Posted June 27, 2007
New glossary seeks to improve
Catholics' literacy about their faith
By Kaitlynn Riely
Catholic News Service
From "Abba" to "zucchetto," a new glossary provides definitions and background for more than 1,300 words that may arise in the Catholic vernacular.
St. Mary's Press Glossary of Theological Terms, composed by Holy Cross Father John T. Ford, evolved from a survey conducted by St. Mary's Press that indicated professors at Catholic colleges noticed a lack of Catholic literacy among their students, said John McHugh, the director of college publishing for St. Mary's Press in Winona, Minn.
In student focus groups conducted either before or concurrently with the release of the glossary in September 2006, students frequently cited undefined terms as a barrier to their grasp of the Catholic faith.
Minnesota professors Marian K. Diaz, from the College of St. Benedict, and Miguel H. Diaz, from St. John's University, began the work of compiling terms and writing out definitions, then Father Ford took over the manuscript and became the principal author in the summer of 2005, McHugh said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service.
In an e-mail interview with CNS, Father Ford discussed the task of deciding which terms to include and which terms to omit. In his decision-making process, he would consider whether the term was one that students might encounter in their readings and would consult with various professors to get their opinion about whether the word should be added.
Father Ford is a theology professor and coordinator of Hispanic and Latino studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington. His search for words to define included observing which ones students most frequently asked about. Once he had identified a term to use, that term often led to a second, third and fourth term to include. The glossary includes several Latin, Greek and Spanish terms.
When Father Ford identified a word for use in the glossary, he composed an appropriate definition.
"I tested most terms on the Internet by sampling a variety of online dictionaries to see how the term was defined -- then I composed a definition for the glossary," he said.
The glossary gives definitions for the words and also places them in a wider context, either by explaining the significance of the word in the Catholic faith or by cross-referencing the term with another word. So users of the glossary learn not only what the word means, but also what it means in the context of Catholicism.
Take "zucchetto." The word comes from the Italian "zucca," meaning gourd or head. The zucchetto is the small, round skullcap worn by clergy. Father Ford tells readers that the color of a zucchetto indicates the person's rank. So the pope wears white, cardinals wear scarlet, bishops wear purple and priests wear black.
McHugh said the book is being marketed mainly to a college audience, but said adult formation groups have embraced the book as well. The book's publisher also hopes to market the text to high school teachers and students. Extensive field research conducted to judge student reaction to the glossary was overwhelmingly positive.
"I think anyone who is interested in Catholic terminology will either buy the book or we hope they will adopt it," McHugh said.
As to whether this glossary can contribute to improving Catholic literacy, Father Ford thinks all Catholics -- whether they are students of Catholic theology or not -- can benefit from having common and not so common terms defined.
"I hope that when Catholics, whether young or old or in between, come across theological terms that they don't understand they will reach for the glossary," he said.
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Editor's Note: St. Mary's Press Glossary of Theological Terms can be ordered for $15, plus shipping and handling, on the St. Mary's Press Web site at: http://college.smp.org.