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 | By Rose Robertson

Studying theology is not just for priests

Leisa found a ‘hidden gem’ at Siena Heights

“This is a hidden gem!” declares Leisa Fredericks. “I had to do a little digging to find it, and I’m so happy I did.” Leisa, who is a pastoral assistant at St. Mary’s Cathedral, is referring to the theological studies program offered through Siena Heights University in Adrian. She began the program for a simple reason: She wanted to learn more about her faith and her Church. A devoted, cradle Catholic already working in parish ministry, Leisa was confident she already had a firm grasp on the ins and outs of her religion, but she quickly found out otherwise: “Oh no I didn’t! There are so many things we should know, but you can’t know what you don’t know. This opened up a whole new world.”

The theological studies program at Siena Heights University includes coursework in theological ethics, Church history, ecclesiology, sacramental theology and more. Leisa says she can’t name a favorite class because they have all been so different and bursting with information. Class size is kept small enough to allow for dialogue, and includes students who are eager to know more about Catholicism, diaconal candidates and their wives and those preparing for parish ministry. The variety of class participants came as a surprise to Leisa, who assumed the program was intended mainly for those preparing for the diaconate. Theological studies are open to everyone.

One of the biggest enticements for Leisa was the flexibility in terms of class location. Many of the classes have been held at St. Patrick Parish in Brighton, which was her home parish when she began her studies. Courses are also held at the diocesan center in Lansing as well as online, with many classes blending an onsite location with online learning.

Leisa has been impressed with the quality of the instruction. She says, “They have such awesome teachers who are not just eager to teach you, but want you to learn. They want to share their knowledge with you and the students seem to be hungry to get it.”

The education gained in the Siena Heights program provided another surprise for Leisa – she found she was stretched in her previously held perspective on certain areas of the Church. It helped her understand other people better.

“As one who thought her stance of belief was the correct one, I can put myself into others’ shoes. I realize I don’t know anyone’s history, or how they have come to believe what they do, so who am I to judge? When someone is questioning faith, I am definitely gentler than I used to be. Being in this program has certainly made me more pastoral. It has also been very humbling because I thought I knew a lot more than I did,” she says.

For Leisa, the Holy Spirit has led her on what she refers to as a “discovery journey.” It began with teaching catechism at St. Patrick’s when her three children were younger. That led to an invitation to be on the parish council, followed by a part-time position as the coordinator for small groups and family life. The family life position segued into an assistant for evangelization. Despite these ministry positions, Leisa had a nagging feeling that she was not using her spiritual gifts as Jesus intended. That is when she began to search for other opportunities and came upon an opening for a pastoral assistant at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Lansing. “When I saw this opening, I saw it as a huge opportunity for growth. It all just kind of flowed and happened. Because I knew this was Holy Spirit-led, everything felt right and I followed,” she says.

With two classes left, Leisa finds she is sad her academics will be ending. “I have met so many great people through Siena and formed new friendships. I have gotten to know parishioners better who also participate in the classes. I have learned so much about Catholicism, and it has made me hungry to keep learning. Our instructors told us these courses are considered a broad overview, merely touching the surface of each area. I have gained so much I can’t help but wonder about those who aren’t on a faith quest; they should have this opportunity and we should find a way to put this in their laps.”

Siena Heights University is a Catholic university founded in 1919 and sponsored by the Adrian Dominican sisters. It is headquartered in Adrian, with degree completion centers in Dearborn, Southfield, Benton Harbor, Monroe, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Jackson and online. For more information, visit or call 517.263.0731.