Bishop Joseph Strickland of the diocese of Tyler, Texas is renowned for his stalwart faith in the midst of brutal attacks on the Church, as well as his creativity and fidelity in responding to them.
One response to such attacks is the bishop's St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization, an online resource center dedicated to teaching the Faith "with the fervor of first-century Christians ... with reverence for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist" through essays, videos, podcasts and more.
The Institute is named after St. Philip, one of the evangelizers of the early Church. The Acts of the Apostles describes how an angel guided St. Philip to Gaza where he met an Ethiopian man sitting in a chariot reading the words of the prophet Isaiah. When Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading, the man replied: "How can I unless someone guides me?" (8:29–31). The Ethiopian man invited St. Philip into the chariot, and Philip shared the good news of Christ which resulted in the man being baptized and rejoicing in the salvation of Jesus.
In the interview below, Bp. Strickland explained to Church Militant how the St. Philip Institute is "growing by leaps and bounds" and how "in these dark times people need real hope and real joy," something the center is providing.
Church Militant: What inspired you to create the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization?
Bishop Strickland: The basic inspiration came from my lifelong recognition that, especially in East Texas where I grew up and the diocese is located, many people leave the Catholic faith without ever knowing what the Catholic faith actually teaches. It began there, and I realized we needed a new entity to transform the approach of the diocese, thus the Institute.
Then we developed the Constitution on Teaching as the roadmap for the Institute. This Constitution continues to be a very hands-on roadmap. It is getting wrinkled and creased with use like any good roadmap.
CM: What inspired you to name the institute after St. Philip the Evangelist?
Bishop Strickland: One of the themes we are guided by is being like first-century Christians in the 21st century. St. Philip the deacon and evangelist seemed perfect because he enthusiastically reached out to the Ethiopian in the chariot with the Good News that he was on fire with. We need that proactive, joyful and energetic approach to sharing the gospel today.
I love the spontaneity and enthusiasm of Philip running up to the chariot ... he didn't consult a committee or look for a program ... he jumped into the street and shared the gospel with a man who was probably quite startled to encounter him and his message.
CM: What is the significance of the Institute's logo?
Bishop Strickland: Starting top left it evokes the chariot; next, top right is the crest of the diocese of Tyler; bottom right is Pentecost for evangelization and bottom left is the Word of God and teaching evoking catechesis.
CM: Through the Institute, you seem to be transforming the diocese of Tyler into a Catholic "university" of sorts. Would you agree with this description?
Bishop Strickland: I do like this description in the very best sense of what a university should be — a place and a culture focused on learning and developing hearts and minds in the truth.
We have a long way to go, but I think you touch on a core element of what we are trying to do. I believe dioceses need to be much more in the model of a university — a place and culture of learning and formation and much less akin to a corporate management office.
CM: Catechesis and evangelization are sorely lacking in the Church today. It seems that by directing the Institute toward these endeavors, you're helping to ensure the future of the Faith.
Bishop Strickland: Absolutely. These elements are part of the Church — ever ancient, ever new.
Catechesis has been dismal in my lifetime, but we still have the truth, we just have to share it much better.
Evangelization is the outpouring of the zeal that the gift of the Holy Spirit brought the Church at Pentecost. It is not a tired message. Quite the opposite, it is more desperately needed today than ever.
We need new saints to rise up in the joy of the gospel and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ. The compromise with the world has to end.
CM: What do financial donations go toward?
Bishop Strickland: Donations go toward the work of the Institute to support the great staff that has been hired and to have the resources to continue to expand the staff as needed.
The Institute is a separate non-profit entity, and donations directed to it are used to support its mission.
Executive Director Dr. Stacy Trasancos is a woman of note in science and faith, and she is doing a great job of directing the institute following the roadmap of the Constitution on Teaching.
CM: Can you comment on the Institute's growth and development? It seems that the Institute would appeal both to Catholics and those interested in becoming Catholic.
Bishop Strickland: It truly is growing and developing in wonderful ways. It all comes down to a beautiful message, the truth of Jesus Christ and wonderfully gifted people sharing their talents. I've really simply been here to support their great work. They are working around the clock and especially with the new world we are in with the coronavirus, the Institute is literally exploding with the joy of the gospel and its impact on our dark and troubled world.
It is three years old this June. I like to compare the Institute to a child growing, and I have to say in the last six months, this almost 3-year-old "kid" is growing by leaps and bounds.
[The Institute's information] is available in English and Spanish, and I hope that as it serves both communities in the diocese, others from all over the world will feel welcome to listen in. The advantage is that the truth we are sharing, the truth of Jesus Christ, is a gift all peoples of all nations and all times need and must have.
CM: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Bishop Strickland: The only thing I would add is that the St. Philip Institute is on a mission of joy and hope in the Light of Christ. In these dark times, people need real hope and real joy.
Platitudes and empty promises will not sustain individuals and families at this time. All of us need the glorious truth that God has revealed to us through His divine Son Jesus Christ, and the mission of the Institute is to proclaim this joyful message.