by Joe Cook
The title “doctor” has many different meanings.
Having a doctorate validates one as a learned patron of medicine or an expert in a particular field. What it shows to others is years of hard work, money and time spent to achieve a high honor.
With his recent travels to Rome, theology teacher Steven Meyer earned the title of Doctor of Sacred Theology.
From Sept. 26 through 30, Meyer traveled to Rome to defend his thesis, “The Theology of Faith in the Writings of Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.” at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum.
“You have to write a paper that would make an original, unique contribution to the field of theology,” Meyer said. “It has to be uniquely yours so that other experts can learn from it.”
The first proposal that Meyer sent in was rejected, and he subsequently dropped his attempt to gain his STD.
“I figured I’ve got enough degrees,” Meyer said. “But in 2006 I discovered my subject and decided to give it another try.”
The subject of his work, Cardinal Avery Dulles S.J., had published over 850 articles and more than 20 books, all of which Meyer had to read for his research.
Meyer claims that he has more works by Dulles than any other library in the state of Texas.
As evidenced in the title, Meyer wrote on the theme of faith in Dulles’s works, which was a topic that Meyer felt had been overlooked by others.
“I proposed my topic in the fall of 2007, and the person I submitted it to lost it,” Meyer said. “I had to resubmit it, and it was approved.”
The version that Meyer submitted was actually the second draft of his thesis. In the summer of 2009, Meyer wrote a 150 page first draft that he would come to find worthless.
“I spent the entire summer working on this 150 page draft, and I threw it away,” Meyer said. “I ended up not even using it at all.”
For the next two years, Meyer worked on his thesis at a pace of one chapter per semester. In the fall of 2008, he completed chapter 1; chapter 2 was completed in spring of 2009; chapter 3 in summer of 2009; chapter 4 in fall of 2009 and chapter 5 in spring of 2010.
In the fall of 2010, Meyer made edits and corrections on the entire thesis and added comments from his director. He then submitted his paper in the spring of 2011 and received his date in which he had to travel to Rome to defend his paper.
While in Rome, Meyer stayed at a “nun-run hotel.” He said that it was a hotel specifically for pilgrims and was one-third of the price of normal hotels. He made visits to the four major churches in Rome: St. Peter, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.
“I ate a lot of good food,” Meyer said. “I had pizza every day and had a lot of pasta and coffee.”
Meyer visited all of the customary places in Rome. He toured the Coliseum and “walked” up the Holy Stairs.
“They’re a set of stairs in the St. John Lateran that you have to walk up on your knees,” Meyer said. “According to legend, these were brought to Rome by St. Monica because she was told that they were the stairs that Jesus walked up on the way to see Pilate.”
When it finally came time for Meyer to defend his thesis at the Angelicum, he was questioned for twenty minutes by three people. The first person was his moderator, the second person was a “devil’s advocate,” whose role was to be very critical and the third person was the dean of the department.
“The second person primarily looks for mistakes,” Meyer said. “The third person was flipping through my paper as I was being questioned and probably didn’t even read it at all.”
After he was questioned, he left the room and waited until he was told whether he had earned the degree or not.
“I was called back in and was formally greeted as a doctor,” Meyer said. “I still won’t get the certificate until I make corrections and publish my work.”
Meyer’s STD qualifies him to be able to teach priests in formation.
“This enables me to be able to teach graduate level theology,” Meyer said. “I could teach priests in formation in the seminary.”
Now able to look back on his experience, Meyer says that the one thing that really allowed him to earn this degree is his dedication to his subject and not necessarily how much he knew about it. He said that earning a doctorate, no matter in what field, is more about perseverance rather than sheer intelligence.