The Capacity for Greatness


By Nicole Snyder

The winter Olympics are now here.  Watching the amazing athletes perform, I marvel at the capacity of the human body.  The Olympics remind me how far talent, dedication and hard work can take an individual.  The Olympics, however noble the accomplishment, celebrate the achievement of the one.  It is an achievement in competition, with just a few winning, and most not reaching the podium.

This month also marks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  If the Olympics excite the imagination of the individual’s capacity, Dr. King excited the imagination of the nation’s capacity.  In his “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, Dr. King, calls his listeners to be dissatisfied.

“Let us be dissatisfied until America will no longer have a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.  Let us be dissatisfied until the tragic walls that separate the outer city of wealth and comfort and the inner city of poverty and despair shall be crushed by the battering rams of the forces of justice.  Let us be dissatisfied until those that live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security.  Let us be dissatisfied until slums are cast into the junk heaps of history, and every family is living in a decent sanitary home.”

I worked in social services for seven years because I believe all individuals are marvelously and wondrously made.  I toiled and worked for next to nothing because I believe in the capacity of the individual to rise above their circumstances.  I have also come to see the necessity of national/cultural transformation.  If society places arbitrary limits on the individual, then the individual’s capacity cannot be fully realized.

Dr. King faced the complexity of how to inspire a culture steeped in its tradition to reexamine itself and realize its greater potential.  We no longer have legal discrimination, but I would dare to say we as a nation are still far removed from the America Dr. King dreamed of.  I see myself as a Pastoral Counselor with a unique opportunity to work at the individual level and also collaborate with others to continuously improve the greater community in order to give each client the space to become their best.

As I reflect on what the Olympics and Dr. King’s life means to me, I am reminded by his speech “A Time to Break Silence” in which he says, “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.  When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered”.

The Survival of the Friendliest

by Kate Gerwin

Ahhhhhhh, the Olympics. A test of skill and brawn, speed and agility. A time when the most honed and talented athletes take the world’s stage, ready to compete until only the fittest, most capable is left; standing atop a platform, basking in his or her glory. It’s enough to make Charles Darwin proud.

Or is it?

The term “survival of the fittest” has long existed in our common lexicon and collective memory. We seem to have a primal recognition of the phrase, using it to explain—and defend– all sorts of human behavior, from harmless competition to deadly greed. The idea that competition is at the very core of who we are as a species has gone unchallenged for so long that we have come to view it as gospel, even going so far as to base many of our financial, political, social and even religious institutions on it and its implications. Human beings, we believe, have evolved and survived thanks to competition.

The only trouble is, Darwin doesn’t seem to agree. Darwin is best known for his first book, Origin of Species, from which we derive the phrase the “survival of the fittest”; what is less well-known, however, is Darwin’s second book, entitled The Descent of Man., In this book he explains the process of human evolution as distinct from that of the animal world.  It may then, come as a shock to discover that in this 828 page tome, Darwin only mentions “survival of the fittest” twice. What does he focus on instead? Themes of love and mutual cooperation. Darwin refers to love or pro-social behaviors over 95 times, and moral sensitivity over 92 times. In contrast, the role of selfishness is only mentioned 12 times, while the need for competition is mentioned a mere nine.

What is one to conclude from these surprising statistics? In short, that we as a species owe far more to our ability to come together than our ability to compete.

Ahhhh, the Olympics. An opportunity for nations to cease the business of politics and war-making, and come together to share in our common humanity and desire for a more peaceful planet. Charles Darwin would indeed be proud.

Is “Diversity” really about Differences?


I am a person who doesn’t like to be around people who are like me, but instead different.  I have always sought out friendships and experiences that expand my understanding and love for people, and I’m often marveled at how our heavenly Father beautifully crafted us together.  So when I first began Loyola University’s career development class, I felt like a fawn frolicking amongst a meadow of diversity.  My class represented a variety of religious beliefs, nationalities, sex, ethnicity, professions and talents.    But as the class came to an end, I found myself less amazed by our differences, and more in tune with our commonalities – our personhood – the very life, breath, and heart of God’s creation.

Our final assignment was a demonstration from each student expressing his/her personal life path and addressing the question of identity, “Who am I?”  Sharing of the “self” is not easy or comfortable for many.  However, each student was given the creative liberty to demonstrate meaningful moments, persons, or experiences that have helped shape their identity.   In my personal journey, for example, I’ve come to realize that my life isn’t really about “who am I?”  For me it’s about, “knowing who He is – knowing Jesus.”  Instead of what I know or do, it’s about Who I know and what He does.  It has especially been through my struggles and weaknesses that God has proven faithful and strong.

My peers expressed themselves through drama, sand art, music, poetry, pottery, film, media, and scrapbooks.  It was a beautiful moment of how sharing of the “self” causes all other differences to become less definitive of “who we are.”  As my classmates grew increasingly comfortable sharing their stories with one another, I witnessed a group of people become “one” — I believe just as God describes in 1 Cor. 12:12-14.  It wasn’t our stories of success, achievement, or credentials that united us, but it was our openness about life’s failures, hurts, and mistakes.  To be open and allow others to see “you” — each one a masterpiece, yet also so human, fragile, and dependent on Christ — unveils all differences.  We are what I like to call, “commonly different.”

It was as though God intentionally pulled pieces from his human fabric – my peers — from across the globe to weave together one majestic tapestry.  Each thread so unique and exquisite, yet when hidden or separated, unable to fulfill God’s common purpose and good.

As counselors, I believe it’s so very important that we embrace diversity and extend compassion to people from all walks of life.  But, beyond diversity, are hearts and souls … the highest calling for Pastoral Counselors.

A Jesuit’s Journey: Maryland by way of Zambia and Lusaka

Excuse me, please” a voice called from the back. “What you are explaining, it is the one way ANOVA?” The voice came from an International student, Nicholas Penge. The class, Statistics and Research Methods.

Nicholas Penge

Nicholas Penge

Nicholas Penge is no stranger to education. His father, a teacher, first worked in the schools owned and operated by the Coppermines in Luanshya, Zambia.  At ten, Nick’s father moved the family north, as he changed his employment by working for the government as a teacher in the Primary school.

Nick loved learning. He admits that even from his earliest years, he also felt drawn to the priesthood. Thus he entered the minor seminary secondary school, and later joined the Franciscans. After two and a half years, though, Nick believed the fit not right and left.

Nick then enrolled in the University. But unrest and riots caused the government to shut it down, and again, he headed home. He could not help but wonder where his life-work lay. As he thought about this question, he found himself again attracted to service, and with the encouragement of his parish priest, he went to a “Come and See” hosted by the Jesuits in Lusaka.

“The ‘Come and See’ event really grabbed my heart,” Nick says now. He entered the congregation and was sent to Zimbabwe for his first studies. This time the fit felt right.

As Nick went through the various stages of his studies, he found that psychology interested him quite a bit.  When he went on to minister to various people, whether it was as an assistant in a parish, director of vocations, chaplain to prisoners or vulnerable mothers, he could see that he needed more when dealing with the cases brought before him. “I could see that the cases were not totally spiritual, but psychological as well,” he admits.

And so Nick began his search once again, this time for a program that would not only combine spirituality with psychology, but would offer him a Master of Science degree. He consulted with friends and colleagues, and found many who recommended Loyola University of Maryland’s Pastoral Counseling program. Nick applied and came to the United States in 2011.

As he finishes his first year, Nick says that this program is important to him. “Before, people came to me with problems that were psychological as well as spiritual. I felt my lack of psychological understanding did them a disservice.” Nick hopes he may continue on to the PhD program, but admits, that decision will be down the road.

Reminiscing with Ralph: An interview with Dr. Ralph Piedmont

I have had the honor of working as Dr. Ralph Piedmont’s graduate assistant for the past several years.  The experience has been personally and professionally enriching because of his high expectations, intense energy, genuine concern for my development, and abundant generosity.  For example, I have met many luminaries in the field due to his leadership on the Mid Year Conference on Religion and Spirituality.  As his teaching assistant, I have honed my instructional skills and have increased my knowledge about psychological testing and statistics, and I have been impressed by his openness to learning from me (e.g., the incorporation of adjunctive materials such as podcasts).  He has invited me to be a co-author on several publications, including an upcoming chapter in an APA handbook and an upcoming article in Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion.

Teri Wilkins and Dr. Ralph Piedmont

Dr. Piedmont supporting my Emerging Scholars presentation (2011)

Someone with his depth and breadth of knowledge and prolific publications can appear intimidating, but I have always found him to be amazingly approachable.  I recently had the chance to sit with him and bombard him with questions, which he graciously addressed.  He spoke about how his professional journey brought him to Loyola, his consideration of spirituality as an aspect of personality, the development of his ASPIRES instrument, his appreciation for the core values of Jesuit education, his role in nurturing his graduate assistants, and many, many more topics.  See below for my questions and comments and for the audio links.

  1. How did you end up at Loyola?
  2. Can you tell me what the trajectory of your interest in spirituality has been?  When did you really start thinking about that?  Has that always been part of something that has drawn you?
  3. For those who aren’t familiar with your work (I don’t know that everybody realizes how prolific your writing has been) and also the scale development for your ASPIRES scale, can you talk a little bit about how that came to be?
  4. So you were looking for a universal human quality?
  5. That’s been some of the criticism of social science research, that whole WEIRD acronym (i.e., coming from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic nations).  It seems like a lot of your data has been in populations that don’t necessarily follow that kind of “WEIRD” criticism.
  6. One of the benefits of being in the Pastoral Counseling department at Loyola is the ability to attend the Mid Year Conference.  You’ve been fundamental in having that be a major part of research presentations.  Can you talk a little bit about that? 
  7. Not just professionals, but students have a lot of opportunities.
  8. PRS is not the only journal you’re involved with in terms of editing.  Can you talk about the other?
  9. Loyola seems to provide a lot of support.
  10. What do you see as your role when it comes to interacting with your graduate assistants?
  11. Can you talk about your recent experience in Poland and what’s ahead of you in Poland?
  12. Where do you see yourself going forward at this point? 

Many thanks to Dr. Piedmont for his patience, willingness, and candor during the interview!

Lessons from the semester: Patience, Presence, Trust, and Wisdom

Mario ConliffeDuring a recent stroll, I observed some children playing merrily and freely in the warmth of the sun. Some splashed about in the community’s pool, while others, barebacked, competed exuberantly in a game of basketball, while others still rode their bicycles. Excitement is in the air; it’s the joy of summer! Can you tell?  I feel refreshed and blessed for I too, am in celebration mode – I just completed my first semester at Loyola.


This past semester at Loyola has been richly rewarding. The lively discussions in class, at times, were nail-biters. Passion and compassion fueled many a conversation. I vividly recall in my Counseling Theory and Practice class, a highly emotional discussion on the controversial, sensitive, and much publicized killing of Trayvon Martin. There was great contention on whether or not Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling Community had an obligation to address the issue. Also, what were some of the issues we would need to address, and how would we counsel both families? It further sparked debates about counseling the perpetrators of violence and abuse – Can we truly put aside our personal feelings in order to do so?

At other times, students simply shared their personal life stories. I walked away from each class with a greater spirit of acceptance. I felt honored to be a part of a group of people who feel strongly about justice and healing in our world, but also, people who are desirous of making a great contribution.  For the first time in my academic career, I felt excited about going to EVERY class, and about what I was researching and learning in those classes.

No, my experience at Loyola this semester was not all “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.” There were intervals, when frustration, a lack of understanding, and my insatiable hunger to “know it all” overwhelmed me, but kudos to my lecturers. They were always encouraging, patient, willing to listen, and would point me in the right direction.

When all is said and done, I have discovered that impatience in the learning process only lengthens the purgatory of the wilderness. So I conclude this semester with these lessons:

  1. Patience: Be Patient. Learning cannot be rushed; there will be moments of rush and moments of calm.
  2. Presence: Be present in the sacred of learning.
  3. Trust: Trust that the learning will come.
  4. Wisdom: Invite wisdom each day.

Thank you! A note from Tucker Brown, PhD

Tucker BrownDear Pastoral Counseling Faculty,

I am honored and humbled that you awarded me the Dr. Barry K. Estadt medal.  I belong to such a supportive and dynamic cohort of students; this honor is as much theirs as mine.  Thank you for helping to create an atmosphere of thriving, love, and life-long friendship.

 I worked hard as a student and I approached the pastoral counseling program as a formation experience, as a process that would shape me into a skillful, wise, attuned, and responsive healer.  I worked hard and I recognize that I am graduating on Saturday very, very much because of your encouragement and pruning — your illumination of my growing edges and your honest response to my efforts.

By your instruction, presence, and patience I have been discovering a voice that might be of service to others.

 My wife, Emily, and I are going to New Mexico because we feel called to live and work among those whose voices some call illegal.  I have been able to honor and nurture a desire to answer this call with your wisdom, teaching, and blessing, and for that I am most grateful!

See you at the reception.

In gratitude,


Lwamondo to Loyola

“There are two great tragedies in life.
One is to not get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it.”

       –George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman


The road to Lwamondo Mountain

My best friend Mukondi showing me how to don traditional Venda dress

Lwamondo Mountain

In April of 2002, I landed in Johannesburg, South Africa to begin my first call as an assistant Lutheran pastor in a parish of eight congregations.  I was met there by two parish leaders, friends who I had previously met when they traveled to California.  They were both instrumental in forming the partnership that had created my call.  Even though I had just traveled a total of 20 hours on two plane trips; we still had 7 hours to drive to Lwamondo Parish, located in the most northeastern province of South Africa.

 I was so excited as we left Jo’burg—my deepest dreams were coming true.  The list of unparalleled life experiences I was having was long and poignant: 

 –It was my first call as a pastor.

 –My future supervisor was one of the first Tshivenda women to be ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa (ELCSA).  [With my arrival, Lwamondo became the first ELCSA parish to be served by two women pastors.] 

 –To add to that, I was told that I was the first white person to move to the former Republic of Venda since the dismantling of the Group Areas Act in 1991.  [I subsequently found out that two sons of German Lutheran missionaries had returned to Venda years before I did; but in people’s minds, they were returning home and that was a different kind of event.]

–I was placed in a first grade class to learn to speak Tshivenda and became quite a celebrity.

 –Every day I met people who had contributed in significant ways to the dismantling of Apartheid and were now making contributions to the young democracy.

 –When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission submitted its report to the government, a mentor who had been personally invited to the worship celebration by Archbishop Desmond Tutu invited me to join him and his family for the service.  Not only did I get to hear the bishop preach, but I was introduced to him after the service.  (He’s very sparkly in a non-Twilight sort of way.)

There were many other wonderful adventures of life and faith that followed which would cover a lot more space, but for the present reflections, I’ll turn to the topic of how my South African adventure guided me to Loyola.  To tell you the truth, sometimes I still find myself amazed at the unexpected paths my road has taken.

Just when I thought I might spend the rest of my life in SA, circumstances crashed in on the congregational partnership supporting my ministry and I found myself back in the US—wondering how to make meaning of the loss of my dream from a spiritual perspective.  I joined a spiritual direction group at a Franciscan monastery and after months of inner turmoil and partial healing, I came to find out that among my fellow seekers, one is a pastoral counselor, one is a supervisor of chaplains at a major hospital, and one is a professor of neuroscience.  And we were all seeking to find meaning together.

 It was in our group processing that they described Loyola’s unique program (they all knew about it and I didn’t) and it was then that they encouraged me to think about it.  With trepidation and many doubts, I started the exploration and here I am, thanks to many helpers along the way.  Looking back, there were so many things that showed me this was a possibility that has always been there—but just beyond the horizon.  The shadows of the loss of my dream were eclipsing my sense of hope in an unknown future.

 But with every classroom I step into, and every time a professor or colleague mentions the uniqueness of pastoral counseling, or which each new insight and learning opportunity—I am learning that dreams can be realized and then lost—and then transformed into something new and unexpected.  So here I am again—living a dream come true like I did in South Africa.  And here I am again, amazed at what hope and resiliency do to the human spirit.  And best of all, like my arrival to South Africa, I am on a path to an unknown horizon and all around me are fellow travelers who inspire   me to trust in healing, hope and the power of compassion. 

George Bernard Shaw is right, it is devastating to lose a dream.  I just hope he was able to learn like I have, that we are not limited to only one—that new life, like healing, can emerge at any time.