IT’S NEVER TOO LATE … Especially when dreams are waiting

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Glenda Laurent Dickonson

I had decided that it was already too late.

Too much time had passed and my brain was too old to absorb anything new.

And then I had that conversation with Sr. Roberta, and she mentioned Loyola. My curiosity was in full bloom as I postponed bedtime to find out if what she had described really existed. There it was, nicely detailed under the Pastoral Counseling tab. As I read the description, I became more excited. This was the program I had envisioned, but did not know had existed anywhere. I completed the enrollment form for the next information session, and as I hit the ENTER key, I realized what I had done. I was actually considering returning to college. Ten years after trashing my application to a nearby state university, I was requesting information for a program I had just heard about.

That was 5 years and 73 credits ago. I wish I could say that it was easy or seamless, but it was not. With my financial obligations, there was no way I could quit my job which was located in D.C. near the U.S. Capitol. The commute to Columbia was sometimes a challenge, especially during rush hour, but my car eventually learned to find the way on its own, in spite of gridlock, rude drivers, or those who seemed to have no sense of urgency. Sometimes I would walk into class tired; sometimes my eyelids would grow heavy as I unwound in my chair; but only for a brief period. Eventually I would become re-energized and ready to participate with my classmates.

It is sometimes mind-boggling when I realize how much personal peace I have found in the Pastoral Counseling program. When my friends question my sanity or mention how long it is taking me to graduate, I do worry at times, but then I jokingly tell them that I hope to graduate before I turn 100. The truth is, I believe that whatever age I am when I walk the stage at graduation, it would be the right age for me. There is no turning back now, and I am glad I realized that it is never too late, especially when dreams are waiting.  There may be challenges, but life has a way of working things out, if only you allow yourself to be open to possibilities.

From teacher to counselor

I have always been the type of person that wants to better myself.  I thought my undergraduate degree in Theology would take me very far in life.   What it did in fact, was, allow me to see how much more education I needed to succeed.  Until recently, I had been looking for a graduate program that would incorporate my interest in Theology with helping people. I knew that online education was not really for me, I prefer to meet people face-to-face and have conversations in real life rather than in some small square on my monitor.  Then, at the mall, I saw an ad for Loyola University’s graduate degree program in Pastoral Counseling and how to attend an information session. The information I received made me think and reflect on my life’s decisions. It was a perfect fit for me, the synthesis of spirituality and counseling. As a teacher, I often find myself counseling students to make good choices.  This degree would not only allow me to help students, but, adults as well.

I have learned so much since starting my first year of the MS program for Pastoral Counseling. In addition to the overall learning experience, the professors are what really make the classes come alive. Dr. Jill Snodgrass, Ph.D. enriched the introduction to pastoral counseling class by allowing us to write weekly reflections on our service-learning experiences. These allowed us to integrate our classroom learning with our volunteer experiences and is the a prime example of a Jesuit education—the ability to make what you are learning come alive! Even after the semester has come to a close, I still volunteer at the organization because of the wonderful experience I had there.

One of the memorable moments I remember in counseling theory class with Dr. Sharon Cheston, Ed.D.  was when she showed us an actual Counselor/client experience with one of our classmates.  Being in the room, you can feel the peace she brings to the situation.  Another hallmark of a Jesuit education: the opportunity to take what you are learning and see it first-hand in practice. In addition to great educators, there are many resources made available to help guide and aid the graduate student. From financial aid to writing workshops (APA) Loyola has made provisions for the student to succeed completely.  If you are the type of person that likes to help others and you have an open heart and mind, then, this program of study is for you!  Click here to begin your journey.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails,” Proverbs 19:21 (NIV). | Michelle Adams

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That scripture comes to mind when I reflect on my personal journey and decision to attend Loyola.  I am the spouse of an Army officer, and last summer, our family moved from Missouri to Maryland.  Initially, I refused to move with my husband, because we have a son with a joint custody agreement.  It was not “my plan” to leave or separate as a family – I couldn’t even entertain the idea.  But then God placed a strong and clear calling for me to trust Him … I knew that He was sending us to Maryland.  I knew there was a higher reason and calling, but I had no idea that a few months later I would find myself applying to Loyola University to be a pastoral counselor.

It all came about when searching for job openings in the area.  I had been separated from my son, and longed to discern why and what God had in mind.  Instead of job matches, a biography of an alumna from Loyola first appeared in my Google search window.  She had earned a master’s of science in pastoral counseling and instantly my heart leaped at the thought of “pastoral” or “spiritual” and counseling combined.  In the same day, God confirmed my calling – His purpose – by crossing my path with three people who spoke highly of Loyola’s reputation and commented, “it’s a renowned program.”  Having worked at a university for 15 years in Missouri, I believe God knew that it would be important to me that Loyola had quality academics and a solid reputation.

Before I could apply and seriously consider the pastoral counseling program, I started exploring financial aid and scholarship opportunities.  Living on a single income, I had no idea how we could afford graduate school.  That same day my husband came home from work and stated, “you are eligible for post 9-11 G.I. bill education benefits!”   I was floored how God had everything in place.  I also visited and attended one of the classes to ensure the location was accessible (I’m not a city-driver), the students and faculty were friendly, and class times would accommodate our family commitments.   It was ALL in check with my mind, body, heart, and soul. 

My journey as a M.S. Pastoral Counseling student just began this past January 2012, but there hasn’t been one class that I haven’t walked away thanking God for the opportunity and privilege to attend Loyola and to soon serve Him as a pastoral counselor.

From Workforce Development to Loyola

Karla Wynn

As my academic journey as a candidate for the Master of Arts Degree in Spiritual and Pastoral Care at Loyola nears its end, I can’t help but reflect on the moment that led me to pursue an advanced degree program at this institution.

Employed as a Workforce Development Specialist at a local government agency, I realized, once again, the need to earn an advanced degree in order to remain competitive in the labor market. Inasmuch as I had spent at least 20 years of my professional life serving as a “career counselor in the Workforce Development Industry” I felt the time was right for me to pursue a counseling degree program. As a result, I began looking into a variety of masters’ degree programs in order to obtain my professional goals.

After researching numerous ‘counseling programs’ online, the Pastoral Counseling Degree program at Loyola University Maryland captured my attention. I contacted and met with Ms. Brenda Helsing (bhelsing@loyola.edu) and after attending my initial meeting, I felt right at home – that obtaining a Loyola Education would be beneficial and provide the tools needed to continue serving as a Workforce Development Counselor supporting dislocated workers and others in obtaining their next professional adventure in a spirit of service.

Instead of pursuing a Pastoral Counseling Degree, I entered the Spiritual and Pastoral Care program at Loyola (www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling/academics/care.html) and followed the Chaplaincy Tract. During the course of my studies, I gained both the theological and theoretical tools that enables me to be of service “ministering” to those who suffer losses – whether those losses be in employment, health, or a loved-one; to assist individuals in crisis situations, and empathetic listening skills to support people who wish to resolve their spiritual and religious questions, concerns, or challenges.  As my graduate student tenure comes to a close, I can say that the Spiritual and Pastoral Care program has heightened my awareness of spiritual and pastoral questions and concerns, helped me grow as a person and provided me with the technical support system to serve my sisters and brothers – regardless of their Religious Traditions – grapple with their questions and concerns to form a new and/or elevated spiritual identity.

Searching for signs: This WAY

Barbara Kass

Like Moses, I wandered the desert for 40 years. Unlike Moses, there was no hike up Mount Sinai and certainly no burning bush. My journey to Loyola began with a 2,000 mile trek across the United States from the bare brown deserts of West Texas to the lush green overgrowth of Maryland. I’ve yet to find a burning bush, but I have found a smoldering fire of desire buried beneath the soil of my soul.

Besides the usual growing-up stuff, I had spent those 40 years in the fields of law, medicine, and health. Fifteen years ago, newly adorned with my Master of Public Health degree, I found a spot within our federal government to practice all that I learned. Public health provides survival essentials to humans such as clean water and vaccines. Public health workers are devoted to promoting environmental, physical, behavioral, and occupational health. I know all about epidemiology, biostatistics, health economics, and public policy. What I could not find in public health, though, is a way to measure and foster the wellness of souls.

Our government has several agencies that promote mental and emotional health, but the research and promotional efforts of these agencies dance around the topics of spirituality, God, soul, and religion. Federal and state funds are freely used by independent researchers to explore these topics and their message is often translated privately into the public sector.

But there is no application of spirituality within the framework of public health.

The question came to me within a few years of my career: how can I bring the divine presence into my public health work? In response, six years ago, someone handed me a Loyola pastoral counseling brochure. I researched Loyola and its competitors extensively. Back in 2006, Loyola had little competition for souls. (Wanna-be’s are springing up everywhere but the Jesuits have the best original package.)

It wasn’t exactly a burning bush, but I had asked a question and received an answer. It was the only answer. I viewed it as giant neon sign flashing the divine message: GO THIS WAY!

“This Way” is the path of a Master of Science in Pastoral Counseling. It will end in a year’s time. I won’t have any stone tablets etched with smoking commandments, but I will have a piece of paper etched with this immortal word: graduate.

My Win-Win-Win Journey to Loyola

Why grad school at Loyola now when I am 47 years old you may ask?  I have always had a heart for service.  I have had various jobs in my adult life, but none that I would call a career.  My family always came first, I must admit, although that is not very modern of me.  I went to undergrad two times: the first time to University of Dallas (UD) in Irving, TX, obtaining a B.A. in French Literature and the second time to University of Central Florida earning a B.S. in Psychology where I took some Masters level courses and joined a research team.  I found Psychology lacking in spirituality, moreover, I craved and felt called to something faith-based.

After undergrad, I did a year of service where I met my son’s father.  We married and moved to Contra Costa County, CA. Five years later, I moved back to the East Coast.  While there, I married my current husband and we became involved in a large, vibrant Catholic Parish called Ascension Catholic Community in Melbourne, FL.  I rekindled my faith at Ascension.  I participated in a retreat/formation process called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP).  I still meet with my sisters in Christ (the ladies of CRHP Team 24) via Skype most Tuesday evenings at 7:00.

Feeling as if we had “retired” too young in Melbourne, FL, where the median age is 62, my husband and I took an opportunity to move to the Baltimore area when he was offered a better job by Northrop Grumman.  It was a win-win-win situation.  My husband had a great new job, I was now able to pursue a career that I could believe in by pursing an M.A. with Loyola in Spiritual and Pastoral Care, and my son had many opportunities in Maryland post graduation from Florida State.

I am excited to see what the future holds for me in Ministry.  I am volunteering in various capacities at some local Catholic parishes and at Beans and Bread.  I aim to see what type of ministry for which I am best suited.  I am on the spiritual direction track, and I am doing my internship at this time.  It is challenging, rewarding, and exciting.  I knew after taking Spiritual Direction last semester that I was on the right track for me.  I meet with my directees monthly to gain experience.  My spiritual direction supervision course is at another great Catholic university, Washington Theological Union which unfortunately is closing its doors this month due to financial issues.

Goldilocks finds Pastoral Counseling

I never thought that I might have something in common with Goldilocks (you know, the one who made herself at home at the Bear Chateau), but our journeys do parallel in experience.  Goldilocks was a very bold young lady who saw what she wanted and pursued it.  She sought to find the right fit for the best seat to sit in, the best meal to eat from, and the best bed to sleep in.  She had to try three times until she found what was right for her.  Now, I must say that I wouldn’t go as far as to walk uninvited into someone’s home and make myself comfortable (especially not into the den of bears).  Yet, I do find some similarities with Goldilocks’ experience of trial and error as I have been on my path of finding my own professional best fit.

            My first professional taste of porridge was that of teaching special education at the elementary school level.  I found that being a special education teacher was too hot.  I enjoyed teaching my students and interacting with my co-workers, but burned my tongue on all the other things that came with teaching that made it scalding at times.  I did not feel that it would sustain as a best fit for me.  I liked it but I didn’t love it.

            So, I prayed and asked God what He wanted me to do.  Well, I kind of asked/told God that I was open to anything but teaching (showing some of Goldilocks’ audaciousness).  I was led towards studying art therapy and absolutely loved it.  It was a good fit for me and I proceeded to do my thesis on spirituality and art therapy.  Oh, this was some good porridge and I felt it was right, but God kept telling me it was good but not great.  Alas, it was too cold. 

I knew I was called to more and applied to the PhD program at Loyola on a leap of faith (www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling/academics/phd.html ).  I have found that pursuing pastoral counseling (www.loyola.edu/pastoralcounseling) has been and continues to be Just Right.  I began taking prerequisites in the Spring of 2011 and continue to find that I am challenged and growing and maturing and loving more.  I can see the potential in my professional development and am in awe at the synchronicity of the lessons learned in this program.  The curriculum, classes, and students are so unique and I feel that I fit in and have genuinely found a place to call home in pastoral counseling.

Riding the Dragon Down the Path To Pastoral Counseling | Teri Wilkins

My introduction to the pastoral counseling department came via Dr. Wicks.  I was presenting at the annual convention for teachers in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and he was the keynote speaker.  He had just published Riding the Dragon and spoke of how educators needed to take care of themselves, which was a lesson I needed to hear.  At the time, I was enrolled in a PhD program in education and was teaching continuing education courses in classroom management and brain-based learning.  I had retired from K-12 classroom teaching and had decided to change careers and become a full-time professor. 

While I was enjoying my classes and doing well academically, I had noticed a void in my secular doctoral program.  When Dr. Wicks noted he taught in Loyola’s pastoral counseling program, something finally clicked.  After decades in the Catholic school system, where spirituality had been embraced as a vital component of people’s lives, it was strange to me that the topic of spirituality was now actively avoided.  I decided to investigate pastoral counseling.

In the classroom, I had counseled many students, especially adolescent girls and teachers struggling with technology integration, but I had always been uneasy about that role.  While I was quite confident about my abilities as an educator, I lacked training in counseling.  Would studying pastoral counseling make a difference?  I was not sure but made an appointment to speak to an advisor. 

When I walked into the suite of offices that morning, I was struck by the atmosphere.  Everyone was so warm and welcoming.  I met one of the current students, and she graciously and enthusiastically spoke with me about the importance of spirituality in the department’s offerings.  I spent over an hour with the advisor, and she recommended first applying to the M.S. program.  Going from a doctoral program into a master’s program seemed a bit disconcerting, but she explained that the licensing work was at that level.  The thought that I could become a licensed counselor excited me, and after some extensive reflection, I submitted my application.

I am now completing my last class as a PhD student.  The past six years have been wonderful.  The coursework has been academically rigorous, my professors have been marvelous, and I have made enduring friendships and obtained employment as a licensed (LGPC) therapist.  I have honed my skills as a clinician, a researcher, a supervisor, and an educator.  The void has disappeared, and I have never been happier.