The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family was opened in July 2001 by Cardinal Trujillo. It is one of ten campuses around the world which are affiliated to the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. The Melbourne Institute is also affiliated to the University of Notre Dame (Fremantle). It offers Graduate Diploma courses in Marriage and Family Studies and Bioethics, Masters degrees in the same areas, the Licence in Sacred Theology and doctoral programs.
Pope John Paul II established the first session of the Institute in Rome in 1981 with a view to fostering cutting edge research in the fields of theological and philosophical anthropology, sociology, bioethics and other disciplines related to the defence of family life and the sanctity of human life in general. It was at his prompting and with the unanimous support of the Australian bishops that a campus was erected in Melbourne by Archbishops Pell and Hart.
After 18 months in operation the Institute has close to 100 students, including two from Taiwan, one from New Zealand, one from Costa Rica and the former Prime Minister of the Pacific nation of Tokelau, Salesio Lui, and his wife Sosefina. The majority of the students come from Melbourne, but some have moved from interstate to study there full time and others come for courses delivered in the intensive mode over three or four weekends or a week or two full-time.
A number of the international students are resident at Mannix College in Clayton where the Dean, Miss Barbara Shea, assists with their transition to life in Melbourne.
To help overcome the tyranny of distance, intensive courses have been scheduled for delivery in Sydney and possibly Queensland and Fremantle in 2003. These courses will cover themes in bioethics, sociology, sacramental theology and natural family planning.
A distinctive feature of the Institute's Faculty is its impressive list of international Visiting Professors. These professors run intensive courses over a two week period. To date they have included Professor Bill May from the John Paul II Institute in Washington, Professor Paul Mankowski SJ from the Biblicum in Rome and Professor Mario Binasco, a psychologist from Milan.
The Visiting Professors for 2003 will be: Christopher West on the Theology of the Body from 10-21 March, Paul Mankowski SJ on Biblical Theology of Marriage and the Family in August, Professor Benedict Groeschel CFR on the Pastoral Care of Families from 13-19 September and Professor Livio Melina on the Foundations of Christian Moral Life from 7-12 July.
Professor Melina is the head of the Roman session of the Institute and is effectively the second most senior member of the Institute world-wide. During the two week period after Easter 2004, Professor Aidan Nichols OP will be delivering an intensive course on the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar.
The President of the Institute world-wide is Bishop Rino Fisichella, the Rector Magnificus of the Lateran University. His predecessor was the Balthasarian scholar, Angelo Scola, who is now the Patriarch of Venice. Locally the President of the Institute is Archbishop Denis Hart and beneath him is the Institute's Director, the Rev Prof Anthony Fisher OP, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and one of Australia's leading bioethicists.
Although not formally a part of the John Paul II Institute, the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Melbourne is situated on the same floor as the Institute in the Thomas Carr Centre. The mission of the Respect Life Office is to work with parishes, schools and groups to build up a culture of life and love, and there is a strong working relationship between the RLO run by Marcia Riordan, and the students and staff of the Institute.
The students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are teachers who are interested in improving their knowledge of philosophy, theology and catechetics; others have a background in psychology, marriage education, social work, healthcare or NFP and hope to work in one of the many Catholic social welfare agencies. Some also want to pursue higher studies to be academics themselves or undertake courses purely for their own personal spiritual and intellectual formation. A number study full-time; most study part-time, juggling the Institute with home and work life.
Some scholarships are available through the Catholic Education Office in Melbourne and Sydney and some bishops have provided scholarships for students to study at the Institute and then return to work in their diocese. In 2003 a married couple, Terry and Owen Vyner, will be joining the student body of the Institute to undertake Masters degrees in Marriage and Family Studies and Bioethics thanks to the sponsorship of Archbishop Hickey of Perth.
The Dean of the Institute, Dr Tracey Rowland, has said that one of the fruits of the Institute's work in the last 18 months has been the publication of a number of articles and books by the students themselves. For example, Lisa Brick, a student for the Diploma in Marriage and Family, has co-authored the publication Teachable Moments (Gabriel Communications, Melbourne) with Julianne Whyte, while Anne Maree Quinn and Joanne Grainger have had articles published in Catholic journals.
Dr Rowland said that while the Institute is in its infancy there is emerging a genuinely scholarly community with a commitment to the highest academic standards, fidelity to Catholic tradition and a desire to defend the dignity of human life in general and the good of family life in particular.
For details about courses on offer see the web-site sponsored by Taborvision at http://www.jp2institute.org/ or contact the Registrar, Mrs Elaine Shelton on (03) 94123370 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.