New Online Theology Program Director

Patricia Ireland

Despite the boxes to be emptied, books to be shelved and diplomas to be hung, room 316 in Mercy Hall already feels like Tricia Ireland's office. The new theology department head for SJC Online has only occupied 316 for a few weeks and the vanilla coffee she drinks – at her desk, sans shoes – infuses the room with a sense (and a scent) of belonging.

Ireland, too, infuses the room with a sense of belonging. Successor of former director Dan Sheridan, Ireland has previous directorial experience at a Catholic college in New York. Her professional background, in addition to five degrees in theology including three master's degrees and a doctorate, help Ireland fit in comfortably at Saint Joseph's.

"I wasn't really looking," said Ireland of the program director position. "I happened to see it on a higher ed. website and said ‘Oh, that looks like a good fit.' I kind of applied on a lark and it worked out really well."

If it worked out "really well" for the New Jersey native, the college was just as fortunate. With her appointment, Saint Joseph's has gained someone "informed, committed, determined and faithful," according to her predecessor, Sheridan.

"She brings to the programs a deep understanding of Catholic faith and a broad pastoral experience," said Sheridan.

Even beyond theology, Ireland is knowledgeable and passionate about higher education. When discussing anything from academics to administration, Ireland's words come quickly and confidently.

"There's an explosion in online theology. We need to keep current and competitive with other programs around the country."

Experienced in distance learning, Ireland has an endless list of ideas to keep SJC's online theology program competitive. She plans to launch the graduate certificate program her predecessor designed, expand the theology classes and programs, establish non-credit symposia and more. An idea she's especially excited about is the addition of a second master's degree in sacred theology as a complement to the well-established master's in pastoral theology.

As certain Ireland is of the future for online theology, she's equally uncertain about where she and her family will be living this fall. With a husband and four children waiting to relocate, she's anxious to sell her house in New Jersey and purchase property in Maine.

"Right now I'm staying in the dorms – a [resident advisor] room in O'Connor Hall. It's a nice little studio, it's great, but I'm ready to move out."

Leaving O'Connor Hall, however, doesn't mean she'll be abandoning the campus side of SJC altogether. A member of the academic rigor task force, she's already contributing to the four-year college and hopes to continue institution-wide involvement. In fact it's this freedom – this ability to collaborate with various divisions and departments – that Ireland enjoys most about her new role.

"It allows me to be very creative; I love the creativity. The diversity of responsibilities excites me."

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