Lilly Endowment Awards $1.25 Million Grant to Villanova University to Support the Work of Theology Professors

Headshots of Theology Professors Christiane Lang Hearlson and Timothy M. Brunk
Villanova University Department of Theology and Religious Studies professors Rev. Christy Lang Hearlson, PhD, and Timothy M. Brunk, PhD, will lead a project funded by a $1.25 million grant from Lilly Endowment.

VILLANOVA, Pa. (October 25, 2023)  Villanova University has received a four-year, $1.25 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. through its Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative. The grant will support the work of Rev. Christy Lang Hearlson, PhD, and Timothy M. Brunk, PhD, in the University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies.

Lilly Endowment made the grant through an invitational round of its Nurturing Children Through Worship and Prayer Initiative. Grants are supporting the design and implementation of intergenerational worship and prayer practices that intentionally engage children, helping them come to know God and grow in faith. Dr. Lang Hearlson and Dr. Brunk’s effort, “The Children, Liturgy and Ecology Project,” will explore the connection between Christian liturgical formation, love for the natural world and children’s lived experience.

The professors’ work will center on the development of a cohort comprised of 24 congregational leaders from 12 churches and parishes in the Philadelphia area. Providing training, facilitating discussions and hosting workshops, Dr. Lang Hearlson and Dr. Brunk will oversee the group’s creation of a set of programs aimed at purposefully including children in church life, engaging the theme of ecology or Earth-care in worship and offering congregations further avenues for growth in ecological virtues. They will also work with liturgical musicians to craft an album of songs about God and creation suitable for communal worship and, in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Center for Church Life, publish a three-book series on theology and children.

“Many churches are involved in Earth-care practices, like planting rain gardens, performing stream clean-up, watershed care or advocating for clean-air laws,” said Dr. Lang Hearlson. “This project is designed to create a network between churches who are thinking carefully about the connection between ecology and spirituality and integrating children more fully into their congregation’s programming.”

“Dr. Lang Hearlson and Dr. Brunk’s project directly reflects Villanova’s commitment to fostering responsible stewardship of the environment and our dedication to illuminating the link between faith and reason,” said Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, William and Julia Moulden Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “On behalf of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to Lilly Endowment for supporting this endeavor.”  

Dr. Lang Hearlson and Dr. Brunk bring a wealth of investigative and organizational experience to their project. Dr. Lang Hearlson is Associate Professor of Religious and Theological Education at Villanova, the author of a number of scholarly pieces on children, education and ecological spirituality and a Presbyterian minister and practical theologian who has worked with children of all ages. Dr. Brunk is Associate Professor of Systematic/Constructive Theology and Practical Theology at the University. He teaches and writes about liturgical formation of justice and compassion and about the broader relationship between liturgy and culture.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges—the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Ranked among the nation’s top universities, Villanova supports its students’ intellectual growth and prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit