This freshmen curriculum offers students an introduction to Salvation History as it is revealed in Sacred Scripture. Through their study of the Scripture students encounter the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Students pay particular attention to the Gospels, they are introduced to what it means to be a disciple of Christ and what life as a disciple entails. In this course, students are first introduced to our Salesian heritage through a study of our founders, St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales and an exploration of the Little Virtues and the Universal Call to Holiness.
Visitation's theology classes contemplate the relationship between faith and reason and examine the world from a Catholic perspective. Classes prioritize meaningful time of silence and stillness, quieting the noise of our busy lives, in order to listen to and converse with God in prayer. Above all, theology teachers encourage students to develop a personal relationship with God and to Live Jesus by reflecting God’s gentle strength in their interactions with others. The Theology Department follows the U.S. Bishop’s curriculum framework in the context of Salesian Spirituality and works in tandem with Campus Ministry and Christian Service.
Our Theology Curriculum
The sophomore curriculum expands upon students’ introduction to Christology, focusing on how the Church was established by Christ to continue His saving work on earth. Students receive an overview of salvation history. This study culminates in an exploration of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection and ascension and its implications for the life of a believer. The course continues with a study of Ecclesiology, focusing on how the Church was established by Christ. Ecclesiology topics and doctrinal teachings are contextualized in their historical emergence over time. Students are introduced to the foundational elements of the Church’s identity: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The course explores the role of the Church in the world, and how it evaluates “signs of the times,” with significant attention paid to dialogue within the Church, with the state, and with other religions.
Sophomores contextualize Salesian spirituality in the larger narrative of the history of the Church. Students explore the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal as well as the charisms of other Catholic religious orders and their founders throughout our study of Church History.
The junior curriculum focuses on encountering Christ in the sacraments, and in service and advocacy for others. There is an emphasis on sacramental theology and the social doctrine of the Church. Students examine the scriptural foundations for justice, followed by an historical overview of the Church’s social teaching, with a special emphasis on surveying the social encyclicals of the last 100 years and the recent pastoral letters of the U.S. bishops. Domestic and global issues of justice are then examined in light of Catholic social teaching. Using St. Jane de Chantal as a model, students connect the Universal Call to Holiness and the Salesian call to live in the present moment to their own lives, as they explore ways to use their gifts in service to others.
The senior curriculum focuses on ethics and moral decision-making. There is a primary emphasis on bioethics, which introduces students to the ethical and social implications of recent scientific advances in the fields of biology, medicine, and technology. Students are challenged to confront conventional attitudes on freedom, suffering, personhood, and dignity from a Catholic perspective. Students are given the opportunity to examine bioethical issues in the framework of the Gospels, philosophical ethical systems, Salesian spirituality, and the social sciences. They examine moral decision-making and explore their own values and responsibilities as they grow as women in the Church.
Visitation's Praxis Project
The Praxis Project allows all juniors to be servant leaders and explore social justice through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching. In small groups, they research and advocate for a social justice they are passionate about. Read our magazine story about the Praxis Project.
“Having a religion class built into my curriculum has made me more disciplined in learning more about my faith. For instance, I don’t just pray and go to church anymore, but through my homework and classwork, I am regularly learning more about my faith and understanding it more deeply.”
Faculty Profile: Biz Wittschen, Theology Department Chair
What do you enjoy about teaching at Visitation?
I love the students and their desire to learn and grow, their work ethic, their desire to serve others; to be women of faith and to put that faith—along with their joy, love of life, and enthusiasm—into service. They do all this with critical minds and open hearts.
What do you hope your students learn in your classes?
I hope my students learn to look critically at the world (laws, societal norms, and cultures) and ask how being a woman of faith changes the way we engage with others and the world. I hope my students wrestle with the question “How can I use my gifts in service to others?”—and, in particular, “How can I use them on behalf of the marginalized?”
In what ways does our Salesian charism inform and inspire your work with students?
Salesian Spirituality is deeply relational. It has its origins in the relationship between St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales, and so much of the spiritually comes directly from their friendship. Their relationship teaches us that relationships are essential to leading a holy life. I try to honor this essential component of Salesian Spirituality in my work with students as we work on class projects and in small groups. It is through these interactions and relationships that students will know, understand, and love God.
What is unique about Visi's religion program?
While our department follows the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ curriculum, we also offer two unique courses: junior-year Catholic Social Teaching and senior-year Bioethics and Moral Decision Making. These classes provide students with a Catholic framework for responding to injustice and the problems facing our world. This framework is rooted in our knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ, Scripture, and the history of the Church.
The members of the Religion Department are committed to teaching both the hearts and minds of our students. We understand that our job is not just to ensure the academic growth of our students, but their spiritual development as well. We accompany our students as they develop their relationship with God--whether Catholic or not--through daily prayer and meditation in class, at daily mass, on retreats, and on service trips.
Why is Bioethics so valuable for students?
I want my students to connect in meaningful ways to their coursework, and Bioethics appeals to their varied interests. My students have all been touched by pertinent bioethical issues, many have witnessed a loved one suffer from injury or disease, and they are passionate about informed consent and autonomy. High school seniors are in a constant search for meaning. Bioethics lends itself to critical thinking and questioning. Students ask, “Why am I here?”, “What does it mean to be human?”, “What is the role of suffering in my life?” They are eager to seek answers and debate issues. They are pushed to their limits; their engagement and interest is palpable.
Biz has been teaching at Visitation for more than 20 years. She holds a B.A. in Religious Studies with a concentration in Peace Studies from the College of the Holy Cross.