USML | Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.)

Pontifical Faculty of Theology

Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.)

The doctoral program is a two-year program of specialized research in dogmatic theology. It is similar to the dissertation phase of a Ph.D. program.  At the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, the doctoral program, like the licentiate, offers concentrations in the Doctrine of God, Christology, Theological Anthropology, and Sacramental / Liturgical Theology. 

The Doctoral program aims at the completion of a student’s scientific formation especially through the writing of a doctoral dissertation. The program presumes superior achievement at the licentiate level.

The Doctorate in Sacred Theology is a terminal research degree. Its focus is to perfect the skills of the candidate in the study of theology and to develop the research skills necessary for treating theological questions in depth. The doctorate prepares students to be university professors, researchers, and expert resource persons.

Admission Requirements 

  • Completion of an Application.  (Application and letter of recommendation forms can be obtained from the Office of the Registrar). 
  • Official transcripts of all undergraduate and post-graduate work 
  • Three letters of recommendation: 

i. from the ecclesiastical superior (for clergy or religious) or from the proper pastor (for laity); 

ii. two letters from a professor or academic instructor, preferably in theology or a related field. 

  • An S.T.L. Degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.7. 
  • Demonstration of the ability for doctoral-level research and writing.  To apply for provisional admission to the program, applicants must: 

i. Have their work evaluated by the Admissions Committee to assure that their preparation is substantially equivalent to the S.T.L. degree offered by the Pontifical Faculty of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake (applicants who earned an STL from USML may be exempt). 

ii. Submit a copy of their Licentiate paper for evaluation by the Admissions Committee; (applicants who earned an STL from USML may be exempt). 

iii. Language competency must be demonstrated before final acceptance into the program. Competency is demonstrated by passing the USML language examinations [with a score of 83% (B-) or better] in Latin and one other research language (Biblical Hebrew, Greek, French, German, Italian, or Spanish) unless the dissertation topic requires additional languages. These exams are administered at the University twice a year.  See the calendar at the end of the Bulletin for the scheduled dates. 

  • A favorable evaluation of these pre-requisites allows the candidate provisional admission to the period of preparation for the doctoral proposal. During this time, the applicant will register for  Doctoral Proposal Preparation (DT951) during which the proposal is presented to the Doctoral Committee of the Pontifical Faculty. Guidelines for the proposal can be found in the Pontifical Faculty Dissertation Handbook.  Acceptance of the proposal by the Doctoral Committee constitutes admission into the doctoral program (Statutes, Art. 57 b).


S.T.D. Program Requirements

  • Length of Program and Residency Requirement 

The program is normally two years in duration with at least one year devoted full time to research. Candidates are required to spend at least one year in residence. According to article 37 of the statutes, "no ordinary student in this Faculty can be at the same time an ordinary student in some other Faculty." 

Residency also means a quality of presence, which is spelled out in part in article 39 of the statutes: "Students enrolled in the Faculty are expected to observe all the regulations of the Faculty (See Graduate Student Handbook). They should moreover, comport themselves in a professional, ethical, and Christian manner consonant with the goals and purposes of the Pontifically recognized Faculty of theology of which they are a part." While a student who is a cleric may offer sacramental assistance to local parishes on an occasional basis, his principal task must be participation in and completion of the degree program in which he is enrolled. 

  • Schedule of Courses  

Theological Research and Method Seminar (2 cr.)
[for those whose S.T.L. is from outside of USML]  

Two S.T.L. Electives (6 cr.)
[for those whose S.T.L. is from outside of USML]  

Doctoral Proposal Preparation (3 cr.)  

Dissertation Guidance (3 cr.)  

On-Going Dissertation Writing (1 cr. / semester)  

A minimum grade of a B is required in all courses. 

  • Colloquium  

The doctoral colloquium, held once each semester, is designed to assist the candidates in preparation of the dissertation and its defense. All doctoral candidates are required to attend these colloquia during their year in residence and to make one presentation. Candidates are encouraged to attend the colloquia and present their work while they continue to complete their dissertation.

  • Dissertation

The dissertation must focus on an important theological question that is selected by the candidate and approved by a professor who is expert in the field, with the consent of the Doctoral Board. 

Dissertation Standards and Schedule









S.T.D. Dissertation

  • Dissertation Standards and Schedule

 i. The dissertation must conform to the standards established by the Pontifical Faculty. It must demonstrate: 

a. The candidate’s erudition, judgment, and knowledge of Catholic doctrine;

b. Proficiency in positive and speculative theology;

c. The ability to articulate and synthesize scientific research in a unique manner that advances theological scholarship and promotes engagement with issues encountered by contemporary Christians; 

d. It must be of sufficient length to constitute a truly scientific study, normally 150 to 400 pages. Exceptions must have the approval of the President of the Pontifical Faculty. 

ii. Dissertations will be written in English. Exceptions require the approval of the dissertation director and the President of the Pontifical Faculty. 

iii. Conformity to the USML Writers’ Manual and the formatting of the dissertation must be reviewed and approved by the Library Director. Please consult the USML Doctor of Sacred Theology Dissertation Handbook for specific details on the preparation of a dissertation. 

iv. The President, in consultation with the dissertation director, will appoint as second reader another expert in the field. The dissertation director and the second reader must verify that the manuscript conforms to the dissertation standards of the Pontifical Faculty. 

v. A third reader, appointed by the president, will then receive and read the entire manuscript. 

vi. After all three readers have approved the manuscript, five identical copies must be submitted to the Registrar for the public defense. 

vii. The defense date will be not be guaranteed any earlier than two months after the third reader has received the dissertation.    

  • Time Limits

The doctoral dissertation must be completed within five years after registering for “Dissertation Guidance.” Doctoral candidates must register for “Ongoing Dissertation Guidance” each semester until the dissertation is complete.  After five years guidance will no longer be assured.

  • Public Defense 

The candidate must pass an examination on his or her dissertation given by three professors appointed by the President of the Pontifical Faculty, including the dissertation director and two other readers. The examination will be public, at least 90 minutes in duration. 

The Chancellor of the University or his delegate will preside. 

The candidate will begin the defense with a twenty-minute presentation of the dissertation. Questions will then follow, addressed to the candidate by each member of the board (twenty minutes each). Then questions will be permitted ex corona for twenty minutes.

  • Final Grade

At the end of the defense, each examiner will give a grade for both the dissertation and for the defense.  Successful completion of the Doctorate requires a minimum average of 86% in each. 

A candidate who fails the dissertation defense must consult with the President of the Pontifical Faculty to determine the conditions under which a second defense would be permissible. A second failure would disqualify the candidate from receiving the doctorate. 

  • Publication 

Once the defense is successful, and the readers have approved any required corrections, and the President has obtained the nihil obstat, the candidate will submit a final dissertation manuscript online through ProQuest. Consult the Library Director for more details. 

The candidate is also to deposit five unbound copies of the dissertation, printed on the required paper, with the Registrar. The dissertation director and the President of the Pontifical Faculty will then sign the copies. The Library will arrange for hardcover binding of these copies and bill the candidate.  Two copies will be deposited with the USML Library. The rest will be sent to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the dissertation director, and the office of the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs.

  •  University Convocation 

In order to participate in the University Convocation at the end of the academic year, a student must have completed all work for the S.T.D. thirty (30) days before the Convocation.


S.T.D. Course Descriptions

DT817 Theological Research and Method Seminar (2 cr)

The goals of this seminar are to give students practice performing the essential steps that comprise a written theological work and the opportunity to identify and shape the topic they will explore in their License Thesis. Sessions will cover: the types & weight of various sources; effective scriptural contribution; theological methodologies; theological argument; rhetorical strategies; and, library research and style issues.


DT951 Doctoral Proposal Preparation (3 cr)

Faculty Fall/Spring  

DT952 Dissertation Writing (3 cr)

Faculty Fall/Spring  

DT953-958 Ongoing Dissertation Writing (1 cr)

Faculty Fall/Spring


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