The Homiletics Institute, headed by Executive Director Karla Bellinger, has been added to the University of Dallas. According to University President Dr. Jonathan Sanford’s announcement letter, the institute was started in March.
The program will have three collaborators: the University of Dallas, the Catholic Foundation, and the Diocese of Dallas. Bellinger said that she hopes “the people in the pulpit and the people in the pew will start to talk to each other and help each other grow together to get closer to God.”
The program is designed to improve outreach to the broader Church. As outlined in the UD Strategic Plan, this outreach will help to “[deepen] our commitment to serving Church and country through a variety of programs.”
As well as being a mother of five children, Bellinger has a diverse background that she will be bringing to the program: She was a youth minister, hospital chaplain and teacher at a Catholic high school.
Bellinger received a master’s in systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame. Her doctoral thesis, “Are You Talking to Me? A Study of Young Listeners’ Connection with Catholic Sunday Preaching” and book, “Connecting Pulpit and Pew: Breaking Open the Conversation about Catholic Preaching,” demonstrate her intimate knowledge of the relationship between preacher and layperson.
Bellinger’s extensive research on the communication gap between high school students and priests, as well as her experiences in different aspects of Catholic work allow her to speak to the clergy about the specific needs of laypeople. She says, “Listening to the listeners is my strength.”
UD was chosen as the location for the Institute because it is a Catholic college located in the Dallas area.
According to the Catholic Foundation, the program was funded primarily by the Bishop Tschoepe Institute of Homiletics and Communications Fund of the Catholic Foundation, with the help of a generous donation from Jim Moroney, a Cistercian graduate and the former publisher of The Dallas Morning News. Presently, the endowment has reached $8 million of its $10 million goal.
Moroney was inspired by the work of Fr. Joshua Whitfield, a former Anglican who converted to the Catholic faith. Whitfield noticed an increasing problem within the Church of uninspiring preaching, which led him to publish,“The Crisis of Bad Preaching: Redeeming the Heart and Way of the Catholic Preacher.”
“It is not uncommon to have an experience in a Catholic Church that lets one think preaching is not what it could be,” said Whitfield. “From the all too common experience it’s clear we need to do something more and different. It is one of the few times the church has a captive audience, a moment we ought not to mess up, and we ought to prepare for.”
Whitfield served on the search committee for the Homiletics program’s director. He said, “We’re talking about a spiritual movement. If preaching is going to have to improve, it’s going to have to be more than just the handing on of a set of skills. It’s going to have to be a spiritual awakening to be successful, and Karla understands that.”
While the Institute officially launched when Bellinger was hired on Sept. 14, 2021, it is still in the process of building programs. The website will be up on Oct. 4, 2021, and programs are slated to start early mid-winter.
Bellinger welcomes student involvement.
“I would like to talk to any student who wants to tell me their experience with preaching. Give me some ideas of who are effective preachers,” she said.
“If students can get a vision that they and their clergy are walking together, and they need to have conversations about preaching so they connect, that’ll last longer than I will,” Bellinger said.