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Catholic Studies institute receives gift of $1 million

by Annette Moore
The gift creates the Steven and Kathryn Sample Endowment for Ecumenism. The Samples are pictured here with Father James Heft. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)
Photo: The gift creates the Steven and Kathryn Sample Endowment for Ecumenism. The Samples are pictured here with Father James Heft. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

An anonymous donor has given $1 million to the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (IACS) at USC to foster greater understanding, cooperation and unity among Christian denominations and churches.

The gift creates the Steven and Kathryn Sample Endowment for Ecumenism, named for the university’s 10th president and his wife. Funds will be used to support critical research centered on the foundational beliefs that all Christians share, and to help address the differences that still exist.

“Through the initiative that will be created by this generous endowment gift, the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies will continue to move forward an important scholarly dialogue rooted in many of the influential disciplines that are common to religious traditions, such as theology, philosophy, human rights and politics,” said Elizabeth Garrett, USC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “It also honors two great Trojans, President Emeritus Steven Sample and his wife, Kathryn, who are dedicated to institutions that facilitate interfaith discussions designed to further tolerance and understanding.”

Upon learning about the endowment, Kathryn Sample said, “Steve and I are both grateful and honored by this wonderful act of generosity.”

Housed at USC since 2006 and linked to the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the IACS is primarily a research enterprise dedicated to advancing a deeper understanding of theology, philosophy, international political and economic institutions, and a wide range of ethical questions that confront modern society in a global age.

While rooted in the Catholic tradition, the institute has created an international community of scholars from diverse fields and religious backgrounds. Its research is conducted in an ecumenical and interreligious way, and secular thinkers are welcome. Since the beginning, the institute has cultivated interfaith dialogue among Christians, Jews and Muslims. More recently, it has extended that dialogue to Asian religions.

This new gift will enable the institute to launch another important initiative — dialogue among Christians.

“In the United States, people of many different Christian churches mix with each other every day,” said Father James Heft, Alton M. Brooks Professor of Religion at USC and president of the institute. “Conversation among people of the same faith and even different faiths needs to be strengthened. We have much to learn from each other. This endowment supports that effort, especially among Christians.”

By generating funds for fellowships, seminars and conferences, the Endowment for Ecumenism will enable the institute to invite scholars from around the world to dedicate their research and talents to strengthening the work of Christian unity. Although separated by some doctrines, history and practice, all Christian denominations and churches hold a common belief in the Trinity and Jesus Christ. The goal of this new initiative is to bring them together to promote deeper mutual understanding and strengthen unity among Christian churches — and through these efforts make an even richer contribution to the global community.

“The discussions made possible by this initiative will enliven and deepen intellectual inquiry, critical thinking and open exchange about shared truths,” said Donald Miller, Leonard K. Firestone Professor of Religion and executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture. “Such dialogue will enrich the life of the university overall — and is essential in a world in which societies are increasingly global and religion is increasingly polarized.”

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