It's been a little more than 25 years since Christian Raab graduated from Marquette. He didn't know it at the time, but his academic journey was just getting started. And while his list of educational accolades runs deep, Raab's spiritual odyssey has taken him to new heights.
Shortly after receiving his master's degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in 2003, Raab entered the Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He was officially ordained as a priest six years later.
Raab spent the next five years in the nation's capital, studying at Catholic University. It was in the shadows of the Washington Monument where he earned his doctorate in sacred theology.
Currently, he serves as assistant professor of systematic theology at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. Marquette caught up with its former student government president to talk about church, a day in the life of a monk, and how a French class taught by Mrs. Remijas in the early '90s is still paying dividends nearly three decades later.
MQTT: What does a typical day look like for you at Saint Meinrad?
FR. RAAB: Saint Meinrad's grounds are divided between the monastery and the seminary. I live and work in the seminary so my daily routine is a little different from that of the monks who live in the monastery. I try to wake up around 6 AM, have coffee and do some personal prayer and reading until 8 AM when we have morning prayer in common. We have a work period until 11:30 when we break for Mass followed by lunch. In the afternoons, we work until evening prayer at 5 PM followed by dinner. In the evenings, I recreate which involves activities such as taking our German Shepherd for a walk, talking with friends or students, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, and doing some leisure reading.
For my work, I teach sacramental theology and serve on the formation staff of the seminary. As a formation dean, I frequently have meetings with students, bishops, vocation directors, and other formators. I also do some writing.
MQTT: When did your passion for theology begin and how did your time at Marquette influence
your decision to pursue it?
FR. RAAB: I guess I have always enjoyed learning to some degree. It was during my college years
that my interest shifted from asking more practical questions of how to make the world a
better place to a deeper question about what truth is in the first place. I have since become
convinced that unless we have a good sense of how to answer the latter question, we will
never be able to answer the former, or at least, our answers will simply do more damage
to the world we seek to help. I started out pre-med in college but switched to a major in
history and religious studies. I was looking for answers I still wasn't sure how to ask, and
I was at a secular university so the exploration of religion was done in a sociological
rather than theological way. Nonetheless, I underwent a pretty big conversion during my
college years, read a lot on my own, and became a high school theology teacher after
graduation. I knew I still had some considerable gaps in my understanding of Catholic
theology, so I pursued a graduate degree in pastoral studies at Loyola University
Chicago. After that, I joined the monastery at twenty-eight and began my seminary
education. It was really in seminary that my passion for theology was finally fed, and I
began to imagine I may enjoy a career as a theology professor.
I can say that my time at Marquette influenced my decision to pursue theology because it
influenced my decision to become a monk and a priest. Marquette has a very fond place
in my heart because of the community we had there. I would say that as a student I really
fell in love with my community of peers and that was one thing that sewed seeds of a
desire to ultimately serve the Church in my vocation.
MQTT: Looking back at your time here, was there one or two teachers/staff members whose
inspiration still resonates with you?
FR. RAAB: I am forever grateful to Mrs. Meer for teaching us how to write research papers. I had no
idea at the time how invaluable that skill would be for me when I arrived at college, and
it continues to be invaluable for me as a professional theologian. Mrs. Meer was also very
encouraging of my writing, pulling me aside and telling me she thought I had a talent in
that area. That kind of encouragement was really important. It gave me confidence. I also
benefited a lot from French class with Mrs. Remijas. As it turns out, one of the theologians I have done research on wrote a lot in French, and I thankfully got good foundations in that language at Marquette. I am grateful for all my teachers, but what I learned from those two seems to have the most bearing on what I am doing now.
The other staff member I feel particularly indebted to is Jeff Kohler who was my soccer
coach for three years. I was a terrible soccer player, but my soccer memories are some of
my favorite from my Marquette years. Coach Kohler was a good example of a family
man and a man of faith. He led our team with strength and gentleness and thus was a
good example of leadership. He could challenge you without humiliating you, and he
found ways to affirm even a terrible soccer player like me. He was also mature. He let us
be idiots without acting like one of us, and when he made a mistake he apologized. The
soccer team was a positive experience of community for me, and Coach Kohler was a big
MQTT: What advice would you give to young men and women who may be thinking about
studying theology/spirituality after Marquette?
FR. RAAB: I guess my first response to this is that everyone should want to study theology after
Marquette. Many people wrongly conclude that their years at Catholic grade school and
Catholic high school mean that they now know what the Church teaches and that they
now - sigh of relief - don't need to pursue theology any longer. In my view, this is a big
mistake. The mysteries of God are deep and inexhaustible. We can always learn more. If
our faith is alive, we will want to learn more. If we are in love with someone, we will
want to learn all we can about them. This is what theology is when it is done right. It is an
opportunity to contemplate and learn all about one whom we love. If you are attending a
Catholic University, there will probably be a theology requirement. Don't begrudge it.
Embrace it. You may discover that you want to go deeper either formally or on your own.
My second thought is to recommend double majoring or minoring in theology. I say this
because theology is not only for those who have careers in theology. We need
accountants and doctors and politicians who are also well-formed theologically, and not
just priests, religious, and lay ministers. Besides that, there are not many good-paying
jobs in the field of theology and so it is good to have something else in your toolbox.
Even if you do end up with a career in theology or in the church, having a background in
an ancillary field will only enrich you and make you more well-rounded.
Finally, if you really think you might go onto either seminary or to become a professor of
theology at some point, make sure you take some philosophy classes as an undergrad.
Trying to do theology at the higher levels without a good background in philosophy is
like trying to do physics without math.
MQTT: In your opinion, what does the Catholic Church need to do to continue to grow and
FR. RAAB: I like what Pope Francis said when he stated to a meeting of Argentine bishops: "A
Church that does not go outside of itself will sicken." I think a lot of our problems are a
result of not focusing on the Church's mission and of losing sight of Christ at the center
of our mission. We get overly focused on ourselves and on institutional maintenance. The
clergy have been particularly guilty of this, and it is at the heart of the crises we have had
in recent years. A Church that focuses on prayer and worship, fellowship, service, and
evangelization, rather than on its own reputation and on the financial bottom line, will be
I think we also need to remember that the Church has no life outside of her members and
that includes the laity. There is a temptation to think of the Church only as the clergy or
as the Vatican. When we do that, we can start to become quite passive in our role in the
Church's life and mission. To all, but especially to young people, I would say, "ask not
what your Church can do for you, but what you can do for your Church." The answer to
that will depend on the person. We need people who are very serious about building
Christian families. We need people who are serious about acting as Christians in the work
place, in the arts, in the sciences, and in the political arena. Of course, we need priests
and religious as well. What unites all of the vocations is a call to be what Pope Francis
calls "missionary disciples," a people serious about prayer, community, the moral life,
and evangelical outreach in word and deed.