Formation academy marks 40th year

Monday, April 29, 2019 - Updated: 8:59 am

By Theresa Sullivan Correspondent

When Dr. Susan Muto met Dutch Spiritan Father Adrian van Kaam, a Duquesne University psychology professor, in 1966, she already had a career path set before her. She was working as the society editor at The Jewish Chronicle and pursuing graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh when he invited her to join him in spearheading an Institute of Formative Spirituality at Duquesne. The passion with which he spoke about formative spirituality, a discipline he was pioneering, struck her deeply and changed her life forever.

The two collaborated to found the Epiphany Association in 1979, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary on May 4. At the heart of the Epiphany Association beats formative spirituality, which examines the intersection of human and Christian formation.

Formative spirituality bridges the gap between a textbook knowledge of faith and genuine belief in the truths of faith, allowing its students to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them. Father Adrian promulgated this discipline alongside Muto until his death in 2007.

Father Adrian’s experiences as a seminarian in World War II Holland gave him keen insights into the human condition integral to developing formative spirituality. After traveling to western Holland for a retreat, he was trapped behind Nazi lines during the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944. He helped people scour for food and learned how to offer counsel amid crisis, a skill that later aided him in his scholarship and ministry. In 1954, Father Adrian joined the psychology department at Duquesne after immigrating to the United States.

Muto began teaching graduate courses with Father Adrian in the Institute of Formative Spirituality in 1967. They promoted formative spirituality through both the Epiphany Association and the institute until Duquesne closed the institute in 1989.

Both continued teaching formative spirituality in churches, living rooms and a few permanent locations. In 2001, they realized their ultimate goal of building a school when they opened the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality on Crane Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood.

“This was the fullness of the vision: that we would have a place devoted to our Lord and our mother Mary to serve their church’s needs,” said Muto, executive director of the Epiphany Association, whose columns appear regularly in the Pittsburgh Catholic.

The Epiphany Academy accommodates students of any educational level, sect of Christianity and school of Catholic theology. Through courses that examine Scripture and ancient, medieval and modern philosophical and theological masters, students deeply ponder the truths of the faith and learn to integrate them into their everyday lives.

“We must not reduce faith formation to more information about the faith,” Muto said.

The Epiphany Certification Program offers students the tools to mature as Christians and work to spread the faith in the world. Its more than 250 graduates work in spiritual, medical, psychological and educational fields.

The Epiphany Association has also published more than 100 books and numerous articles on formative spirituality and boasts a 10,000-volume library in its Beechview building. Through presentations held in 20 countries and 45 states, it has taught more than 250,000 people the tenets of formative spirituality. From 1987 to 1989, the U.S. Navy contracted with the Epiphany Association to offer formation to its 1,200 chaplains representing 86 faith groups.

On May 4, the Epiphany Association will commemorate its 40th anniversary with a day-long celebration with staff, board members, benefactors and alumni. It seeks to expand by adding a residence hall adjacent to the academy, where students can live as they complete their studies.

For information about programs offered by the Epiphany Association, visit www.epiphanyassociation.org. 

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