Seton Hall University

History of SRTF

"Children, our young people, are our future. A major challenge of our times is to face resolutely the responsibility to future generations."

Sister Rose Thering

Seton Hall University's Institute for Judaeo-Christian Studies had been conducting research for 15 years when Sister Rose Thering, O.P., Ph.D. applied for the position of program coordinator in 1968. Since 1953, Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher had been serving as director of the Institute, emphasizing lectures, publications, and research, and was looking for someone to organize summer institutes for teachers. Sister Rose was the perfect "fit" for this position given her background in Jewish-Christian Studies, her education, and her keen interest in the Jewish roots of Christianity as well as the State of Israel.

Shortly after she came to Seton Hall University in 1968, Sister Rose began teaching in the School of Education (now known as the College of Education and Human Services) and developed a program jointly run by the Institute and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) known as the Menorah Studies Program. For at least eight years, two weeks each summer, nearly 100 teachers from all over the United States -- funded by the Institute's foundation and the ADL -- gathered on the Seton Hall campus to learn about the history of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, Israel, and Judaism. In 1973, Sister Rose began teaching full-time, and felt that teachers participating in the summer program should receive academic credit. The positive response to the Menorah Institute was a contributing factor when Monsignor Oesterreicher and colleagues designed the master's program in Judaeo-Christian Studies. Monsignor Oesterreicher was the first chair of the program when it began in 1975. Later it became a department in the College of Arts and Sciences and is now known as the graduate Program of Jewish-Christian Studies. Rabbi Asher Finkel and Father Lawrence Frizzell joined the department in 1975 as full-time faculty members.

David Bossman, Ph.D., a scholar in Jewish-Christian studies came to Seton Hall in 1985 serving initially as provost and then as chair of the then Department of Jewish-Christian Studies from 1988-1991. Sister Rose continued teaching until 1989 when she retired to become executive director of the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel (NCLCI) in New York City. While studying for a second master's degree in Jewish-Christian Studies, she continued working with the Menorah Studies Program by organizing several trips to Israel for teachers, scholars, clergy and lay people.

In the early 1990's Sister Rose Thering, Dr. David Bossman and a group of friends began discussing the need for teachers to take more courses in Jewish-Christian studies and work towards a graduate degree so they could take the significant history and important inter-religious insights they learned back to their many students. The cost of tuition has always been problematic for teachers, so the concept of a fund to help defray these costs was born. The "founders"  wanted to name it after Sister Rose. She, of course, argued vehemently against such a suggestion urging instead the names of Pope John XXIII or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. She was ultimately overruled and only gave in because she felt so strongly that an fund must be created to help teachers. In 1993, The Sister Rose Thering Fund for Jewish-Christian and Holocaust Studies was established. In its very first year, the Fund supported a group of 10 teacher/scholars.

The Sister Rose Thering Fund now offers tuition assistance to more than 40 teachers annually and has encouraged many to pursue and complete master's degrees assisted by scholarships given by the Foundation for Judaeo-Christian Studies. Teachers are recruited from public, private and parochial schools throughout New Jersey, carrying out the mandate passed by New Jersey Legislature and signed into law April 1994 by Governor Christine Todd Whitman to teach the Holocaust in all New Jersey schools from Kindergarten through Grade 12, and upholding Pope John Paul II's message to remember the Shoah, a mandate for Catholic schools - Reflections on the Shoah (March 1998).

Today, the Sister Rose Thering Fund works closely with the graduate Program of Jewish-Christian Studies and the Department of Religion to assure the continuity of the program that has in its first 17 years enrolled more that 350 teachers. The teachers, in turn, have had a significant impact on more that 150,000 students. The SRTF publishes a course brochure each semester and distributes it through all the New Jersey diocesan school districts, through public and private schools via their superintendents and principals as well as through the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Association of Social Studies Teachers, the New Jersey Association of Teachers of English and the New Jersey Commission for Holocaust Studies. The SRTF's educational message is carried in the local, secular and religious press, and has been written about in the New York Times, the Star Ledger,  and New Jersey Monthly, among other publications. The Board of Trustees and its Advisory Council now number 70 members reflecting the community at large as well as an honorary board of present and past elected officials and leaders of both the Jewish and Christian communities.The Evening of Roses is the major fund raising vehicle for the SRTF. Its aim is to promote the Fund's work by honoring outstanding scholars in the field of Jewish-Christian relations and conferring honorary Doctor of Humane  Letters as well as Humanitarian of the Year awards upon individuals who have demonstrated outstanding compassion, altruism, and courage in various endeavors.

The Sister Rose Thering Fund and the graduate Program of Jewish-Christian Studies have been called "the hidden jewels" of Seton Hall University, since this is the only university in the United States that offers a master's degree in Jewish-Christian studies. In reality, they are no longer hidden jewels but treasures found, since the Fund contributes more than $60,000 annually in scholarship funding to the University, and the Department continues to educate teacher/scholars to promote understanding between Christians and Jews.