Work in education: St Katharine’s Institute, Wyoming, USA

St Katharine’s Institute of Theology and Religious Studies was an independent, privately-owned Christian theological institute founded and incorporated in Wyoming, United States of America, and controlled by the Religious Society of St Katherine, a religious teaching congregation.

St Katherine’s Institute of Theology and Religious Studies  was founded and chartered in 2003. The Institute was empowered under the law of the State of Wyoming to award collegiate degrees to the doctoral level in the areas of Theology, Religious Studies, Church History and Church Music. Such titles could be awarded after examination, honoris causa or de facto upon persons who, in the opinion of the Institute, were deserving of such an award in recognition of their work as a theologian, exponent of religious studies, church historian or church musician. The Institute was an independent interdenominational institution providing both traditional and innovatory programmes of study at the postgraduate level.

The Institute offered its programmes mostly through correspondence study and distance learning, although some programmes in Church Music were offered by examination. A panel of tutors and examiners approved by the Institute prepared students for awards, functioning as an independent guild with most tutors being based in the United Kingdom.

The By-Laws of the Institute defined its aims as follows: “St Katherine’s Institute of Theology and Religious Studies shall exist for the purpose of offering Biblical and religious instruction, and basic instruction in other subjects or disciplines as may be felt appropriate in compliance with statute W.S. 21-4-101(a)(iv) of the state of Wyoming, to students in any state or country, within or beyond the United States of America, where the Directors of this Corporation may determine there is a sufficient cause and opportunity for opening and maintaining work; to carry out such instruction by extension courses, correspondence, the internet, lectures and any other appropriate method, by the publication of papers, bulletins, magazines, books or other publications; or by any other means the Corporation may determine to be fruitful; to employ teachers, officers, extension lecturers, correspondence tutors, or such other workers as may be necessary; to establish and maintain such educational institutions, chapels and dormitories as may be found useful in promoting the cause of religious education; to grant diplomas, academic or honorary degrees in any subject for work done in the institution of the Corporation, under its guidance, or for merit.”

The Institute functioned as a private theological college, and its courses were not open to the public. Candidature for degrees was by personal invitation from a member of the Religious Society of St Katherine only (if the applicant was not him or herself a member of that body). No fees were charged for tuition or examination. As an institution not open to the public and not charging fees, the Institute was not eligible for any recognized accreditation system within the USA or elsewhere. It was always an intentionally small institution.

The Religious Society of St Katherine numbered ten members. Its President was the Assistant Superior of the Josephite Community in the UK, Br. Michael Powell, cj, and the Warden was Nicholas Groves, MA.

The Institute was incorporated in the state of Wyoming as a religious nonprofit corporation on 16 April 2003, with corporate number 200300448935. All four Directors of the Institute were members of the Religious Society of St Katherine, and I served as its President. The Institute was granted a religious exemption from private postsecondary school licensing by the Wyoming Department of Education on 10 July 2003.

In 2004, the State of Wyoming, concerned primarily by national publicity that had highlighted the abuse of its religious exemption by the diploma mill “Hamilton University”, legislated to prohibit religious exempt schools from offering degrees by distance learning. This made it impossible for the Institute to continue operating on the basis of its Wyoming authority, and its corporation was consequently dissolved. An approach was next made to Knightsbridge University, Denmark, where I served on faculty. Knightsbridge agreed to act as validating body for the Institute and, in an extremely generous gesture, awarded a reciprocal degree to the majority of the Institute’s existing dozen graduates without charge.

Later that year, it was decided that the Institute should cease preparing students for degrees and should be re-constituted in the United Kingdom. A very small number of Fellowships in Theology and Church Music were awarded to members under this re-constitution. In 2005, serious differences emerged between members of the Society, and both the Society and the Institute ceased activity.

I was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity jure dignitatis by the Institute in 2003.

When the Institute was re-constituted in 2004, I was awarded a Fellowship in Church Music jure dignitatis.