without receiving academic credit and not being expected to complete course assignments. This arrangement is ideal for those who wish to take a class while not pursuing a degree, or for those who would like to explore some options before settling on a field of study. It is also a great way to stimulate one’s mind and pursuit of holiness.

St. Bernard’s has seen fantastic results in their free audit program, drawing from countries around the world including Turkey, Indonesia, Scotland, Croatia, India, Slovakia, France, Saint Lucia, South Africa, and Wales. It should be noted that at this time St. Bernard’s classes are only provided in English.

Summer Courses

This summer, St. Bernard’s is offering 8 courses to audit for free. On their website, they highlight several classes, such as: 

Art of Education: Natural and Artificial Intelligence: This course will bring to light how education is not one philosophical theme among others, but both the proper setting and a crowning fruit of contemplating being for its own sake. It will reflect on the possibility of so-called ‘artificial intelligence,’ asking whether it can genuinely support or only obstruct the enjoyment of truth. This class takes place during their first summer session, between May and June.

Another class included in the free audit, this time in the second session from July – August, is: Image of the Maker: The Theological Poetics of George MacDonald and J.R.R. Tolkien. This course will draw on the penetrating insights of Catholic literary giants such as Paul Claudel, Flannery O’Connor, and J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as Tolkien’s mentor, George MacDonald, to examine in more depth the role of creativity in human life. 

There are many more classes to explore in St. Bernard’s lineup for the summer of 2024. Click here to peruse the whole list.

St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry’s free audit program’s application deadline is May 10 (for their Summer Session I classes) and June 28 (for Summer Session II classes) . Click here to see the full list of courses you can take to aid you in your life of faith.

Bernadette Bobrowski is with St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.