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. 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, Sacramental / Liturgical Theology, and Spiritual 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 designed 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. 

S.T.D. Admission Requirements


  • Completion of the Application Form.

  • Completion of the Required Immunization Information Form which is mandated by the State of Illinois, Acts 85-1315. All this material can obtained from the Office of Registrar or the website. 
  • An S.T.L. Degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.7. 

  • Official transcripts of all undergraduate and post-graduate work.

  • Language competency must be demonstrated before final acceptance into the program. Competency is demonstrated by passing the USML language examinations (with a minimum score of 86% / B) in Latin and one other research language (biblical Hebrew, classical or koine Greek, French, German, Italian, or Spanish). These exams are administered at the University twice a year.  See the calendar for the scheduled dates.  

    Aspirants to the S.T.D. program are encouraged to sit for the exams before submitting the application.  Samples of the language exams may be requested from the Registrar.
  • Three letters of recommendation: 

    • from the ecclesiastical superior (for clergy or religious) or from the proper pastor (for laity) confirming the applicant’s good standing in the church;

    • two letters each from a professor or academic instructor in theology or a related field. 

  • Submission of a copy of the applicant’s Licentiate paper for evaluation by the Graduate Board (applicants who earned an STL from USML may be exempted).

  • Completion of all requirements must be submitted to the Registrar by:

    • Fall Semester, the preceding March 15
    • Spring Semester, the preceding October 15 
  • Notification of provisional acceptance to the program will be made by the Graduate Board by March 30 and October 30, respectively.

  • Final acceptance into the doctoral program is granted when the dissertation proposal is accepted by the Graduate Board (see Program Requirements).

S.T.D. Program Requirements

Length of Program and Residency Requirement 

The program is normally two years in duration with at least one year in residence devoted to full time research. According to article 37 of the statutes, “no ordinary student in this faculty may 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 37 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. 


Two S.T.L. Electives (6 cr.) [for those whose S.T.L. is from outside of USML]
Dissertation Proposal (3 cr.)  [First Semester]
Dissertation Writing (3 cr.) [Second Semester]
On-Going Dissertation Writing (1 cr)  [Subsequent Semesters]

A minimum grade of a B (86%) is required in all courses. 


The doctoral colloquium, held once each semester, is designed to assist the candidate in writing of the dissertation and in 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 Proposal    

Guidelines for the Dissertation Proposal can be found in the Pontifical Faculty of Theology Scholar’s Manual which can be accessed under “Writing Helps” link of the USML Library Web site. 

During the DT 951 Dissertation Proposal course, the student will choose a professor who agrees to direct the dissertation. With this director, the student will develop a dissertation proposal. With the approval of the director, the student will submit the proposal to the President of the Pontifical Faculty at least one month before the end of the semester. The President will then ask a second reader to review the proposal. Once this professor accepts the proposal, the student is officially enrolled as a Doctoral Candidate in the Pontifical Faculty.  If a proposal is not approved by the end of the semester, the student will not be admitted to the doctoral program.

S.T.D. Dissertation

  • The doctroal dissertation is a "major original research work" in one of the areas of concentration.  It must demonstrate:

    • the candidate’s erudition, judgment, and knowledge of Catholic doctrine;

    • proficiency in positive and speculative theology;

    • 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.

  • Dissertations will be written in English. Exceptions require the approval of the dissertation director and the President of the Pontifical Faculty.  The dissertation 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.
  • The dissertation must conform to the guidelines of the USML Writers’ Manual. Please consult the Pontifical Faculty of Theology Scholar's Manual for details specific to the preparation of a dissertation.

  • Once the dissertation is approved by the director, the President in consultation with the director, will appoint a second reader to review and evaluate the dissertation.
  • Once both the director and the second reader sign off on the dissertation, the candidate submits the manuscript to the Library Director for approval of formatting as outlined in the USML Writer’s Manual. Once the Library Director approves the manuscript, the Library Director will forward an electronic  copy of the final manuscript to the Registrar, who will produce five (5) copies, loosely bound.  These will be the copies used for the Defense.   
  • Then a third reader, appointed by the President, will receive and read the entire manuscript.
  • 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 a maximum of five years from the date the dissertation proposal was officially  accepted. After five years the degree will no longer be assured.
  • Public Defense

    The candidate must defend the dissertation by examination before a Doctoral Jury convened by the President and composed of the director and the two readers of the dissertation.  The examination will be public, at least ninety minutes in duration.

    The Chancellor of the University or his delegate will preside.

    The candidate will begin the defense with a twenty minute doctoral lecture on the dissertation. Questions will then be addressed to the candidate by each member of the Doctoral Jury (twenty minutes each), and finally, questions will be permitted ex corona for twenty minutes.
  • Final Grade

    At the end of the defense, each examiner will give two numerical grades, one grade for the dissertation and one for the defense.  Successful completion of the Doctorate requires a minimum average of 86% in each of the two grades (the defense and the dissertation).  Graduation with honors will be determined by the average of the two grades (the defense and the dissertation). 

    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 dissertation is successfully defended, the readers have approved any required corrections, and the President has obtained the nihil obstat, the candidate will follow the procedures for publication as outlined in the Pontifical Faculty of Theology Scholar’s Manual. The Doctorate is not awarded until all requirements of publication are met and all fees are paid.

  • University Convocation

    In order to participate in the University Convocation at the end of the academic year, a student must have completed all the requirements or the S.T.D. thirty days before the Convocation. 

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