Ten years ago this past June I graduated from seminary. The next year I graduated from the Jesuit University with a Masters in Social Work, thus completing a dual degree M.Div./MSW. It was a wild journey that took 4 years of intense education and a major learning curve. You see, my undergraduate degree was in dance. Which is a decidely non-academic field. And I also had a certificate, earned after 14 months of intense training (learning physiology, anatomy, and technique) in Massage Therapy. But none of my previous education had really prepared me for the high level of academia of an M.Div and or an MSW. But actually - I'm getting ahead of myself - and need to back up.
It all started when I had this gnawing inside that would not go away. I was working as a part-time massage therapist in a vital private practice. And I had begun a volunteer ministry in a local hospital giving massages to parents who had sick kids. I would go room to room and visit the parents and offer them a 10 minute massage. This was 1992-1994. Few people really understood what a massage was, it had a lot of negative connotations, then. So. I also did a lot of teaching about self-care as a way to enable us to more effectively care for others. Massage therapy training taught me a lot about that, which has proved to be a good foundation for ministry.
Anyway, I also had two small children at home, so I was busy doing a lot of care-giving. I loved it. I was good at it. I was content. Almost.
There was this "something" going on inside my being. I couldn't put my finger on it. No matter how satisfied I was, it still just wasn't enough....
So, I went to my parish priest and spoke to him about it. He began to wonder if I had a "call.' I'd like to say that the idea scared me. But it didn't. I went about discerning in a very practical fashion. I paid attention to the aspects of my daily life that really gave me joy and left me feeling fulfilled. Motherhood was one area, for certain (not that it is for everyone). But so was my volunteer work in the hospital. Actually it was both fulfilling and not quite. I wanted to do more. When working with people in the hospital I wanted to help them in a greater capacity than my work as a massage therapist. But I wasn't sure what that meant.
Back to the parish priest. He thought that maybe I was hearing a call to hospital chaplaincy. So he sent me on a task to interview hospital chaplains. I spoke to the three primary chaplains at three major hospitals in Chicago. They were incredibly gracious with their time. I returned to my parish priest thinking that maybe he was pointing me in the right direction. This time we spoke about training, education, degree requirements, and the possibility of ordination. He gave the Ministry Discernment Book for the Diocese and said, "If this doesn't scare you off, we can proceed with the next step."
I read the book and came away relieved that there was an intentional process to help people like me come to understand what God was doing in our lives. I was grateful that there would be others to help me. I of course didn't then realize how human the people could be and how their issues could cloud the process - projecting on to me (others) their issues and fears and limitations... It happens far too often. But, again, I am getting ahead of myself.
The next step was to consider education. At the time, 1993, ordination was not a critical component of hospital chaplaincy, many lay folk were in that field. But an M.Div. was needed. My priest suggested I go to the least expensive seminary in the area, and there was some wisdom in that. But first I got information on several seminaries. I remember sitting on my sofa each night reading through the materials and wondering about this one or that. One night, while looking through the information, I came across a seminary who worked with a local university to provide a dual degree, M.Div./MSW. I knew immediately that that was what I wanted. This dual degree, combined with my Massage training, would enable me to work with folks on all their concerns, mind, body, spirit.
So. Now I knew what degree I wanted, but I wasn't sure I wanted to get it through that particular seminary....I began to wonder if other seminaries offered this same dual degree....and that wondering lead me on a journey that changed the course of everything.