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Fr. Dave Heney and The University

Fr. Dave Heney and The University


Fr. David Heney was the assistant pastor of St. Monica Parish in Santa Monica, CA in 2001 and he faced a challenge. The director of religious education (DRE) presented him with a difficult issue. The parish had a great program with excellent speakers. The programs were spread throughout the year to make things convenient. There was only one problem. The same 50 people came to every program.

Most of us would fall back on promoting the programs more and trying to make them even more convenient. Fr. Dave decided to do the opposite.  He created a regional Lenten program over a 13 year period that is now offered by 11 parishes and 1 high school. There are 3,000 students. Many take more than one class, so the total attendance at all of the seminars is 11,000. The program is called the University Series or simply the University.

Fr. Dave’s Insight

The scheduling and the terminology of the program reveal several of Fr. Dave’s insights. The first is the Four Week Rule. Research has shown that people can commit for four weeks to a program. Studies have also demonstrated that if you want to encourage people to make a lasting change you need at least four weeks of practice for the change to become a habit. Liturgically, Lent is the time for spiritual renewal in preparation for Easter. It is also a time of year with less competition from social and sporting events. By restricting the program to Lent, the scarcity of adult education opportunities throughout the rest of the year makes the series more valuable. By using educational terminology and concepts, Fr. Dave created the expectation that the attendees would not be passive chair warmers looking for entertainment.

Those who come to University presentations are students. They are expected to exert some effort to learn and apply the learning to their lives. To enforce the sense of value, students pay a modest tuition. The cost per session is $8.00 per person, but you can bring a friend for free. This “two for the price of one” discount encourages more couples to attend. It allow seniors and others who are not comfortable venturing out at night to bring a companion. There is also a “season ticket”. People can attend the entire series for $85.00. The classes are held from Monday through Thursday. There are sessions in Spanish and noontime sessions for seniors. The courses cover a broad spectrum from Archaeology and Scripture, Church History, Faith and Current Events, Faith and Science, Liturgy, Spirituality, and more. The pastor of each parish approves the presenters of the sessions that will be held in his parish.

A Program with A Future

Many participants from parishes which do not have the series began to request it. Archbishop Gomez wants to expand it throughout the archdiocese of Los Angeles and would like the archdiocese to be known for it. Consequently, he has given Fr. Dave a year’s sabbatical to write a manual to help other pastors develop their own University series. The Archbishop also gave Fr. Dave another assignment: to write a book on leadership for pastors. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has now taken steps to formalize this adult education ministry as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. The University Series has its own bank account, board of directors, and standing within the Archdiocese.

As publication dates for the new manual and book approach, we’ll let Theologika Digest readers know so the success of Fr. Dave’s University can be replicated in other parishes and dioceses.