Theological education and ministry formation will only change when
Latin@s are a critical mass of those doing the teaching and the forming latinamente!

FOR FOUR DECADES, the Hispanic Theology & Ministry Program (HTMP) at Catholic Theological Union has been evolving and deepening in its mission to provide theological education that is historically, culturally, pastorally, and theologically situated in Latin@ contexts.  The visionary leaders who launched the HTMP, prompted by the urgings of CTU Latin@ students at the time, responded to a growing reality made evident by the first two of the National Encuentros on Hispanic Ministry inaugurated half a century ago by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Forty years later, 45% of all Roman Catholics and over 60% of Catholics younger than thirty identify as Hispanic, and for the past decade the global Roman Catholic Church has been led by a Spanish-speaking Jesuit from Latin America.


Founded in 1982, the Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program is one of the longest continuous running initiatives at CTU, and among the earliest of its kind in Catholic theological education in the USA. The ongoing mission has two goals: 1) to raise an awareness of the Hispanic presence as a resource to CTU, the church, and the theological academy through sponsored public and virtual programming and 2) to ensure the institution’s ability to provide academic programs, degrees, certificates, and courses that prepare students for theological study, ministry, and leadership in a church that is increasingly Latinoax, especially under the age of thirty.

Though open to students of all cultural backgrounds, HTMP was established with the hope of addressing the underrepresentation of Latin@s in theological education, ministry, and leadership in the church and academy. Today, those who benefit from HTMP include laity, religious women and men, and ordained clergy who find themselves in ministerial contexts where demographics have shifted as well as ministry students who are preparing to pastorally accompany these diverse communities. HTM courses also attract Doctor of Ministry and MA students who are interested in learning more about Latinx theologies and Hispanics who often have not been exposed to the rich theological contributions of scholars who share their background.

First Twenty Years: 1982 – 2002

,In 1982, there was a paucity of Latino/as on theological faculties. Carmen Nanko-Fernández, current HTMP director notes “Among the concerns was that Latino/as were contributing to the church but not getting paid jobs in ministry or teaching in the academy. Lay Latin@s especially were prevented from leadership beyond that of volunteers because they did not have the necessary degrees.” Those being prepared for ministry in graduate education often lacked an understanding of the complexities, cultures, languages, and theological wisdom of the communities they were being trained to accompany. Since the inception of the program, CTU recognized the importance of having Latin@ faculty. The program’s first director was Chicano theologian Andrés G. Guerrero, who completed his doctorate at Harvard Divinity School and later served as Director of the Hispanic Ministries Program in the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. His 1987 book, A Chicano Theology, remains a classic text from the pioneer generation of Catholic Latin@ theologians.

Other distinguished faculty from this period were alums who had earned their masters’ degrees from CTU. Known for their skills as teachers and as theologians, their work was particularly accessible to those in ministry and religious formation. Like most of the Latin@s who have served on the CTU faculty over the years, they were leaders in the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS), an association of scholars dedicated to promoting research and critical theological reflection within the context of the U.S. Hispanic experience. This connection with ACHTUS has proven fruitful over the decades as some of its members continue to enhance HTMP offerings through Summer Institute courses, class appearances, lectures and participation in events.

  • Ana María Pineda, R.S.M., S.T.D., now a tenured Associate Professor at Santa Clara University, was Director of HTMP for ten years and founding director of the Óscar Romero Scholars Program. With experience in graduate education and ministry she was active in the creation of the Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI) and an advisory member of the Bishops’ Committee for Hispanic Affairs. A past president of ACHTUS, among her publications are two books on Salvadoran martyrs Archbishop Óscar Romero and Rutillo Grande, S.J.
  • Gary Riebe Estrella, SVD, S.T.D., returned to CTU as a faculty member after earning his doctorate in practical theology at the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca in Spain. One of the first Latin@ administrators in Catholic theological education, he guided CTU as Vice President and Academic Dean for twelve years. Riebe-Estrella served as the president of ACHTUS twice and has co-edited a book and published numerous chapters and articles on doing theology, ministry and formation in culturally competent manners. Currently, with Nanko-Fernández and Miguel Díaz, he is a co-editor of the Disruptive Cartographers: Doing Theology Latinamente, a multi-volume series published by Fordham University Press.

Even as it was establishing its reputation for academic and pastoral formation, the HTMP contributed to the distinctive culture of the CTU campus and community. From ofrendas constructed for the Days of the Dead through celebrations for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the CTU community was exposed to and participated in lived experiences of latindad in ways that revealed its power as theological source and affirmed Latinos/as as partners in ministry.

Second Twenty Years: 2003 – 2023

In the last two decades under the leadership of professors Gilberto Cavazos-González (2000-2012) and Carmen Nanko-Fernández (2014-present) HTMP dedicated its efforts to credentialing students through the establishment of a Hispanic Theology and Ministry graduate certificate, master’s degree, and concentration in the Doctor of Ministry degree. The 18-credit certificate can stand alone for the enhancement of professional development or it can function as a concentration for students earning other CTU masters degrees. Under Nanko-Fernández the MA-HTM became CTU’s first totally online degree, pre-pandemic.

In addition to Hispanic-themed courses offered by Latin@ faculty across the curriculum, a 2014 grant from the Wabash Center of Teaching and Learning, entitled Resourcing Theology Faculty Latinamente, helped prepare CTU faculty to enhance their courses in ways that could sustain student studies in the area of HTM. This initiative began with the presupposition that ministry preparation could not be reduced to the acquisition of language and knowledge of cultural practices. Instead, the development of intercultural ministerial competencies in students calls for teaching/learning strategies built on the interconnectedness of cultural, theological and practical knowledges as well as an understanding that there are particular ways of being community and wisdom that arises out of these particularities.

The second twenty years also exemplified the importance of having Latin@s on faculty. The contributions of these faculty to the greater enterprise of Latin@ theologizing and to ACHTUS cannot be underestimated.

  • Friar Gilberto Cavazos-González, OFM, STD, was HTMP director from 2000-2012. Recently he returned to CTU as the John Duns Scotus Chair of Spirituality and Professor of Christian Spirituality. The first Latino to be promoted to full professor at CTU, Cavazos-González, an alumnus was among those students who pushed for the inclusion of Latin@ courses and faculty in the early 1980s. He taught the theological study of Christian spirituality for 15 years at CTU before moving to Rome to work in Educational Technology at the Franciscan school, the Pontifical University Antonianum. His scholarship and publications in both Franciscan and Latino/a spiritualities are well-respected. He too served as president of ACHTUS.
  • Neomi De Anda, PhD succeeded Cavazos-González as director from 2012-2013. DeAnda went on to join the faculty of the University of Dayton where she is currently Associate Professor of Religious Studies and newly appointed Executive Director of International Marian Research Institute.  A Latina theologian she is active in partnering with the Hope Border Institute and her scholarship includes questions related to social justice through daily lived experience. She is a recent past president of ACHTUS.
  • Carmen Nanko-Fernández, D.Min., professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry has been HTMP director since January 2014. She joined the CTU faculty twenty years ago and served as ACHTUS president in 2008-2009. A recipient of the Virgilio Elizondo Award for distinguished achievement in theology, Nanko-Fernández is founding co-editor of the multi-volume series Disruptive Cartographers: Doing Theology Latinamente with Fordham University Press. Besides scholarly publications, her work in public theology appears in the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal.
  • A former Claretian provincial and chaplain at Yale University, Eddie De León, CMF, D.Min. joined the SPM and WW faculty six years ago as assistant professor of pastoral ministry and preaching further broadening Latin@ course options across the curriculum. An alum of CTU, De León’s research and teaching are intentional in their use of the arts as an entry point in interpreting pastoral contexts. He too has served on the board of ACHTUS.

Through a shared resources relationship with DePaul University, professor Christopher Tirres regularly teaches Latin@ courses for the HDS department and the accelerated BA/MA-HTM with Dominican University also creates bridges with Latino/a faculty and students.

The Programming in these past twenty years has brought Latin@ theologians, biblical scholars, artists, musicians and even a chef to campus exploring the creative dimensions of theology accomplished latinamente. Virtual HTMP sponsored programs have produced a wealth of resources available online at Learn@CTU. These offerings cover everything from the pontificate of Pope Francis through popular religion and popular culture as sources for theology. Of note are collaborations with HTMP and the Bernardin Center and especially the Seeking Convivencia series on Islam and Latinidad with the Catholic Muslim Studies Program.

After forty years the accomplishments of our CTU alums who have benefitted from HTMP are to be celebrated. Four of the Latin@ fulltime faculty over the years are CTU alums and three have served as directors of HTMP. Among more recent alums:

The first Latino to graduate with a D.Min. concentration in HTM, William Becerra currently works as the Bilingual National Hispanic Engagement Advisor at Catholic Relief Services. His thesis-project, Socially Locating Latin@ Lay Ecclesial Ministers: An Evolving Portrait, explored a current lacuna in research of lay ecclesial ministry. Rooted in data from a national survey he developed and conducted, his findings offer an emerging portrait of Latin@ lay ecclesial ministers and their experiences of formation for ministry.

John DeCostanza, the first graduate with a D.Min. concentration in HTM is currently Vice President of Mission and Ministry at Dominican University in River Forest, IL. The national conference El Futuro grew out of his thesis-project research on Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) in higher education.

Christa Parra IBVM uses her MDiv with a certificate in HTMP in her ministry of pastorally accompanying migrants on the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border.

Teresa Juarez earned an MA-HTM and continues to teach religion on the faculty of Cristo Rey High School in Chicago.

William Becerra, D.Min.
Catholic Relief Services

Christa Parra IBVM, MDiv.

John DeCostanza, D.Min.
Dominican University

Teresa Juarez, MA-HTM
Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

Appropriately in this 4oth anniversary year, CTU will award Rev. Dr. Edwin D. Aponte, with an honorary doctorate at Commencement in May. Aponte, who was recently named Dean of Drew Theological School at Drew University in New Jersey, is a longtime friend of CTU, having guest lectured in classes, supported CTU faculty members, and served as a reader on a D. Min thesis-project board. Aponte reflects the mission of CTU in his endeavors as a theological educator and scholar who models ecumenical, interreligious, and intercultural commitments. He joins the company of notable Latino theological pioneers Dr. Orlando Espín and Msgr. Arturo Bañuelas who have received CTU honorary degrees in the past 20 years.

The Future

Looking to the future, Nanko-Fernández, explains that the vision of the program “remains rooted in a commitment to a Latin@ understanding that ministry and theology are intrinsically intertwined as teología y pastoral en y de conjunto. Such a vision requires that Latin@s and allies who accompany Hispanic communities be trained to value the relationship between ministry and Latin@ ways of theologizing, praying, worshiping, and interpreting the bible.” This insight, present since the founding of the program, underscores the significance of theologies arising from Hispanic lived experiences for ministry with Latine communities as well as for the greater church. It also aligns with the call of Pope Francis to do theologizing from the streets. The relationship between the HTMP and the growth and deeper development of Latin@ theologies in the USA remains an untold story that deserves study. Nanko-Fernández observes “In a future trending toward a Latin@ majority, theological education and ministry formation will only change when Latin@s are a critical mass of those doing the teaching and the forming latinamente! I hope that our HTMP alums, current students and those who will follow in our unfolding mañana will continue that traditioning.”