Saint John’s University School of Theology and Seminary Receives $5 Million Grant from Lilly Endowment

July 12, 2022

Saint John’s University has received a grant of $5 million from Lilly Endowment Inc. to support Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary as it develops its new initiative, “Sustained Encuentro: Accompanying One Another on the Way.” Empowered by this grant, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary (SOT/Sem) will partner with the Mexican American Catholic College (MACC) to prepare next generation leaders for the church and world.

Sustained Encuentro is funded through Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative, a three-phase initiative to support theological schools across the United States and Canada as they prioritize and respond to the most pressing challenges facing pastoral leaders of Christian congregations both now and into the future. In early 2021, Lilly Endowment awarded Saint John’s University and the SOT/Sem a $50,000 phase one planning grant, followed in January 2022 by a $1 million phase two grant to support its new venture: Conversatio: Creating a Culture of Encounter. Sustained Encuentro is funded through the competitive third phase of Lilly Endowment’s Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative. Phase three grants support a limited number of large-scale, collaborative efforts that explore new educational and financial models for theological education. Lilly Endowment expects to award additional phase three grants in the fall of 2022.

Launching “Sustained Encuentro” comes at an opportune time for the SOT/Sem as it seeks to train and support future pastoral leaders across the United States, particularly in rural areas of need. It forges new partnerships with rural Catholic dioceses and religious institutions that make its degree and certificate programs increasingly accessible for lay ecclesial ministers and diaconal candidates. It delivers top-tier theological education to many who might otherwise lack opportunity. Central to the initiative is a sustained partnership with MACC – a national leader in Latino/a ministry with significant insights into issues such as the radical demographic, cultural, and ecclesial shifts facing today’s church. Aligning the SOT/Sem’s distinguished strengths in ecclesiology, liturgy, sacramental theology and practical theology with MACC’s historic legacy in bilingual education for pastoral and Hispanic ministry, Sustained Encuentro aims to deliver a one-of-a-kind and intentionally intercultural education experience that prepares future Christian leaders, including growing Latino/a communities, for the work of ministry and ecclesial leadership.

“Partnering with the Mexican American Catholic College moves us forward in our capacity to communicate with and accompany increasingly culturally diverse faith communities in our region and in the nation. The multiplier effect of this partnership and others within our network will be substantial. We are most grateful to Lilly Endowment for opening up and facilitating these new pathways,” says Father Dale Launderville, OSB, Dean of Saint John’s University School of Theology and Seminary during the application and award phase. Incoming Dean Shawn Colberg adds: “The sheer scale of this grant is groundbreaking. Lilly Endowment’s phase three grant enables the SOT/Sem to leverage its national reputation and institutional resources to support emerging pastoral needs and leadership opportunities through expanded curricular programming, student scholarships, and faculty support. Partnering with MACC extends our mission and enriches our understanding of the church today. Our ongoing and dynamic relationship with Lilly Endowment increases the reach and impact of our programming for which we are grateful.”

Shawn Colberg, Dean

The encounter and exchange between Saint John’s and MACC charts new territory in graduate theological education. Rather than competing for resources and services, Sustained Encuentro imagines a mutually edifying institutional relationship that feeds the distinctive strengths of both schools to achieve common goals. Father Juan Molina, President of MACC shares: “I welcome Lilly Endowment’s announcement with great joy, as I know mission dioceses and dioceses in the Southwest will benefit from our offering of new programs to help them prepare ministers. In our multicultural church and society, it is imperative that we prepare people not only to serve others but to do it with a sense of faith and inclusion of those who are most vulnerable and marginalized. Sustained Encuentro will allow us to form ministers more intently, especially Hispanic deacon candidates and lay ministers who can share their gifts and talents with the church and our society in the United States. Our collaboration with Saint John’s University School of Theology and Seminary will grow and will be mutually beneficial in service to the church across the United States.”

Founded in 1857 as the first school of Catholic higher education in Minnesota, Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary is a national leader in graduate theological education, preparing students for leadership, ministry, and advanced studies in theology. Rooted in the Benedictine monastic tradition, it approaches the study of theology as grounded in prayer, liturgy, praxis, and careful study of the Christian theological tradition. It offers six degree programs as well as certificate studies in a range of theological and pastoral focus areas. The SOT/Sem features residential degree programs on its 3,000-acre campus as well as online degree offerings for remote learners. The distinguished faculty is widely published and serves in varieties of professional and ecclesial leadership position, including several commissioned through the Vatican. In addition to its connections with Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict, the SOT/Sem thrives in a series of wider campus relationships with Saint John’s Abbey, Saint Benedict’s Monastery, the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, the Liturgical Press, the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, Saint Benedict’s Spirituality Center, the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, and Saint John’s Benedictine Institute. The SOT/Sem offers full-tuition scholarships for full-time students, and 100% of students receive scholarship support for their studies. Sustained Encuentro further harnesses and advances these assets by expanding opportunity and access to new cohorts of students throughout the United States.

Celebrating the reception of Lilly Endowment’s $5 million grant, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University President Brian Bruess states: “We are inspired by this profoundly transformational grant from Lilly Endowment, allowing for new exploration in graduate theological education. This impactful partnership, in service to the church’s commitment to personal encounter and engaging diverse voices, is yet another grand example of the innovative spirit found at Saint John’s University and the College of St. Benedict. This grant enables our beloved School of Theology and Seminary to partner with the MACC, providing a model for collaboration and meeting the needs of the time.” The Pathways initiative is part of Lilly Endowment’s wider efforts to strengthen theological schools and other religious institutions and networks that prepare pastoral leaders to ensure that a diverse array of Christian congregations are guided by a steady stream of wise, faithful and well prepared leaders.


About Lilly Endowment Inc.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation
created in 1937 by J.K. Lilly, Sr. and his sons Eli and J.K. Jr. through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical
business, Eli Lilly and Company. Although the gifts of stock remain a financial bedrock of the Endowment, it is a
separate entity from the company, with a distinct governing board, staff and location. In keeping with the
founders’ wishes, the Endowment supports the causes of community development, education and religion and
maintains a special commitment to its founders’ hometown, Indianapolis, and home state, Indiana. A primary aim
of its grantmaking in religion is to deepen the religious lives of Christians, principally by supporting efforts that
enhance congregational vitality and strengthen the leadership of Christian communities. The Endowment values
the broad diversity of Christian traditions and endeavors to support them in a wide variety of contexts. The
Endowment also seeks to foster public understanding about religion by encouraging fair, accurate and balanced
portrayals of the positive and negative effects of religion on the world and lifting up the contributions that people
of all faiths make to our greater civic well-being.