By Meghan Ferrara
Catholics say we believe in “the communion of saints.” But in the last 50 years, most young Catholics have learned almost nothing about our saints.
Enter The Dead Theologians Society, founded by youth minister Eddie Cotter, Jr in 1997; since then the Society has been implemented in over 550 parishes and schools worldwide. Over 15,000 young people have become members of DTS – in chapters in 45 states in the US, as well as Ireland, Canada, Ghana, Germany and the Philippines.
REGINA’s Meghan Ferrara recently spoke with him on the phenomenal success of his program and why it is more critical than ever in a world where “The tragic result of the recent Irish Referendum on abortion should be a massive wake-up call. The western world, including our own country is a bona-fide mission field. Ignorance of the Catholic faith and indifference towards God and His Church are truly at epidemic levels.”
REGINA: What inspired you to start the Dead Theologians Society?
EDDIE: I was the Youth Minister at Church of the Annunciation in Altamonte Springs, Florida. After watching the film, Dead Poets Society, we all spoke of the sad reality that most teens look upon Religion as just another subject they must complete for school. For Catholic teens who don’t attend Catholic schools, so many – if not most – look at attending CCD classes as just a “hoop” they must jump through in order to get Confirmed, so they can then be finished with Religion.
REGINA: Sounds familiar.
EDDIE: We discussed how this common mindset is a tragedy because Religion is the most important “subject” in the world. As Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey said, “Religion is the science of saving Souls.”
REGINA: So how did Dead Poets Society prompt this?
EDDIE: In the film, the teacher helped the teenagers at the strict Boarding School discover the richness and inspiration in the writings and philosophies of many of the great writers and poets who’d gone before. Our conversation then became very enthusiastic when we imagined how cool it would be to discover the “gold” contained in the writings and lives of the Saints. We could discover when they lived, and more importantly, HOW they lived and how they died; what they might have been like as teenagers, their conversion stories, their struggles and how they strove to be Christ-like.
EDDIE: Most of us admitted that other than being able to identify a few of the most popular saints on a Holy Card, or a statue in a church, we knew little about them. We were genuinely inspired to learn more about these great men and women who are part of our Catholic heritage.
REGINA: And the name?
EDDIE: When it came to decide upon a name for our new endeavor, we recalled how St. Paul urges us to be “Dead to sin and alive in Christ.” And since we’d be learning about the saints who are only “dead” by the world’s definition but are truly alive in Heaven – and also borrowing a bit from the film we’d just watched, we had our name. We would be the Dead Theologians Society!
Shortly after that, my family and I moved to Newark, Ohio where I became the Youth Minister at St. Francis de Sales parish. And it was at St. Francis that this new idea was put into practice.
REGINA: Why is it so important to study the saints?
EDDIE: The saints were 100% human like us. And other than the Blessed Mother, they all had their share of sins. Like us, they faced temptations and struggles, and they experienced the ups and downs of life. The saints provide a powerful witness and example for all of us to follow. Like them, we can choose to love God, to put God first in our lives and above the things of this world which can lead us away from Him.
REGINA: What does the Society do for young Catholics, and their parishes?
EDDIE: The saints are always relevant and are the greatest role models for young people to follow. Young people DO follow the saints as role models once they get to know them. It is imperative for young people to get to know and love the saints as genuine role models to help them get to Heaven.
Parishes commonly report an increase in Mass attendance, participation in parish life, increased reception of the sacraments – especially Confession and Communion. Youth who are part of DTS display an increased enthusiasm for getting Confirmed. They are actually excited about choosing a Saint to be their patron and more fully understanding what Confirmation is about. Their participation in DTS better prepares them to receive the Sacrament.
REGINA: Makes sense.
EDDIE: Also, there’s an increase in vocations to the Priesthood, Religious Life and Holy Matrimony. It is a blessing to meet or hear of priests and nuns who were part of DTS when they were younger, and how their involvement in the apostolate contributed to their vocation. I’ve also had the privilege of being invited to several sacramental weddings of couples who met each other through DTS. In our first two years of DTS at St. Francis de Sales, we had 15 teenagers become Catholic through their participation in DTS.
REGINA: Where is the Dead Theologians Society based?
EDDIE: In 2015, received canonical standing from Bishop Robert C. Morlino as a Private Association of the Faithful. Our canonical home is the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin. Bishop Morlino has officially entrusted DTS to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title, Our Lady – Queen of All Saints.
REGINA: What are meetings like?
EDDIE: A session is approximately two hours. There is time for socializing as well as learning about the inspiring life of a Saint or Blessed. Young people also learn a Mystery of the Rosary at each meeting and pray a decade. There is time for Q&A which allows members to ask any questions they might have about their faith. There is time for Intercessory Prayer and it’s beautiful to see how, over time, the young people develop a community where they become comfortable praying. The charism of DTS is to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Young people feel empowered when they do something that benefits loved ones who have died. They learn the difference between just thinking about the departed and actually praying for their souls. Over the years, millions of prayers have been said on behalf of Souls in Purgatory by DTS members.
Also, when young people become members of DTS they are enrolled in the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and they receive a beautiful rosary as well as the official DTS hoodie with our embroidered logo. It’s very cool to be at national Catholic events and to see young people from different states wearing their DTS hoodies!
REGINA: Are there any Saints whose example has been particularly powerful?
EDDIE: Young people connect with different saints for different reasons. Some young people have an affinity for saints that are from their own ethnic heritage, while it is also common for young people to connect with a saint who is patron of an area of interest they hold.
REGINA: Like sports?
EDDIE: Many young men who are involved in sports choose St. Sebastian – a Patron of Athletes, as their Confirmation saint. St. Peregrine, a Patron for those suffering from cancer, is also popular due to the number of people affected by the disease. Other Saints and Blesseds who are always popular are St Maximillian Kolbe, The Martyrs of Sebaste, Blessed Solanus Casey, St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Patrick, Miguel Pro, St. Anthony, St Rita of Cascia, St Anthony, and St Martin de Porres. You never know which saint will have a special influence on a particular young person.
REGINA: Any Saints who have been powerful intercessors for the Society?
EDDIE: I believe they are all powerful intercessors for us, and especially those whom we helped by our prayers during their stay in Purgatory. I believe the saints truly support our mission to catechize and evangelize young people. They all have intercessory power and grace for us if we only ask for it! We continually reinforce to young people that just as we pray for each other, we can and must ask the saints for their prayers as well. They are with God and are so willing to help us in this life. We believe Blessed Fr. Solanus Casey is a powerful intercessor for us. He’s been one of our special intercessor patrons from the beginning of the apostolate.
REGINA: How can parishes or schools get involved with this?
EDDIE: They must first and foremost, obtain the permission of the Parish Priest/Pastor or Principal. DTS is extremely affordable and quick and easy to implement. Resources and support is also available for all of our DTS chapters. To then begin the process, applications can be submitted online at www.DeadTheologiansSociety.com.