What does it take to become a successful educator? Ask S. Maria Pascuzzi ’73, S.T.D., and she’ll tell you the answer: a degree from St. Joseph’s College. S. Maria, dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at St. Thomas University in Miami, is a shining example of the type of educators that SJC has been known to produce. She credits the education she received with helping her to achieve countless accomplishments.
“SJC always seemed like the right place for me because I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” S. Maria said. “Throughout my years at St. Joseph’s, I did not have one professor whom I have forgotten or to whom I am not indebted for their dedication to my education.”
During her years as an English and secondary education major at SJC’s Brooklyn Campus, S. Maria was a member of the women’s basketball team and student council, and an active volunteer at St. Benedict’s Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. In 1972, she felt called to her faith. S. Maria decided to take a year off from her studies to make the commitment to live a vowed life, and participate in a religious mission to spread God’s love. She returned to graduate in 1973 as a Sister of St. Joseph, and then moved on to pursue a master’s degree at Providence College in Rhode Island.
“When I entered graduate school, I was in classes with people who had attended very prestigious universities,” S. Maria said.
“I was a little nervous, but I realized that my education had prepared me to compete with anyone. I received a great education from teachers who were dedicated to helping me develop intellectually, expand culturally and grow personally.”
After earning an M.A. in Biblical Studies, S. Maria continued her education abroad. While in Rome, she was awarded a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, attained a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and earned a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. In addition, she studied one year at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, focusing on a special studies program in biblical languages, history, geography and archaeology.
When she returned to the United States, S. Maria began an extensive teaching career at a variety of institutions including Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington and Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City. She most recently spent more than a decade as a professor of biblical studies at the University of San Diego before being appointed dean at St. Thomas University in 2012.
“For most of my adult life I have been in the classroom teaching what I love — biblical studies,” S. Maria said.
“What I enjoy most is seeing the lights go on in students’ minds when they learn that you can be a believer and read the Bible critically without needing to take every word literally. Beyond that, I just can’t imagine doing anything other than helping people to gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed and lead.”
As she settles in to her new role at St. Thomas University, S. Maria hopes to ensure that the school’s programs are academically rigorous and require application of intellectual skills.
“Some people assume that theology is not a real academic discipline and lacks content, but that would be a mistake,” S. Maria said. “I hope to make an impact here.”
During her tenure at the University of San Diego, S. Maria was the founding director of the university’s Center for Catholic Thought and Culture, created to help USD and its neighbors explore, understand and celebrate what it means to participate in a university community that calls itself Catholic in the 21st century.
S. Maria is an active member of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, the Society of Biblical Literature and the International Advisory Board of the Irish Theological Quarterly, and has completed extensive research on earliest Christianity and the texts produced by and for the first believers. She has also lectured and published works on St. Paul’s view of the law and the Jewish people, on the role of women in earliest Christianity, and on Paul’s gospel within the context of imperial Rome.
S. Maria is a national-level scholar that has truly made the most of her SJC education. For students who are also hoping to be and not to seem, she advises: “Ask questions, be disciplined and come to college for the education, not for the grades. At SJC, you can get the same great educational foundation I received and with that, you can do anything. Make the most of your time.”