An Old-New College of Theology of Religious Orders

1. Our past

In the past century, the religious orders in Hungary provided theological education for their members in formation in their own, autonomous colleges. With the development of the public education system the religious orders committed to education were almost forced to found their own colleges of theology, since from the end of the 19th century it became a state rule that only teachers with MA degrees are qualified to teach in secondary schools. This is why the Cistercian, Benedictine and Piarist Orders opened their own theological colleges at this time with the purpose that their students may be able to continue their theological studies while working for another degree at state universities.

After the Second World War, in 1948 the idea of a joint theological college was brought up but because of the fragile political situation it seemed to be better that the institutions continue to be self-supported. Indeed, in 1950 the communist government banned religious life in Hungary almost totally: only one female and three male orders could continue to exist. Each order could maintain only two secondary schools with a restricted number of teachers and students; moreover, the number of religious in formation was limited, too. Nevertheless all three male orders were able to keep their theological colleges officially. Therefore some of the teachers could remain in their respective orders and the students could learn theology in a more protected environment.


2. The Change

Following the political changes of 1990 in Hungary, a new situation arose.

  1. After the forced break of four decades, the re-starting orders (except the three above mentioned communities) because of the lack of human resources were not in the position to re-organize their former theological training. Consequently, the students of eight other orders started to attend the College of the Piarist Order since 1991, while the Norbertines sent their young members to the Benedictine College in Pannonhalma.
  2. In 1994 the Sophia Theological College came into existence as an extension course of the Saint Gerard (Szent Gellért) College of Theology of Pannonhalma. Its purpose was  - a completely unknown thing up to that time in Hungary - to provide higher education in theology for religious sisters. The first classes completed their studies in 1998 and the next one in 2000 with a degree of Teacher of Religion and Pastoral Assistant. The Sophia College offered different courses in service of the permanent formation of female religious.
  3. According to the new law of Higher Education of 1993, it is mandatory for all public and denominational schools to meet all the requirements of the State in matters of accreditation and scientific qualification. In more practical terms it means that only those institutions are eligible for State subsidies and are allowed to issue college and university diplomas that are accredited according to the Law. Accreditation depends on whether an institute has enough number of and at the same time sufficiently qualified professors and if the standard of the training is appropriate.

This point was when the Hungarian Franciscans, Benedictines and the Piarists decided to merge their colleges. All of them had to admit that it was a waste of strength to provide a whole faculty of teachers just for a handful of students. New areas of apostolic activity opened up suddenly and required new energies.  Their common insight was that a joint institution could realize a more effective, higher level of education, which was at the same time more economical; moreover, the faculty's members could be chosen from among the three founding orders. A certain inward-looking mentality which characterized the orders until that time was surpassed and a new college was born which met the standard of the modern age not only by fulfilling the requirements of the accreditation process but also it stood in competition and could be a partner to other institutions in the country.

Nevertheless, the counter-arguments were not lacking either. Is it not a pity to give up an institution with a great past? How can the different demands and requirements of the three orders be harmonized? How could the respective orders care directly for the training of the younger generation and form them in accordance with their own spirituality? How will the new teaching faculty of Sapientia be formed?


3. The Foundation

As early as the end of 1999, the new college was granted the official acknowledgement by the Holy See. In fact, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life itself urged with the instruction Inter-institute Collaboration for Formation of 1999 to merge those Colleges of Theology which have only a small number of students. So the Congregation received with great joy the news of the coming into being of the Sapientia Theological College. Along with the Congregation for Catholic Education, in the October of 1999 the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life  accepted the new college's statutes and officially acknowledged the new institution.

As regards the State recognition, in the meantime the Ministry of Education worked out the directives of the reforms of higher education. Its first principle was the integration of the universities. In Hungary there were a larger number of higher educational institutions but with fewer students than in the more developed European countries. The government provided financial support for this integration process from a loan received from the World Bank.

In 1998 the new government moved this process a big step further. By the beginning of 1999 a network of the institutions of higher education of Hungary was built up: according to the new regulation, from January 1st, 2000 there were to be seventeen universities and thirteen colleges run by the State.

The Hungarian government`s integration project originally concerned only the institutions that were run by the State, but Church-run schools could apply for subsidy as well. This way the Saint Gerard Benedictine Theological College (along with its branch, the above-mentioned Sophia), the Franciscan Theological College and the Piarist Theological and Teacher Training College took the opportunity and announced their desire to be integrated and handed in their application with their development plan. The new integrated college was given the name "Sapientia College of Theology of Religious Orders". Officially it came into existence on January 1st, 2000.

In the applications of the developmental plans the Sapientia proved to be the best and this way the school could be the first to use the subsidy granted. The plan was that the Sapientia would move into the building formerly owned by the Piarist Order, on the Pesti Barnabás street in the heart of the city, which at that time was used by the Faculty of Arts of the Eötvös Loránd University. The University gave the building back to the Order during the summer of 2001 so the reconstruction works started by then. At this point the wild dreams were that in the 2002-2003 academic year teaching could happen in the new building. These dreams were realized when on 16 November 2002 the new building was officially inaugurated by the apostolic nuncio of the Holy See, Mgr. Karl-Josef Rauber.


4. Goals and Objectives

The primary goal of Sapientia is to provide solid spiritual and theological background to the religious life in Hungary which is being renewed after 40 years of forced break. For this reason, the Sapientia is welcoming all the students and teachers of the male and female religious orders and congregations. The candidates for ordination to the priesthood are given a 6-years-long training, in accordance with the directives issued by the Holy See. Along with the full course of theological training, there is a 6-semesters-long BA course to prepare catechists and pastoral assistants. (Initially there was a four-years-long course to give the diploma of Pastoral Assistant and Teacher of Religion, but from the academic year 2005-2006, the Sapientia applied the so-called Bologna system of higher education.)This BA is offered mainly for committed lay people, especially for those who intend to work in parishes or to teach religion there. This form of education is a novelty in Hungary; its purpose is to train lay people to be able to help the priests in their pastoral activities.

After the BA degree, there is a possibility to pursue further studies: the Sapientia offers the MA course of Teacher of Religion and the MA course of Teacher of Family and Child Protection.  

This is a way of serving the Church in Hungary, in providing her with committed and well trained religious and lay people who are able to transmit Christian values mainly in the Catholic schools as teachers of religion or as pastoral assistants in parishes.

The Sapientia desires to serve all the religious orders of Hungary. For this reason it also established an Institute of the Theology of Consecrated Life. Its purpose is to provide the opportunities of ongoing religious formation with specific courses, to enhance scientific research of the historical heritage of the different orders and to publish materials concerning the theology of religious life.

Sapientia was born in the year of the great Millennium of Christianity and offers her service for the Church of Hungary and especially for the religious orders of Hungary. The greatest reward will be if this service will be used by those for whom its mission is directed to.

Sapientia College of Theology of Religious Orders, 1052 Budapest, Piarista köz 1., Hungary