New graduate program offered in Rome

St. John’s University and Caritas International will partner to offer a two-year graduate degree in global development and social justice beginning in July 2006.

“We really hope to make this a project that can put St. John’s [on] the map of the world,” said Annalisa Sacca, the project’s co-founder and associate professor of Italian. “It will be a master of the Catholic Church.”

According to Sacca, the program is expected to, within the framework of Catholic teachings, give students the tools needed to know what help is needed in underdeveloped countries and then train them to bring aid to the people.

The final contract between Caritas, the Catholic Church’s agency for providing social services to people in underdeveloped countries around the world, and St. John’s will be signed in early November.

According to Rev. Jean-Pierre Ruiz, director of the Masters of Arts and Liberal Sciences program, Caritas has approximately 164 member agencies world-wide in over in 200 nations and territories world-wide.

“We really want to change the world,” Sacca said. “It’s so daring.”

Ruiz added: “This is a way we can extend the Vincentian identity of the university in a global sense.”

The idea for the degree came from a conversation between Sacca and her friend, Riccardo Colasanti, the general secretary for Caritas, over a cup of espresso in Italy two years ago.

“We were thinking that [with] distance learning [being] such a big thing, why can’t we try to do something that is revolutionary and at the same time do something that is really needed,” Sacca said.

The 20 students who enter the program each year will spend their first and last semester in Rome. Classes, which cover topics such as AIDS in the world, women, children, poverty and ethics, will be given at a state-of-the-art conference center constructed by the Italian sponsors in Rome and not at the St. John’s campus there. Each of those semesters will start with an international conference coordinated by Caritas.

Students will be required to complete a 33 credit program which will include four courses in Rome and seven through distance learning. The distance learning course will be taught by St. John’s professors over the internet. Caritas, Idende Foundation, Santa Maria d’ Aquiro in Aquiro Foundation, and Tata Giovanni Foundation will select 15 students, for the next five years, from around the world to receive full scholarships, which include a laptop as well as airfare.

“We want to shape a learning community so that [the students] can learn from others’ experience from around the world,” Ruiz said.

Five additional students, including students from St. John’s, will be selected from North America, but will have to pay their own way. One St. John’s student, however, will have the opportunity to become a graduate assistant.

The program is guided by the Steering Committee, which includes Sacca, Ruiz, Dr. Arthur Gianelli, chairperson of the Philosophy department, Sister Mary John Kelly, the executive director of Vincentian Center for Church and Society, and members of the Italian sponsor groups. There is also an honorary committee that includes Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Cardinal of Rome.

The Steering Committee is currently working on developing the exact framework of the curriculum according to Sacca. Applications for the program are not being accepted right now.

“We are accepting inquiries,” Ruiz said of the program, “but we hope to be up and running and accepting applications in a few weeks time.”