"There was Jesus” – Redeeming and Rebuilding Stories
By Emily A. DeMoor
When I interviewed Fr. Ray Clark and Deacon Brett Mills for this article it occurred to me that their life stories are like streams that meander in various directions, not far from each other at times, touching upon common places, rolling across the landscape, and then converging as a strong current of love at Brescia, where they team-teach a course on the New Testament. They share a deep love for the Word of God, our students, teaching, and Brescia University itself, which has served as a stable bedrock from both of them. This love flows out of a devotion to God as well as humility and self-acceptance. Although Fr. Ray concluded the interview by picking up a mahogany guitar from a corner in my office and singing “There Was Jesus,” by Zach Williams, this refrain was a silent undercurrent that ran the length of their stories.
“Every time I try to make it on my own,
Every time I try to stand, I start to fall,
And all those lonely roads that I have traveled on
There was Jesus.
When the life I built came crashing to the ground,
When the friends I had were nowhere to be found,
I couldn't see it then but I can see it now,
There was Jesus.”
Fr. Ray readily admits that when he first came to Brescia in 1972 he flunked out. He had been in and out of the seminary and was, at that point in his life, agnostic. He fondly recalls Dr. David Bartholomy’s English 101 class, which would have a lasting impact on him. Dr. Bartholomy, who became a beloved mentor, introduced him to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement in Los Angeles, which compelled Fr. Ray to move there. But, after a broken engagement, he moved to Nashville, where he spent four to five months as a long-term guest worker at a Trappist monastery. He then spent a year with the Little brothers of Jesus in the Detroit area and took a job working at a deli.
While in Detroit, Fr. Ray met Monsignor Clement Kern, who was known as the “labor priest,” due to his ministry to blue-collar workers and the poor of southwest Detroit. Fr. Ray affectionately remembers a picture of “Clem,” as he called him, with the caption, “I'm with the people no one else wants.” Monsignor Kern died in an emergency surgery following a car accident in 1983. After a “two-year wild goose chase,” Fr. Ray decided to come back to Brescia the following Spring, where he fervently researched and wrote about Monsignor Kern. He had learned to write from Dr. Bartholomy, who came to share his research interest. Both were now invested in learning more about Monsignor Kern’s life and work. In 1986 Fr. Ray graduated from Brescia with a teaching degree in Elementary and Special Education, but, he wryly reflects, “student teaching convinced me to go into the seminary.” Nonetheless, Fr. Ray continues to use what he learned while earning his teaching degree every day, and he now has a regular column in the newspaper; “another gift from David Bartholomy.”
After graduating from Brescia, Fr. Ray went to the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, OH and then served as Assistant Pastor at various parishes. Having studied Spanish for three years at Brescia, he started a Spanish Mass while serving in Mayfield, Kentucky. In the mid-2000s Fr. Ray began to teach online courses to inmates at the prison, and in 2017 he started teaching ‘on ground’ at Brescia, as sharing the word of God was then and is now a mission most personal and dear to him.
“In the waiting, in the searching,
In the healing, in the hurting,
Like a blessing buried in the broken pieces,
Every minute, every moment,
Where I've been or where I'm going,
Even when I didn't know it
Or couldn't see it,
There was Jesus.
For this man who needs amazing kind of grace,
For forgiveness and a price I couldn't pay,
I'm not perfect so I thank God every day
There was Jesus
There was Jesus.”
It is in prison ministry where Fr. Ray’s story converges with that of Deacon Brett Mills. Brett had come to Brescia as a student in 1988, after he “crashed and burned” at St. Pius X, transferring in mid-year. He had come as a degree-seeking seminarian, but in January of 1989 the diocese dismissed him from the seminary. Nevertheless, he persisted at Brescia, as it was a place to stabilize.
In 2005 Deacon Brett learned that he was on the autism spectrum, “which turned out to be a great gift of self-understanding and self-acceptance;” one that is an asset when teaching or ministering to others who are ‘different.’ Deacon Brett, who kept a 4.0 average most semesters while at Brescia, admits, “academics is the way that I compete.” “For blood,” Fr. Ray quickly adds, with his customary wit. Deacon Brett includes U.S. history professor Dr. Frances Brown, math professor Dr. Bob Cinnamond, and English professor Dr. Craig Barrette among his list of beloved mentors. He explains that Dr. Cinnamond helped him maintain an openness to spirituality and to reaffirm his Catholic identity.
Deacon Brett became Equipment Manager of the soccer team at Brescia, which is a role he treasured. During this time, he was discovering many things about himself, and all began to fall into place. He liked to help people, to organize things, and he came to understand that he was an analytic synthesizer. At Brescia he got a sense of his own nature; “what God wanted me to do with my life.” In 1991 Deacon Brett graduated from Brescia magnum cum laude with a BA in history. He went on to get a master’s degree in U.S. history from Murray State University. “The proximity of Catholic spirituality at Brescia” remained important to him during his “exile years at Murray.”.
Eventually, Deacon Brett returned to Owensboro, as it was a bedrock for him; “12 years of Catholic education is the substrate below you and foundation to start to build back up.” Upon returning to Owensboro he reconnected with Dr. Cinnamond, and then became involved in the “Residents Encounter Christ” prison ministry with Fr. Ray, who described Deacon Brett's image in the eyes of the inmates as a "nerd," and thus surprising to be involved in prison ministry. But Deacon Brett “saw what it meant to the guys, who also identified with being different.” This ministry helped him to rebuild his relationship with the church. He attended Blessed Mother Church and rebuilt his relationship with God in a way that was more open and flexible.
While working for thirteen years as an archivist for the Diocese of Owensboro, Deacon Brett started team-teaching theology classes with Fr. Ray, who had initially solicited his assistance with technology. This time he was coming to Brescia as an ordained deacon. In 2009 Deacon Brett had attended an Ignatian retreat in which he came to the realization that he felt loved by God. This was the starting point of all that followed from it, including the diaconate program. And in 2022 Deacon Brett graduated from St. Meinrad with an MA in Theology.
Fr. Ray and Deacon Brett both see teaching at Brescia as an opportunity to give back. Both well understand what being part of this institution can mean to someone, as Brescia provided them a place of stability. They share the belief that communication and a strong work ethic are the most important skills to learn, and they delight in seeing growth in their students over the years. When meeting his students for the first time Deacon Brett tells them, “I'm autistic; you'll have to excuse me if I don't pick up on your name right away.” He reflects, “People see me, quirks and all,” as he assists the students in making the transition from high school to college. “It has been a dream come true to come to Brescia… and be part of a process that helped to form me.”
Fr. Ray and Deacon Brett complement one another in the classroom in several ways, including their keen wit and ability to banter spontaneously, breaking the ice for the students. The banter continues outside of the classroom as well. (Deacon Brett does an amazingly accurate imitation of Fr. Ray!) “Teaching is in gratitude,” Fr. Ray reflects. He explains that his teaching strategy has evolved over time, as he came to realize that he needed “to pass on not only the knowledge of the scriptures, but also skills and basic resources for students to fish for themselves.” Dr. Bartholomy had taught him to fish and now it was his turn to teach others. Fr. Ray also learned along the way that he was “a recovering racist,” as he had grown up in an area in which racism was part of the culture. He continually seeks growth while living out his vocation. “Do what you love. What is essential to you. Share the Word of God.”
In teaching the New Testament Fr. Ray draws upon stories of his time in the Holy Land, having spent seven and a half months in 2017 living in the Old City, which was a six-minute walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. According to tradition, this church is the site of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Praying the Psalms in the shadow of the Temple and walking along the Sea of Galilee were “an incredibly powerful and moving experience” for him.
There was Jesus
On the mountains,
In the valleys.
There was Jesus
In the shadows
Of the alleys
There was Jesus
In the fire, in the flood,
There was Jesus.
Always is and always was, oh.
No, I never walk alone,
Never walk alone,
You're always there
As the interview was coming to a close, Deacon Brett gently sang the words, “ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est,” which translate as “where charity and love are, God is there.” He draws upon St. Thomas Aquinas’ description of love as “that which you do in the interest of another in spite of yourself.” Love underlies the teaching ministry of Fr. Ray Clark and Deacon Brett Mills as they spread the Good News, while also continuing to redeem and rebuild their own life stories. In doing so, they model love, humor, lifelong learning and growth for our Brescia community and beyond.
In the waiting, in the searching,
In the healing, in the hurting,
Like a blessing buried in the broken pieces.
Every minute, every moment,
Where I've been or where I'm going
Even when I didn't know it
Or couldn't see it,
There was Jesus.
There was Jesus.
There was Jesus.
There was Jesus.
(To listen to a recording of Zach Williams and Dolly Parton singing "There Was Jesus" go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa997xkppAE)
Caritas in Each and Every Molecule:
An Equation for Student Success in Mathematics and Natural Sciences
When talking to the Mathematics and Natural Sciences Division faculty it immediately becomes clear that they are student centered and loving in their approach to curriculum, teaching, advising, and the many things they do for the students. Caritas shows up in a rich variety of ways!
The faculty began the academic year with a “welcome back” picnic for the students, and yesterday they hosted a Christmas party for them in the Roy and Victoria Duffy Roberts Center for the Sciences, as has become their custom. Dr. Linda Girouard, the Division Chair, supports our students and Brescia community by sharing mental health resources, especially as pertains to suicide prevention. She has incorporated a few questions about belonging and diversity on the student questionnaire to better understand the campus climate, and is educating herself on advising diverse communities, such as the LGBTQ community. Dr. Dmitry Uskov offers family-friendly telescope activities for the Brescia community and, when the weather turns cold, he makes sure that our students have winter coats. Dr. Jonathan Dudko serves as Faculty Advisor for the Biology and Environmental Clubs, taking the students on outings and other activities. Dr. Jonathan Abramson brings his experience as a non-traditional student to BU-101. He is able to relate to and comfort students who are missing home and getting acclimated to the Brescia University experience. Being present and compassionate helps students in their new academic environment. Dr. Abramson also brings a warm heart to advising students and includes parents in his initial advising sessions. For math and science faculty, care is taken in all matters, large and small, including details such as making the conference rooms more inviting.
Faculty also integrate the value of caritas into their curriculum and teaching. Decisions regarding curriculum and course rotations are carefully thought out in terms of student needs. Dr. Tiahrt is always willing to help a student, even if it means teaching just one student in a class or offering mini-classes or new courses, as needed. Dr. Jacob Adler engages his students in course-based undergraduate research. In doing so, he seeks “equity to access to research experiences.”
In his teaching, Dr. Chris Tiahrt seeks to not only recognize students with disabilities, but to accommodate them effectively; “to help them despite those challenges.” And Dr. Jacob Adler reflects that some of the faculty have adjusted how they grade, with the intention of equity and inclusivity; “to focus more on student learning, with less emphasis on the attainment of a grade.” Similarly, Dr. Uskov recognizes that some of the students have been traumatized and wishes to intervene and advocate for them. Dr. Kenneth Barrese sometimes engages students in group work out of concern for how well they are integrating into the community, as group work builds trust. And Dr. Uskov makes connections between science and other aspects of life by engaging his students in discussions regarding the Catholic Church’s relationship to science, for example.
Caritas also goes into decisions about testing and exams. Dr. Tiahrt offers alternatives to exams, if that is what best serves the students. Dr. Kenneth Barrese speaks for the math and science faculty when he explains they are not giving apathetic or mean-spirited quizzes. Although that can be an easy way out, it is not in the best interests of the students. Rather, the students’ welfare is foremost on their minds. Dr. David Ramirez, who makes an effort to hang out with the Catholic student clubs, takes time to go over exam results with students, discussing common mistakes and creating opportunities for students to discuss exams with their peers, which helps them prepare better in the future. Math and science faculty alike spend a lot of time tutoring students to help them succeed.
Dr. Uskov captures the sentiments of the math and science faculty when he enthusiastically reflects that caritas is not only part of his teaching, but “in some way everything I do is caritas. Teaching and curriculum – all is caritas; it’s all we do!” Dr. Girourd chimes in, “in each and every molecule!”
Creating the World we Want through Caritas
By Dr. Christopher Griffin
When Dr. DeMoor asked me to share how I use Caritas in my teaching, I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant. I have never intentionally or consciously made Caritas a driving force in my teaching style or content. And I did not and do not know that I have anything to share that is special or worthy of your time to read. Still, given time to reflect more deeply on why I do what I do, I recognize that in fact love is the foundation of everything I do in my career. Whether it is worth your time, I leave to you.
To explain this newfound perspective, I will first share a personal story. In 2010, I was still a graduate student in the History Department at Florida State University. It is no exaggeration to say that my life was crashing down around me. The recession gave the state government of Florida the excuse to slash the state’s higher education budget and with it, the funding for the regular teaching position I had long enjoyed. I was forced to finish my dissertation as I balanced working myriad restaurant jobs, side hustles, and teaching gigs at the community college in town. Struggles with medication dosages meant the seizures I suffer prevented me from holding a driver’s license. My first marriage was falling apart and I was terrified of losing my daughter. It is one of the lowest points in my life.
But there was one small ray of light in my dismal world. A simple, unimportant, and completely amazing thing in my life: on Tuesdays and Thursdays, every week without fail, one of my professors, Jim Jones, went to lunch with me. We would grab sandwiches at the Subway by campus, or the Mediterranean restaurant next door. To understand what this meant though, you have to understand that Jim Jones is one of the coolest, most interesting, well-traveled, and likable people you will ever meet. And I imagine nearly everyone who met him would say the same. He was the definition of the cool professor. And for reasons I will never understand, this completely awesome professor genuinely seemed to enjoy my company. For the better part of two years, we kept it going and by doing so, I believe I was able to keep it going. It was an hour of conversations about every dang thing you can imagine, good food, and a hug at the end. Now I am sure he would tell you it was no big deal. But Jim’s kindness made all the difference for me when my world was falling to pieces.
I am now in a very different place: remarried, enjoying a home life surrounded by an amazing family, and have a stable job at a school I love being a part of. I even have a driver’s license now. I doubt I will ever meet the standard of excellence that Jim Jones set down, but I really do try to bring the same care he showed me to my own students.
As I said at the beginning, I do not view anything that I do as remarkable. But the following are some ways I show Caritas in the classroom.
Many faculty will cringe on hearing this, but I have for the past two years had an extension policy on assignments. Students who feel that an assignment due date conflicts with a particularly difficult set of circumstances, be it heavy job or family commitments, the exams and assignments of other classes, or mental or physical illness, may ask for an extension. So long as they are proactive and make the request more than a day before the due date, I almost always grant it. It is usually just an extension of a few days, the space of a weekend or some such.
Some might think that such a policy would lead to outright anarchy in the classroom, with students constantly asking and turning things in when they want. But in four semesters, that has not been the case at all. Instead, students use it to make a particularly difficult part of the week a bit easier by planning ahead and the quality of work they submit improves substantially. To date, I have not really encountered anyone abusing the system; no one has asked for extensions more than three times in a semester and the number of extension requests per week has never been more than a handful (and is usually only one or two). Nor is it the slacker students that ask the most often. The people I find that that advantage are the best students, who use the extra time to give themselves time to breathe and do themselves justice on the work they submit.
Some might argue that this does not prepare them for the “real world,” but I find that sentiment hollow and outdated. I spent twenty years working in “real world” jobs, holding positions as both management and labor in several different industries. I did not find hard, immovable deadlines imposed by others to be the norm; deadlines were more often based on negotiation, took personal circumstances into account, and valued the mental health of everyone involved. And to those who say that is not their experience, I ask “WELL, SHOULDN’T IT BE??” Why not make the classroom a reflection of the world we want, rather than some place that makes everyone miserable? I never thought of that as Caritas or even love, but in thinking on it, caring for the mental health of my students definitely counts. And I think Dr. Jones would agree with me.
One of the things I know students really struggle with is “impostor syndrome,” that inescapable feeling that afflicts so many students and professionals that they do not belong with the best and brightest, with the experts and geniuses. I have to admit that my own arrogance precludes me from ever feeling that way. I have never doubted that I belonged. Yet I have encountered it so often in others…even among the truly amazing colleagues that I have had the great fortune to work with.
I have a rather gifted student now that has dreams of graduate school and a career in public history. In a recent advising session, I shared with her the story of one of my dearest friends. She is one of the world’s experts in her field, a brilliant professor in the classroom, and devoted mentor to her students. Yet she has always felt she was a “pretend academic.” Her background and character did not seem to her to belong in the ‘ivory tower set.’ In her words, she does not “look like an academic.” I told my student, “the only difference between her and ‘the ivory tower set’ is that she is not sure she belongs and they never imagined they did not.” Love is showing others the possible in themselves that they cannot yet see.
Jim passed away in the summer of 2020. It was a crushing loss, as I had foolishly missed the chance to see him that spring and can never show him who I am now. But I am also happy to think of what he would say if he could see the happy person I have become. I hope he would say I was worth the time. And what else can I do but show students that they are too. I will take the time to talk to them, to know them beyond the names atop assignments or the stooped heads of students feverishly writing notes as I lecture. I want to show them that family always comes first, good work does not require bad mental health, and that they can be as amazing as every great person they have ever looked up to. I like to think that Dr. Jones would agree with that.
Dr. Lauren McCrary
Gifts of Love Received and Given
By Emily A. DeMoor, Ph.D.
Dr. Lauren McCrary, who serves as Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at Brescia University, speaks of her spiritual growth & deepened relationship with God as being the biggest gifts that Brescia has given her. When she first started working at Brescia, she felt uncomfortable using the word “love.” She reflects, “I didn't know that part of me was lacking.” But her comfort level with it has increased over the past few years, and talking freely about God and love has been a gift – one that she gives in return by engendering this comfort in our students. The university’s focus on caritas helps her to remember why she does what she does; “it's out of love.” Dr. McCrary continues, “This is for the sustainability of Brescia. My work fits into a bigger picture.” Remembering love helps her to deal with the frustrations of the job. She hopes to continue to move love to the foreground rather than the background of her thinking; from the internal to the external. “It has to be intentional.”
Dr. McCrary’s understanding of the importance of love comes, in part, from her experience of being a mother. As a mother, she sees her children in our students and can envision them having future difficulties in such stressful times. She speaks of the motherly instinct toward kindness and stresses it in the way that she raises her children as well as interacts with students. Dr. McCrary advises, “Be kind. It makes others kind.” When seeing her children off to school each morning, she says to them, “Love you. See if you can make someone smile.”
Her orientation towards being loving affects all of her relationships. An extrovert, Dr. McCrary has been cultivated to be social. This has only deepened in her as she sees students who are struggling, under pressure, or need to finish their degrees quickly. When teaching at Owensboro Community and Technical College (OCTC) she encouraged her students to focus on the present; to celebrate every test they took and every class they took. Dr. McCrary applies this thinking to her work at Brescia, even in trying times, as “every person on campus is doing the the best they can do.”
Although Dr. McCrary has not taken the Clifton Strengths Assessment or other personality tests, I strongly suspect that “Woo” is among her top five strengths. According to Gallup, who created the assessment, “People exceptionally talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with someone.” Meeting strangers can be energizing for people with Woo. In fact, in the world of Woo “there are no strangers, only friends you haven't met yet -- lots of them”. One can easily see this in Dr. McCrary, who likes to listen to people, ask questions and get to know them; to give people a sense of well-being. In the words of Brescia President, Fr. Larry Hostetter, she is “a sounding board of love.” She and Fr. Larry, who is an introvert, balance and complement each other, creating a strong team in the President’s office.
With an undergraduate degree in fashion merchandising, in her early days at Brescia Dr. McCrary experienced imposter syndrome, but over time she came to realize, “I have something to give; I have strengths that are well honed and I'm more comfortable in my own skin.” One of those gifts is empathy. Motivated by a strong sense of empathy for others, she wishes to infuse a sense of belonging into her work. Dr. McCrary has witnessed empathy in unusual places. She sees how caritas influences those in the business world who care about and honor the heart of the university mission. She tries to bring humanity into all conversations, whether it be meetings of the Board at Brescia, the Daniel Pitino Shelter, or other settings. For her, reframing the questions at hand in terms of love and humanity redeems administration by infusing purpose back into it. Fr. Larry, who talks so openly about love, serves as her role model in this regard.
Dr. McCrary is the Chair-elect of the Pitino Shelter Board of Trustees. In this role, she recently gave a talk on the impact of a $100,000 grant the shelter had applied for. She happily reports that they were awarded the grant. In preparing for her talk, Dr. McCrary reflected on the fact that she comes from a place of privilege. She was “born onto second base; born ahead.” Working at the Pitino Shelter opened her eyes to social and systemic injustices. Acknowledging the gifts she has received, she now gives back in various ways, including being friendly in conversation with those at the shelter, and giving time and thought to its life-saving work. She explains, “the staff is as burnt out as we are, but like us, they still give it their all.” Dr. McCrary continues, “While their needs are more primal, we all need love to survive.” In the end, she reflects, Brescia gives more to her than she gives to it.
Fr. Larry, however, focuses upon the gifts that she brings: “Besides the important executive responsibilities that Dr. McCrary has, she finds time to listen to students and colleagues who often come to her for advice and counsel. Lauren does this so effectively because she has a heart for caritas, a heart that beats with love not only for Brescia, but especially for the people of the Brescia family.” It is clear that Dr. McCrary is a gift received and given to the Brescia community.
Dr. Daniel Kuthy, Political Science and Caritas
by Emily A. DeMoor, Ph.D.
Although Dr. Daniel Kuthy doesn’t use the word “caritas” in his classes, he lives it -- in his genuine care and concern for his students, his curriculum and teaching methods. Dr. Kuthy recognizes that each student has their own story, hopes, fears and traumas. He meets them where they are and engages with them in a holistic and loving way. This is easier with students with whom he has sustained relationships, especially given the past few difficult years, but he makes an effort to reach all of his students, whether in the classroom or online. By getting to know them over time, he is able to connect what he teaches to the lives of his students, making the subject meaningful, relevant, and potentially transformative. Dr. Kuthy is especially sensitive to the needs of his adult learners, who may have had negative experiences with religion, and thus engages caritas more than he talks about it.
When doing a positivist analysis of a political situation, Dr. Kuthy’s teaching method aims, first of all, to separate moral and value judgements from the content so that the students will look at the situation objectively, to “see what is and what isn’t.” For example, when doing a comparative analysis of two countries in terms of issues related to corruption, he assists his students in examining them from institutional, legal and operational perspectives; what caused them to exist. He then leads students to evaluate how corruption affects people in their lives in terms of food, housing, legal justice and other basic concerns. The next step is to consider why this is important and what needs to be done, which is inherently a moral judgement. So there is a temporary suspension of values, and then a return to values as a means for enabling students to move past biases and misconceptions and perceive the world in new ways.
Dr. Kuthy implicitly engages the three guiding questions of the Caritas Center: Who am I as someone who is loved and called to love? What do I need to know as someone called to love? What do I need to do as someone called to love? He has students reflect on their personal identity, how it effects how they see the world, and how it shapes their social identities. In doing so, he provides a safe space to engage with uncomfortable ideas, such as the benefits or disadvantages we gain from our social identities. This raises the question, “What do we do and why?”
Once his students have examined their own beliefs and biases, Dr. Kuthy cultivates empathy by exposing them to the experiences and stories of others. He reflects, “humanizing experiences of others helps us relate to them; it leads to empathy, as prejudices are overcome by faces.” He urges his students to see individual stories, re-evaluate their beliefs and biases, and mitigate them. An examination of identity, understanding and action, he proposes, may make government better.
Dr. Kuthy has applied the process of perspective taking to simulated peace negotiations, such as the situation with the Ukrainian Civil War and other past events in foreign policy that require students to adjust their assumptions. He has also supported student growth by taking them on trips and to conferences so that they may experience new ideas and cultures and continually broaden their perspectives of ‘self’ and ‘other’ in ways that are empathetic and compassionate. Dr. Kuthy is concerned with the way that students are pushed to have everything in their lives figured out by the time they are in college. He creates welcoming spaces for his students to continue to discern who they are and how they wish to be in the world.
A Reflection on Caritas
by Terri Crowe, Office for Violence Against Women (OVW) Grant Program Director
Caritas? That is Latin, right? How do I pronounce that? What does it mean? When I arrived at Brescia in the summer of 2021 to work on a grant project, these were a few of the many questions that I asked myself as I acclimated to campus. Sitting in my first office in the Bartholomy-Taylor Building, I enlisted the reliable help of Google and Brescia’s website and quickly answered those questions. So, I began my time here at Brescia by mastering new vocabulary while gaining understanding of the principle that guides the university in its endeavors.
One of Brescia’s newest endeavors is a bold one: embracing the new and unique work of a three-year campus program grant funded by the United States Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). Since its inception is 1995, OVW has provided 6 billion dollars in funding to various community agencies and institutions of higher learning. Each year colleges and universities across the country receive OVW campus program grants to enhance their efforts in preventing and responding to interpersonal harm: dating/domestic violence, sexual abuse/assault, and stalking (DVSAS). Since last summer, when Brescia received its campus program grant, it has been working to integrate this challenging but important work into Brescia’s culture and standard operating procedures.
While the work of preventing and responding to DVSAS is relatively new to Brescia, it is decidedly not new to me. I came to Brescia with a decade of experience as a nationally credentialed victim advocate specializing in sexual abuse/assault. Since 2011, I have had the honor of supporting victims and their families in different ways in various settings through my long association with New Beginnings Sexual Assault Support Services in Owensboro. From crisis counseling/psychoeducation sessions with clients to providing support with law enforcement and courtrooms, it has been a privilege to help victim/survivors as they heal from sexual harm. It is this wealth of experience that prepared me for the opportunity to be a new voice at Brescia, guiding the work of the grant and conveying the crucial importance of preventing DVSAS and responding to victim/survivors in a trauma-informed manner.
“Does Brescia need such a voice?” you may ask. The answer to that question is not a pleasant one: yes. Even though Brescia is guided by its north star of caritas and strives to provide a nurturing and safe environment in which students can thrive, the unfortunate reality is that anyone who calls Brescia home can and does experience interpersonal harm in places they inhabit, on and off campus. It is this very unfortunate reality that drives my work as an advocate and propels the Department of Justice to continue funding institutions of higher learning. Until all dating/domestic violence, sexual abuse/assault, and stalking are no longer a problem, each of us needs to find out voice to speak against it, act to stop it, and proclaim there is hope.
And it is hope that I position at center stage and shine a bright spotlight on. Dating/domestic violence, sexual abuse/assault, and stalking are preventable. In the field of crime prevention and response, we are learning more about how to stop DVSAS before it starts and how to teach people the soft skills needed to be active bystanders and safely intervene to interrupt cycles of harm and abuse. And more than ever, when victim/survivors experience interpersonal harm and decide to disclose that to someone or make a report to police, they are being believed (the foundation for all recovery) and receiving the trauma-informed support they need to heal and thrive. That is hope.
Now, with the campus program grant as the catalyst, Brescia has a new and altogether different way to provide hope and expand how it expresses caritas. Interpersonal harm can be devastating and causes the victim-survivors to question themselves, the existence of love (because most people are harmed by someone they know and love, or at least like), their ability to surmount the barriers placed in their way by the person who abused them. What an opportunity to restore hope and express caritas - intentionally working each day to prevent Brescians from experiencing harm and ensuring if they do that they are fully supported in the most trauma-informed way.
Moreover, the focus of this campus program grant is in perfect alignment with the university’s pursuits: a call to love through caritas, the Brescia Difference, and the university’s quest to remove unjust barriers that hinder learning and human flourishing. The effects of DVSAS create very real barriers for anyone being to fully live and learn.
Brescia and I are learning together in tandem. We are both learning what caritas was in the past, what it is now, and what it can be in the future. The university’s work in interpersonal harm prevention and response is both prophylaxis and salve to all: students, staff, and faculty. This road is a long one though. But change and hope are real and many hands make light work. Won’t you join us on this journey?
Caritas and the Psychology Program
Emily A. DeMoor, Ph.D.
The Psychology Program faculty are a tight-knit group that holds Vicki Will, their Division Chair, in very high regard in terms of setting the tone of caritas. “She’s the heart of how everybody teaches,” reflects Dr. Rachel Besing. Ms. Will infuses love into her relationships with faculty and students alike, as do all Psychology Program faculty. Psychology is one area in the Social and Behavioral Sciences division. According to Ms. Will, the psychology students are easy to love, with “an openness about them and a willingness to be part of things.” Ms. Will feels deeply about caritas, the “Brescia difference,” and the sacredness of the individual, which she sees as interconnected.
Love for the students in a common theme among Psychology faculty. Dr. Rachel Besing sees this as being willing to go the extra mile for them, doing the fun things and the hard things, such as teaching them research methods or taking them on trips to study abroad. An advocate of “good trouble,” Dr. Besing is passionate and enthusiastic about her work. She believes that passion for the students’ welfare sometimes means getting past your own opinions and compromising so as to provide what students really need. Sometimes ‘tough love’ is needed. While it’s important to keep loving the students no matter what happens, it can be hard sometimes when you have to challenge their behavior. The Psychology faculty agree that there are multiple ways to love our students.
Creating and maintaining safe spaces for students is one of those ways. Ms. Will seeks to empower students to demand more of the world, especially when they are used to being mistreated. It is important to consider situational factors when trying to understand the choices of others; to find out what they’re dealing with and create a space for them to work things out. Dr. Paul Landen creates safe spaces by cultivating an orientation of compassion and empathy, allowing people to be their authentic selves and give rise to their own voices. This, in turn, gives rise to authentic community.
Dr. Landen very intentionally infuses caritas into his course content. In his Human Development course, for example, he shows the film, “The Shift,” in which Wayne Dyer explores the spiritual journey from ambition to meaning. In his course Dr. Landen raises the questions, “What difference do you make? What self-worth do we choose? How do we present ourselves to the rest of the world?” In all of his classes he makes sure that students think through who they are and consider others in the choices they make, for love itself is a choice. Dr. Landen emphasizes choice and self-limitation as a means of ensuring that one remains loving, accepting of the needs of others, and being respectful of the choices of others. He emphasizes “seeing people as they are, not who you want them to be” and encourages people to think beyond their own limitations; to “help people get outside their bubble and see what’s possible.” Dr. Landen raises the question, “Who are we going to be as human beings?” Our mission, he maintains, is to create a better society – a goal shared by all of the Psychology faculty.
Dr. Mike Farina, Director of the graduate Clinical Psychology Program, tries to give students what they need, even when they don’t know how to ask for it, as they undertake a program which has been ranked by EduMed as the number one master’s level Clinical Psychology program in the country for 2023. “Caritas” is one of the program’s Student Learning Outcomes: “Brescia clinical psychology graduates commit to a career of serving others with strong moral character and following the APA Ethics Code.” The program includes practica in testing and therapy and an internship in which students do field work through Owensboro Health, providing free social services and testing for clients. It emphasizes the whole person, including spirituality. Love is essential to this endeavor. Dr. Farina explains, “If you cannot love who you’re working with – the whole person -- you cannot do a good job. It will be just going through the motions.” He models this for his students, as love is what motivates him and forms the basis of his work. He attributes his idealism to the influence of the Ursuline sisters, and Sr. Mary Agnes and Sr. Amelia Stenger in particular, as they taught him to work hard and for the right reason. Dr. Farina reflects, “Love, that’s what’s right. You can’t take love out of the equation.” He further ruminates, “If it weren’t going to be about love, I wouldn’t have survived. What reason is there to be there with all the suffering someone is going through? Why put yourself in a painful situation? Love is the only reason that is sufficient.”
The Psychology Program demonstrates the power of love and intentionality in shaping curriculum, instruction, relationships, and ultimately, lives, for the betterment of the world. It is refreshing and inspiring to see the many and varied ways that the faculty are bringing caritas to life in the Brescia community and beyond, creating spaces where love can build bridges. There’s so much to celebrate!