In a sense, Barb Arland-Fye spent the past four years practicing immersion journalism.
As editor of The Catholic Messenger, the newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport, Arland-Fye committed in 2009 to follow a group of candidates seeking to become deacons within the diocese by completing the St. Ambrose University Master of Pastoral Theology program.
Saturday, May 11, the longtime Quad City journalist will be among eight members of that inaugural MPTh cohort who collect their master's degrees.
They will join another 671 graduate and undergraduate degree candidates at 1 p.m. for SAU's 2013 Spring Commencement ceremonies at the i wireless Center in Moline, Ill.
Sister Barbara Moore, CSJ, will deliver the commencement address and will be given an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Arland-Fye enrolled in the pastoral program planning to tell stories of devout laymen from throughout eastern Iowa as they studied to become permanent deacons in the Church.
She did that, occasionally writing profiles of the candidates while also crafting a column about the lessons she learned through each of the 40 classes held once per month from August through May over a four-year period.
Arland-Fye, though, said she gained much more than newspaper stories from the experience.
"I had no concept about how enriching this would be and how much I would grow in my understanding of the Church and my faith and how I apply it to my work," she said. "I felt personal and professional growth in the Church and that has been a really phenomenal experience."
Arland-Fye has been editor of The Catholic Messenger since 2002, after a 21-year career as a reporter for the Quad-City Times. She last attended school in 1980, when she graduated with a B.S. in Mass Communication from Illinois State University.
Enrolling in the pastoral theology program meant negotiating rigorous reading and writing assignments while holding down her fulltime job and maintaining a home and family.
Arland-Fye said she knew what she was getting into, but she didn't know how much she would be taking away.
"It gave me incentive to read things I might not otherwise have read and I gained so much from that," she said. "Some books just inspired me and they still do. It makes me want to read more and think more deeply about issues of faith."
She said theology long had been a source of interest, particularly while reporting its influence on topical issues for The Messenger. "I have learned how the times in which we live really impact and influence how the Church shapes its understanding of sacraments and liturgy," she said.
Master of Pastoral Theology Program Chair Corinne Winter, PhD, said Arland-Fye was a strong addition to the cohort. "She is extremely enthusiastic as a student," Winter said.
Arland-Fye will get her degree a couple weeks before her son graduates from Pleasant Valley (Iowa) High School, but she said this won't be the end of her second chapter as a student.
"The story is unending," the journalist said. "You can't wrap it up. It's a milestone. But I know what is going to happen. I'm going to take more classes because I want to continue to learn and grow in my faith and my understanding of the Church. Just being on top of the latest theological thinking on issues, I love that."
A second Master of Pastoral Theology cohort will begin the program in August. A July 13 ordination of deacons at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport will include 11 men who completed the pastoral theology program at St. Ambrose this year.