Benedict’s Teachers Earn Advanced Degrees, Top Honors


Jacob Anthony Amaro

Mr. Stephen Adubato (left) and Br. Asiel Rodriguez celebrate after receiving Master’s degrees and academic medals in a ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica in Newark.

One is a monk. One is a layperson. One is outgoing and demonstrative. The other is quiet and contemplative. They are friends, millennials, and beloved teachers at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School. And, underneath it all, both are on deeply intellectual and spiritual quests to better understand God.

Yesterday, during a regal celebratory Mass and academic hooding ceremony at the cavernous Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, both received advanced degrees in theology. Among fellow graduates, both were singled out, winning top awards for academic excellence. The degrees, and awards, bestowed by the Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University, are the product of their years of labor.

Br. Asiel Rodriguez, O.S.B, who will make his solemn vows to Newark Abbey next March, received a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry with a concentration in Spiritual Direction. Mr. Stephen Adubato, who teaches Religion at SBP and is the faculty adviser of the Gray Bee Ministry, earned his Master of Arts in Moral Theology (Christian Ethics).

They were both awarded the Pope John Paul II Medal for Academic Excellence, given to one student in each of the four masters degree programs for outstanding achievement in graduate theological studies.

In a Mass preceding the awards ceremony, Cardinal Joseph Tobin presided and praised the hard work of nearly 60 students receiving degrees, reminding them that they were at a critical juncture, hovering between capping their academic inquiries and launching their lives as disciples of God. “You have studied in a privileged moment of your life,” Cardinal Tobin said. But the students must now venture forth to “teach God’s saving love.”

While praising the academic rigors required to study theology, Cardinal Tobin urged the graduating students to remember that such divine subject matter is difficult to confine. To study God, he said, “is to enter into dialogue with revelation.” And, he added, theology students must never forget to “give what they received.”

Br. Asiel agreed with this perspective, asserting the experiential nature of studying theology: “Why do you go to the school of theology, if not to deepen your relationship with God?”

Being a monk, Br. Asiel said, has helped him maintain a broad focus, because his work as an ESL and Religion teacher and his vocation have complemented his studies so well. In this way, he said, “You don’t have just words and books, you have actions. You get to know God by studying what He is and your ability to see God in everything.” Because, he added,  “you can’t love what you don’t know.”

Mr. Adubato, who is a member of a Catholic ecclesial lay movement called Communion and Liberation, said that students engaging with theology and other subjects serve a higher purpose — their actions allow them to participate in God’s creative work. “I truly believe that God uses our work — all forms of work —  to draw us closer to Him,” Mr. Adubato said. “My identity as a creature made in the imago Dei lights up when I’m doing my work, both as a teacher and a student. It sets my heart ablaze with passion and makes me thirst to discover more about myself, my students, the topics I’m teaching and studying, and ultimately about God.”

Unique Perspectives, Same goals

Br. Asiel and Mr. Adubato approached their studies from different directions.

Br. Asiel said that through his studies, he was preparing to serve the people of Newark. So before he started, he sought out counsel from his monastic brothers, two of whom were the most recent to be ordained: Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, O.S.B., and Fr. Augustine Curley, O.S.B. He knew Fr. Augustine focused on the history of the church while Fr. Max is an expert in Systematic Theology, defined as a form of theology aiming to arrange religious truths in a self-consistent whole. They recognized that they all played a role in their service to the community and they wanted their studies to support and not duplicate each other. As a result, Br. Asiel decided that a focus on Pastoral Ministry would work best with strengths that already existed.

He has dedicated his studies to his students at SBP. “Although you called me a teacher, I was the one who was learning,” he said. “Thank you!”

Jacob Anthony Amaro
Two Benedict’s faculty members were awarded the Pope John Paul II Medal for Academic Excellence from the Seton Hall University School of Theology at a Mass and graduation ceremony at the Cathedral Basilica in Newark.

Mr. Adubato originally intended to pursue an advanced degree in secondary education and earn certification in teaching Spanish. But, he said, his theological questions weighed so heavily that he couldn’t ignore them. “The program really allowed me to explore my questions more deeply,” he said. “I greatly appreciated getting to work with such intelligent professors who took my questions so seriously.” He also learned so much about research and scholarship that he believes he will be able to put these valuable skills to good use.

Both spent years attaining the degrees. Br. Asiel’s program required two years of study in Philosophy and four years in Theology. His greatest challenge was finding a way to balance his monastic life, teaching, and school schedules. “I’ll always remember my chaotic Wednesdays,” he said, “when classes at Seton Hall (in South Orange) ended at 12:30 p.m. and I had to rush to be at St. Benedict’s to teach class by 1 p.m. I usually missed lunch!” For Mr. Adubato, it was four long years during which he also was teaching full-time. He attended night classes, and devoted large chunks of his weekends for school work, particularly for writing his thesis.

For both, digging in to a research topic provided great opportunities for reflection. Br. Asiel used his research as a way of finding answers, particularly in light of many challenges presently facing the Church. The degree required an in-depth study of Philosophy and Theology. Being on the seminarian track — he will be ordained a priest next spring — he also studied how to preach and celebrate Mass.

Br. Asiel’s thesis posed the question, “Is there truth to the Word of God?” and focused on the life and work of St. Augustine. The saint, he said, used the Bible as a way to introduce God’s truth and place God at the center of the reader’s life.  “Augustine proposed that you must first believe before you can understand God from a different perspective,” Br. Asiel said. Pastoral ministry, Br. Asiel said, was St. Augustine’s mission and he worked constantly to create communion between his people.

Mr. Adubato wanted to explore the role of the Church in an increasingly secular world.

“I am fascinated by religious belief as a phenomenon juxtaposed against the reality of unbelief,” he said. “ I chose to concentrate on moral questions because I have always been fixated on the idea of being a good person.”

In the public school he attended growing up, character education was emphasized but, ultimately, he found it was inadequate as a guide. Personally, he thought of himself as too selfish to simply abide by such rules. He believed there needed to be something greater, that would make him “good.”

“Eventually I encountered religious people who helped me to realize that this intuition I had was very real, and that the Christian concepts of original sin, revelation, and grace helped me to make more sense of my life,” Mr. Adubato said.

His thesis examined the moral theology of Luigi Giussani, an Italian Roman Catholic priest who started an international movement, and who characterizes Christian morality as the adherence to the Presence of Christ.

In Pursuit of Truth

Br. Asiel and Mr. Adubato met about three years ago when Br. Asiel arrived at Newark Abbey. They met randomly when Br. Asiel was looking for a Bible and bumped into Mr. Adubato in a hallway. While conversing, they found they were both studying at Seton Hall. Though they weren’t often in the same classes, “we walked with each other through this journey in many ways,” Br. Asiel said. They would reflect and analyze church documents together, sometimes engaging in friendly debates over coffee. As a monk and a lay person, the men offered each other different perspectives on their studies as well as its connection to their experiences in the classroom.

Br. Asiel said he admires Mr. Adubato’s “eagerness to pursue God and get to know Him.” Also, Mr. Adubato, he said,  possesses “a sense of urgency in his journey to find truth.”

Of Br. Asiel, Mr. Adubato had this to say: “I admire his dedication to his vocation. He’s the type of monk that makes God his priority, and you can see that in his simplicity and joyful demeanor. Consecrated people are meant to make God’s love more tangibly present to the church and the world, and I can definitely see God using Asiel’s vocation to do just that. “

With their theses and graduation day behind them, Br. Asiel and Mr. Adubato plan to continue to make fun of and play stupid jokes on one another. They will also continue to discuss their work as teachers, their experiences with students, and their ideas for the school.

“It makes me happy,” Mr. Adubato said, “to know that when I come to work every day, I have people like Br. Asiel who are such clear signs of God’s love for me, and of the fact that every day is an invitation for me to discover something beautiful, even if that day ends in exhaustion or frustration.”