Santa Croce was launched in 1984, but did not attain the status of being a Pontifical University until it added the School of Church Communications in 1996. One of the requirements of being a Pontifical university is to offer four degree programs. The first three schools were Philosophy, Theology, and Canon Law. Why was Church Communications chosen as the fourth school?
One reason can be traced to the influence of the Opus Dei founder, St. Josemaría Escrivá. Nearly 60 years ago, as the first Chancellor of the University of Navarra in Spain, he asked for a journalism program to be created.
The university website states that the program reflected the saint’s founding charism: “a tradition in the humanities combined with technological innovation; teaching based on both research and on contact with reality; raising the profile of media related professions through theoretical and practical research; ongoing relations with the professional and academic world alike, and close contact between students and alumni.”
A second reason was the influence of St. John Paul II, who emerged as the first “media” pope in a time when communications technology (television and computers) were rapidly expanding. Also, according to Fr. José María La Porte, Dean of the School of Church Communications, the Pope’s long-time Director of the Holy See Press Office (1984-1996), Joaquín Navarro-Valls, “encouraged the Church Communications School from the beginning.”
Fr. Laporte explained that a degree in Church Communications is built upon four pillars: 1) a clear understanding of the Church’s identity, 2) the context or cultural environment in which a communicator works, 3) the types of communication, such as public opinion, radio, and television, and 4) how to manage a communications department or office. While there are a handful of universities who offer a communications degree, they are generally aimed at pastoral or vocational communications. Thus, Santa Croce’s program is unique.
There are currently about 120 students enrolled in Church Communications – 80% of them are priests and religious. The majority are working on their licentiate degrees, while about 20 are in the doctoral program. Graduates frequently return to the dioceses of their home country to serve their bishops in effectively communicating the Church’s message to the faithful as well as the general public. Fr. LaPorte says the role of this kind of communications expert is “to make the bishop close to the people and the people close to the bishop.”
Licentiate degrees (similar to a Master’s degree in the U.S.) require writing and defending a thesis as well as passing a comprehensive exam. Doctorates in Church Communications likewise require writing and defending a thesis under the supervision and accompanied by a faculty advisor.
Considering the fast-paced spread of information and misinformation in today’s media-saturated society, it is extremely important for the worldwide Church to have media professionals who understand the theological and philosophical basis of Church teachings and can communicate them faithfully. With its degree programs and special study centers and conferences, Santa Croce provides an essential service for the needs of local dioceses and religious news organizations around the world.