For many years, Saint Leo University has offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in religion and theology. Considering Saint Leo’s longstanding roots in Catholic and Benedictine traditions, the university community has been a relevant platform for these areas of study.

Now, the university is proud to be adding a doctoral degree to its selection of programs in the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religion within the College of Arts and Sciences. This fall, Saint Leo is excited to unveil an online Doctor of Theology (ThD) in applied theology degree program. We recently caught up with Dr. Stephen Okey, an associate professor of theology who is serving as the director of this new program, to learn more about this unique offering. It is the fourth doctorate offered by Saint Leo University.

Q: Why did Saint Leo decide to launch this Doctor of Theology online degree program?

Okey: The genesis of this program goes back about four years. We have already had a very large and successful MA in theology program, and we thought we had the experience, resources, and personnel to successfully offer a doctoral program in theology. Our goal was to develop a program that would match the skills of our faculty, cater to our students’ needs, and serve the wider church community.

Q: What was the reason to focus on “applied theology” in this theology doctorate program?

Okey: While we want students to come into the program with a strong foundation in academic research, we want the curriculum to have a more practical focus. This means preparing students to implement what they learn in the program into their lives, communities, and the church. Unlike a PhD program, the program is not designed to develop students who will go into tenure-track university jobs.

Q: What types of prospective students is this doctoral program geared toward?

Okey: We are hoping to attract students who are currently embedded in careers like ministry, education, nonprofit leadership, or publishing. We want students who can see the potential benefits of further education to serve their communities.

Also, we are pretty open to the denominational backgrounds of prospective students. While the program is grounded in Catholic theology, it has an ecumenical openness built into it.

Q: What are the admission requirements for this program?

Okey: Students should have a master’s degree in theology, philosophy, or a related discipline. They will also need four years of documented work experience.

For the application, they will submit a writing sample, statement of purpose, and two recommendations. I will then review the applications and schedule interviews with the prospective students.

Q: How is the program structured?

Okey: This online program, consisting of 60 credit hours, will offer 14 courses. These include both asynchronous elements, like discussion boards, and live, synchronous sessions with activities students might normally do in a traditional classroom setting.

The curriculum also requires the successful completion of comprehensive exams and a dissertation.

Q: How long should students expect to be in the program?

Okey: Students will typically take two classes at a time. On average, this means they will be able to complete the program within four years. As part of those four years, the dissertation is designed to take about two years.

Q: Can you explain the low-residency requirement of this program?

Okey: While the program is predominantly online, students will be expected to attend two in-person residencies in July held at University Campus in St. Leo, FL. Each will consist of three or four days. The meetings and discussions will be specifically tied to the courses the students are taking that summer.

We believe this in-person interaction provides community building among the students. It also gives students a chance to explore our library resources, and they can fully devote a few days to exclusively focus on the program away from their other day-to-day commitments.

Q: What are some examples of courses being offered in the program?

Okey: We will have four “buckets” of courses. The first area focuses on foundational courses in applied theology. We will then look at the Catholic intellectual tradition. The third sequence is on theology and dialogue. Finally, the students will explore moral theology and ethics.

Examples of some specific courses include:

  • Vatican II
  • Public Theology
  • Interfaith Leadership
  • Fundamental Moral Theology
  • Virtue Ethics

Q: Can you provide an overview of the faculty teaching in the program?

Okey: We have a nice mix of full-time faculty and longstanding adjunct instructors who are working in the field. In addition to myself, these will likely include:

  • Dr. Michael Tkacik, associate professor of philosophy, theology, and religion who helped build our MA in theology program
  • Dr. Matthew Tapie, director of Saint Leo’s Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, associate professor of theology, and scholar of Thomas Aquinas
  • Dr. Mark Pugliese, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and associate professor of theology who has a strong background in interreligious dialogue and theology
  • Dr. Isabel Fernandez, adjunct instructor and Director of Laity, Family, and Life in the Diocese of Orlando
  • Dr. Michael Martocchio, adjunct instructor and Secretary of Evangelization in the Diocese of Charleston, SC

Q: What types of new roles and opportunities will this degree help graduates qualify for?

Okey: This Doctor of Theology degree will not be as much about changing careers. Rather, it will help graduates advance and do more in their current careers.

Examples of roles graduates may be considered for include:

  • Director of religious education
  • Administrative roles in higher education
  • Parish and diocesan management
  • Nonprofit leadership positions
  • Administrative roles within Catholic schools

Q: What separates Saint Leo’s ThD program from others out there?

Okey: Most ThD programs are associated with Protestant and evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries. Very few are connected to Catholic institutions.

In addition, most Doctor of Theology programs are residential programs. The combination of being an online ThD program and offered at a Catholic university is quite rare.

Plus, this is the only fully accredited ThD program at a Catholic university of its kind.

Q: How can prospective students learn more about this Doctor of Theology online program?

Okey: Feel free to email me at with any questions.

You can also check out the ThD program page for more details.