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The journey of lifelong learning: Online MA history student to earn sixth degree

The courtyard of the Mission San Jose

The courtyard of Mission San Jose, the mission where the Dominican Sisters congregate.

February 13, 2019

For Sister Donna Moses, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, a certificate, an associate degree, two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and a doctorate was not enough. She had already studied English, German, education and religious studies and is now enrolled in the online history Master of Arts program in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

“I want to study historical methodology to improve my skill as a historian,” said Moses. “I am working on several historical projects related to the history of the Catholic Church in America and the application of Catholic social teaching in American foreign policy.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degrees in 1977 and before entering a life of religion, Moses was commissioned in 1985 as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserves while pursuing her master’s degree. She served five years in Portland, Maine, starting out as a naval control of shipping officer but was promoted to lieutenant after three years.

Moses served a total of 20 years in the Navy before retiring in 2005. She received many honors and awards during her years of service including the National Defense Service Medal in 1991 for her duties in support of Operation Desert Storm, the Armed Forces Reserve Medal for her work as a logistics officer on the midwatch in Chinhae, South Korea, and the Navy Meritorious Service Medal in 2005 when she retired as lieutenant commander.

“In the Naval Reserves, I did logistical work for Naval Coordination of Shipping, promulgating safe routes and communications for merchant ships in time of war or hostile activity,” said Moses. “When I became a religious, the Navy transferred me to the chaplains unit where I did logistics for chaplains on the ground in Kuwait.”

In 2006, Moses became a perpetually professed Dominican Sister of Mission San Jose in California and was their webmaster and director of information technology while also taking on the role of webmaster and coordinator for the Mariological Society of America, a Catholic theological association. She worked in these positions until 2013, when she was commissioned by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains to work in a large county hospital in San Jose.

She attributes her leadership skills to her time in the Navy, saying it laid the foundation for her work now as a chaplain and multi-faith spiritual care coordinator at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. In the center she cares for 575 patients and 6,800 employees in a Level I trauma center and 60-bed locked psychiatric facility and outpatient clinics.

“Obviously, I don't do this alone,” said Moses. “Most of the time I provide inspiration, attend the dying and bring a peaceful presence to stressful situations. I also work with the Palliative Care Team, the Medical Ethics Committee and the Crisis Administration Leadership Management Team.”

While caring for patients, Moses has found time to conduct research for the Order of Preachers in the U.S. Initially, she was recording the history of the Dominican Order in the U.S. focusing on the foreign missions of religious women from the U.S.

Her research has been compiled into a book, “American Catholic Women Religious: Radicalized by Mission,” which was published last year. The book was compiled based on both oral history and archival research collected from eight congregational archives.

“The book took five years to complete and tells how the mission work of the sisters was impacted by foreign policy decisions of the Vatican and the U.S. government,” said Moses.

 in front of an alter in a chapel

Sister Donna Moses

After completing her book, Moses enrolled in her first round of classes in the online history program at ASU and attended the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in early January before her first semester of classes had even started.

“I was impressed by the rich variety of excellent presentations with hundreds of choices per day,” said Moses. “I presented chapter two of my book and attended five presentations by friends and colleagues. I enjoyed all the talks I attended and the opportunity to hang with other historians. The camaraderie was great.”

Moses posted a message on the ASU online history Facebook group after she finished presenting her paper only to get a reply that she should look for Matthew Casey, clinical assistant history professor and associate director of online programs in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. She would not start her first class for another few days after the meeting, but wanted to meet a professor in the program anyway.

“It was a nice springboard into the program,” said Moses. “Seeing Professor Casey at AHA reinforces my belief that ASU can help me to grow as a professional historian and support my research.”

Casey does not have Moses enrolled in any of his classes this semester, but as a student on the Global History track, she will take a class with him next year.

“It is always a special opportunity to meet our online students,” said Casey. “Our students are busy. Most work full-time jobs and live far away from Tempe. We do a lot to build community amongst our online history MA students, but having the opportunity to meet in person adds another level to the experience for both professor and student.”

It’s hard enough to build a community among on-campus students, so creating a place for online students to develop relationships can seem nearly impossible at times. Yet, the online MA history program takes extra steps — such as the Facebook group — to bring everyone closer so they can have a cohort of their own.

“Donna comes to us having already enjoyed an accomplished career as a historian,” said Casey. “For me, as a scholar of Catholicism, it is especially exciting to have the opportunity to work with Donna, who has a wealth of experience both as a Dominican sister and as a researcher of church history. I am excited to see how she engages with her peers, many of whom will greatly benefit from Donna's expertise and skills.”

The history MA online program has received accolades in publications like U.S. News and World Report, which was one reason Moses chose to attend ASU. Another reason was because the program is asynchronous. She is able to conduct her coursework and studies around her ministry schedule at the hospital, prayers and community life.

Despite just starting the master’s program, Moses has an idea for what she wants to do when she completes her degree.

“I will continue to research and publish articles and books that highlight the role of American Catholic women and Catholic social teaching in American and global history,” said Moses.

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