The Catholic University of America

Nora Conley

A Ph.D. in Record Time

In just two years, John Meinert, Ph.D. 2015, managed to write and defend his dissertation, which he passed with distinction; score several publications in scholarly journals; and land a full-time faculty position — all while raising a young family.

Two years is generally considered fast given that doctoral students have five years to complete their dissertations.

How did he do it? “I was driven by the strong desire to simply get it done so that I could get back to spending more time with my family,” says Meinert, the father of 2-year-old twin boys and an infant son. “And it didn’t hurt that I have a very supportive wife.”

And perhaps he might just have had the patron saint of Catholic schools — also the University’s patron — looking out for him. As a doctoral student of moral theology at CUA, Meinert took a keen interest in St. Thomas Aquinas. In his dissertation, Donum Habituale: Grace and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in St. Thomas Aquinas, Meinert argues “that in order to understand fully Aquinas’s thought on the gifts of the Holy spirt or grace one must read them in light of each other.”

“We simply could not be more proud of John. In a few short years he established himself as not simply a student but also a peer from whom we faculty — especially myself — have learned a great deal,” says his dissertation director and mentor, William Mattison, associate professor of moral theology and interim dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies (STRS). “Watching him teach undergraduates and seeing him complete and defend his dissertation, both with joy-filled faithfulness and intellectual rigor — are included in the highlights of my time here at Catholic University as a professor of theology.”

In his quest to become a theologian, Meinert says he feels blessed that he found his way to CUA for doctoral studies. “I knew the program in moral theology was one of the best. But I didn’t realize that at the University, the study of theology goes beyond scholarship. It permeates daily life. There are practical influences of Catholic teaching all over campus,” says Meinert, who served as the STRS Student Association moral theology representative.

“The professors are the heart and soul of the school,” he says. “They set a tone and culture of fellowship, and they offer so much guidance and patience — from your first contact through completion of dissertation, and beyond.”

And that support proved crucial to his success as a doctoral student. “I didn’t know what I was getting into at first. It’s a lot like having children. You have no idea of the challenges that await you, but once you jump in, you need to embrace it.”

In addition to the support of his STRS professors, Meinert credits his success in the Ph.D. program — where he earned a GPA of 4.0 — to the “grace of God and the work ethic I learned growing up on a farm.”

God’s grace, he says, has been at play throughout his academic life. As an undergraduate at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., he changed his major four times, including criminal justice and psychology. “I knew I wanted to help people. So I chose majors that offered a way to do that. But along the way, I discovered that by studying theology, I could get at the root of why and how we help others as Christians,” he says.

Meinert graduated with a B.A. in theology. He went on to get a master’s degree in theology from the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas.

Now, as an assistant professor of religious studies at Our Lady of the Lake College in Baton Rouge, La., Meinert plans to model his teaching style on his STRS mentors. “I want to walk with students, starting at the very beginning of their journey.”

He says he feels fortunate to start his career as an academician with publications already under his belt. Among them, “In Duobus Modis: Is Exemplar Causality Instrumental According to Aquinas?”, published in New Blackfriars in January 2014 and “Ne Deficiat Fides Tua: A Systematic Position on Perseverance in the Mature Augustine” published in Augustinian Studies in March 2014.

“It certainly takes the pressure off, and allows me to settle in and enjoy the job and the students,” he says.

Meinert, who was a teaching fellow at CUA, looks forward to teaching two courses in the fall: Catholic Social Thought and Introduction to Theology, Science, and Christianity. “We have small classes. I can make a difference. I want to help students answer their deepest questions.”

He says he reaps the rewards of his new faculty position at home as well. “I try to keep my faculty schedule from 8 to 4 to allow time for running around the backyard with my boys when I get home.”


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John Meinert

Favorite place on campus: Caldwell Chapel. "The Chapel is beautiful. And it's where Christ dwells. It's where I went to hang out with him."

Favorite course at CUA: The Moral Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas taught by William Mattison, associate professor of moral theology, interim dean in the School of Theology and Religious Studies

What he's reading now: Academic: Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Edward Feser. Novel: Lord of the World by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson.

Best part about being a parent: "That's a hard one. Your baby's first smile is high on the list."