The Catholic University of America

Dr. Leslie S.B. MacCoull (1972 Ph.D., Coptic) in Egypt

Students and Alumni

Students come to this department from a variety of backgrounds, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Christian, and others. Some come directly from undergraduate programs, some from ministerial or theological degree programs, and some from other careers. All doctoral graduates from this department are involved in intellectual work: most are academics or academic administrators (including a college president and a seminary rector); one is an archbishop.

Ancient Near East Program

Prof. Deirdre Dempsey, 1988 Ph.D. in biblical Hebrew, is an associate professor in the Theology Department at Marquette University in Milwaukee. She recently won a distinguished teaching award, and for many years she has been involved with the on-going revision of the New American Bible undertaken for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Prof. Bryan Estelle, 2000 Ph.D. in biblical Hebrew, is an assistant professor at Westminster Theological Seminary of the West in Escondido, California. He is working on the revision of his CUA dissertation, on the language of deference in ancient Aramaic texts, including those of the Bible.

Christian Near East Program

Francisco Javier Martinez was awarded his Ph.D. degree in Syriac in 1985 on the same day that he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Madrid. Now the Archbishop of Granada, he has worked to set up in Spain instructional programs in Christian Oriental studies along the lines of those here.

Prof. Joseph P. Amar, 1988 Ph.D. in Syriac, is a professor at the University of Notre Dame; he teaches in both the Classical/Oriental Languages and Theology departments. He has successfully introduced a summer institute for the study of Syriac at Notre Dame. Prof. Amar is a Maronite priest. His 1976 Semitics M.A. thesis, "The lectionary of the Syriac-Maronite church: the seasons," remains the standard English translation of the Syriac Maronite Lectionary used for the liturgical and pastoral needs of the Maronite Church.

The chance to read texts in the languages of their Churches brings Copts and Syrian Christians to these classes. Archbishop Mor Ostatheos Matta Rohom, the Metropolitan of the Jezira and Euphrates Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Archbishopric is a notable example.

The Institute of Christian Oriental Research

In 1931 Hyvernat arranged for the establishment of what is now the university's Institute of Christian Oriental Research (ICOR), to which he left his library and other possessions. Visiting scholars who have come to use the resources of the Semitics/ICOR Library for a semester or year at a time have been welcomed as Fellows of the Institute.

Recent Fellows have included :

Dr. Zeki Saritoprak (Ph.D., University of Harran, Turkey)

The focus of Dr. Saritoprak's ICOR research was in the area of Muslim-Christian relations. During his stay here he completed an article (published in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 11 (2000)) on Said Nursi's Teachings on the People of the Book.


The department has close ties with Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary in North-West Washington. Semitics faculty and graduate students have taught Syriac language courses at the Seminary; seminarians often attend department classes in Syriac and Arabic.

Over the years the department has taken a special interest in St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church and the Chaldean community in W. Bloomfield, Michigan. Dr. Shawqi Talia, a department instructor who received his Ph.D. here in 1987, is a member of the parish. Fr. Hanna Cheikho, who served as Parish rector until his death in 2001, spent part of a sabbatical year devoted to Syriac studies as an ICOR Fellow. The Semitics/ICOR Library receives the parish bulletin and other publications.

The department also has close ties with the St. Ephrem Ecumenical Research Institute (SEERI) in Kottayam, Kerala, India. SEERI is a center for the study of Syriac Christianity.

Through this department and the Center for Planning & Information Technology Catholic University hosts the American site for Hugoye, a major international Syriac electronic resource:

Hugoye is an electronic journal dedicated to the study of the Syriac tradition, published semi-annually (in January and July) by Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Computing Institute.

The Catholic University Libraries is a partner in a major digitizing venture: eBeth Arké: The Syriac Digital Library

Led by Beth Mardutho in partnership with other university libraries, eBeth Arké is the first collection of published material on Syriac studies in electronic form using the latest in eBook technology. The Semitics/ICOR Library's Syriac collections will be the cornerstone of this digital library.

The department and library is also working with Brigham Young University's Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts to prepare an electronic Coptic reference collection (CD-ROM format). This will involve digitizing Coptic books in the Semitics/ICOR Library.

CUA Office of Alumni Relations