A Time for Unpacking
New program allows students to confront their issues with Catholicism
Rachel Doll O’Mahoney, campus minister for faith formation, was attending a conference last year at which Kenneth Pargament, professor of clinical psychology at Bowling Green University, presented research on women dealing with bad breakups. Pargament found that women who worked through their anger and hurt through spiritually integrated psychotherapy were more likely to overcome their bitterness and lead healthier lives than those not receiving the therapy.
As Doll O’Mahoney, right, listened to the presentation, she was struck by the congruence between the scorned lovers in Pargament’s study and people who have negative or conflicted feelings about the Catholic Church. This led her to wonder whether a similar program could be designed for so-called “recovering Catholics.”
And so, in consultation with Mike Bayard, S.J., director of Campus Ministry, Doll O’Mahoney launched a program called Baggaged Catholics at SU where approximately a third of SU’s students identify themselves as Catholic and 15 percent say they are practicing Catholics. This spring quarter, five Seattle University students met weekly to wrestle with a wide range of emotions about the Church. While some felt angry or disenfranchised, others identified as practicing Catholics struggling to be faithful in a secular world.
Inspired by the success of the Baggaged Catholic program for students, Campus Ministry is now considering a similar program for faculty and staff. If you have unresolved issues with the Church and would be interested in working through them in a small-group setting, you are invited to contact Rachel Doll O’Mahoney at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jen Tilghman-Havens at email@example.com for more information.
The six-week program was facilitated by Doll O’Mahoney and two student leaders. For the first session, students were invited to write a letter to the “offender,” which, for many, took some time to identify. Through guided meditation and sharing, they explored anger, and after establishing that the participants were comfortable using “God language,” they considered how Jesus experienced and dealt with his own anger. Eventually, their focus shifted to forgiveness, as well as how they take part in hurting others, as individuals and as through institutions. The sessions culminated with a reflection on reconciliation and whether it was even appropriate.
The idea behind the program, Doll O’Mahoney explains, is not about bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold or helping practicing Catholics strengthen their faith lives. Rather, it’s an opportunity for participants “to move to whatever place they want to be so they can become healthier,” she says.
That process seems to have begun for the program’s first participants. “It was a phenomenal experience for everyone,” Doll O’Mahoney says. “This is why I do my job.”