Interim Director Helps to Grow a ‘True Gem’ of UST: the Nesti Center for Faith and Culture
The University of St. Thomas-Houston interim director of the Nesti Center for Faith and Culture (CFC) says the Center’s MAFC program transformed her life. Marion Fernandez-Cueto ’05 in Philosophy and Communication, MAFC ’17, has been the CFC’s assistant director of Educational Programs and is now charged with advancing the mission of the Center.
“I now find myself interim director, building on the legacy of Fr. Nesti, who founded the Center, and Fr. Binh, who has so faithfully maintained the Center's mission in recent years with the support of our many generous donors. I'm humbled by their trust in me and that of Vice President for Academic Affairs Chris Evans, but I’m also excited to help grow the work of a place that has been so personally significant.”
Some Background on Cueto
Before her time at the CFC, Cueto served six years as a professor in UST’s Communications Department. She also has a long professional background in journalism and a seeker’s heart.
Cueto said, “I was raised Anabaptist and came into the Catholic Church in my 20s after examining many different denominations and traveling quite a bit. I've always been fortunate to live and work at places of intense intercultural and ecumenical exchange. Joining the Center has provided another wonderful opportunity to learn from and grow with other seekers.”
About the Center for Faith and Culture
The CFC was founded almost 30 years ago by Fr. Donald Nesti as an ecumenical and interfaith center with pastoral and faith formation programs from a Catholic perspective. In 2010, the CFC launched an accredited master’s program in Faith and Culture at UST and now offers additional certificates.
Cueto calls the Center’s mission “unique and powerful,” pointing out that it aims to complement the University’s existing theology programs. She describes CFC classes as places of ongoing, intentional spiritual formation and personal transformation in the light of the Good News of the Gospel, using insights from the social sciences and other disciplines. These courses and degrees go far beyond providing intellectual information to students.
Students Enter into a Journey
“We invite students to enter into a journey where they can take the information they are learning and wrestle with its implications for their own lives,” she said. “For example, what do the ecclesiology and missiology described in the constitutional documents of Vatican II imply about the way Christians are called to interact with the culture around them? With the very diverse people and worldviews they encounter? How does the Gospel confront and challenge certain aspects of American culture, and where can we find places of common ground? So many of us grapple with these questions, so there’s growing need and demand for programs like ours.”
The CFC notices what students need and then evolves. Given its feedback, the Center is working on revamping some programs to make them accessible to undergraduate students and audit-only audiences. In particular, students have expressed interest in an expanded version of the Center’s existing Family Life certificate program that could give undergrads the communication and relationship skills and the human development insights necessary for a healthy marriage and family life.
Cueto explained, “It is not enough to teach students the theological definition of sacramental marriage — they also need the practical skills and support to be able to apply these teachings to their personal lives and relationships, to understand how they have been shaped by their own cultures and families of origin.”
“Students need to know that Church teaching on marriage and family isn’t just a lofty ideal for perfect people,” she said. “God’s love and grace will meet them right where they are to bring healing and new life.”
St. Thomas VP for Academic Affairs Christopher Evans said, “The Center for Faith & Culture is a true gem of UST, and Marion knows this better than anyone. As we seek a new director for the center, Marion has all the confidence and support of the advisory council and administration to advance the mission of UST and the CFC.”