New dean of Institute for Lay Ministry brings 'ever-ancient, ever-new' wisdom

Kevin Clarke, Ph.D., was hired in July to become dean of Sacred Heart Major Seminary's Institute for Lay Ministry, which leads the formation of laypeople for ministry in the Archdiocese of Detroit and beyond. Clarke, a native of Virginia, joins Sacred Heart's staff after teaching at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, Calif. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Sacred Heart Major Seminary's Kevin Clarke, Ph.D., says studying Church Fathers is a 'sure guide to understanding the Bible'

DETROIT — As a young person contemplating his career path, Kevin Clarke, Ph.D., never imagined he’d one day be forming future priests, deacons and laypeople as a professor, lecturer, author and researcher. Having grown up in the south, he didn’t picture himself shoveling snow from his driveway, either.

Clarke joined the staff of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in July as the new dean of the Institute for Lay Ministry. Clarke, who will also serve as an associate professor, brings to the role years of research and expertise in the Church Fathers and their interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures.

After obtaining a B.A. in psychology from Roanoke College in his hometown of Salem, Va., Clarke accepted a job as a copy editor. When his Buddhist roommate posed metaphysical questions, Clarke felt unsatisfied with the answers he gave to his friend. Around the same time, his beloved grandfather passed away, inspiring Clarke to live his Catholic faith more actively and seek answers. He read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible from cover to cover. He was most intrigued by the 400s section of the Catechism, on Christology.

“Even though I had been to catechesis over the years, I hadn’t gotten a full picture of who Jesus Christ was,” Clarke said. “I was simply in awe of the Church’s doctrine of Christ.”

This discovery led him to patristics — the study of the lives, writings, doctrine and theology of the Fathers of the Church. He went on to obtain degrees from Franciscan University of Steubenville (M.A. in theology and Christian ministry), and Ave Maria University (Ph.D. in Biblical theology). He also expects to complete an S.T.L. with the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University in early 2023.

Clarke studied Maximus the Confessor’s understanding of Scripture in the seventh century, focusing on Maximus in his dissertation. Currently, he is working on a translation of Maximus’ Opuscula and the Disputations with Pyrrhus from Greek, which he hopes to publish in the near future with Catholic University of America Press.

“I always have the Church Fathers with me when I’m teaching because I find that they are sure guides to understanding the Bible and to bringing about a 'fresh antiquity' — ever-ancient, ever-new,” he said. “The Fathers really provide that connection.”

Clarke has taught at a number of universities and seminaries, most recently at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, Calif. While he enjoyed the job immensely, he drove 60 miles to work each way and started to wonder whether his and his wife’s “California dream” was not meant to be a permanent arrangement. When he learned of the job opening with Sacred Heart’s Institute for Lay Ministry, he was eager to apply.

“In light of my background with catechetics, Scripture and patristics, journalism and PR, and even psychology, the job seemed to bring all the elements of my background together harmoniously,” Clarke said.

Michigan was already on Clarke’s radar prior to the job search. Growing up, he spent a week in the state every summer with his godfather and family. Then as an adult, he came to know and respect Sacred Heart.

“I’ve long been impressed by the world-class faculty at Sacred Heart,” he said. “As soon as you start studying theology in the U.S., you read the words of Dr. Mary Healy, Dr. Ralph Martin, and Dr. Robert Fastiggi.”

Fastiggi and Clarke each wrote a chapter in the book De Maria Numquam Satis: The Significance of the Catholic Doctrines on the Blessed Virgin Mary for All People, published in 2009.

“Being at a seminary in recent years, I came to miss teaching (the laity). Now I get to teach both,” Clarke said. “You have students who are willing, eager, and full of the gifts of the Spirit coming to you for formation.”

Having the opportunity both to educate and to form the whole person is important to Clarke. He turns to the guidelines laid out in Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The document names the four pillars of formation: intellectual, spiritual, human and pastoral. The pillars provide a framework that applies not only to priests and deacons but to lay ecclesial ministers and lay students wanting to go deeper in their understanding of the Church and its teachings.

“The laity, in a powerful way, are able to extend the work of the bishop into and throughout his diocese,” he said. “And as his co-workers, they are then able to multiply the work their bishop is able to do.”

Moving his wife, Natasha, and their four children, from California was a big change for his family. Natasha grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. Still, they are excited to be part of the southeast Michigan Catholic community and explore the natural beauty of the state. His children have already come to appreciate fireflies, a summer delight not found in California.

“I very much look forward to meeting the students of Sacred Heart and those who are interested in becoming students, as well as collaborating with the Archdiocese of Detroit and other dioceses who are interested in the programs we offer,” Clarke said.

This article first appeared in Mosaic, the magazine of Sacred Heart Major Seminary.



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