Four Different Paths to the Same Destination
If you took a look at Michael Flynn’s resume, you might not guess he was a Carmelite. He is a clinical psychologist at the West Side VA Medical Center in Chicago, a professor in the department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois Medical School, a former high school math and psychology teacher and dean of studies. But look a little closer and you’ll see that Michael is also a resident pastoral associate at Nativity of Our Lord parish and has given retreats for priests, sisters, and parishioners.
Fr. David Blanchard was in grade school when he read about the Carmelites in Peru. “What caught my attention was that they were performing service in the Church, but had a common touch. They were walking with the people in their struggle for justice and their fight to rise out of poverty,” he says. Inspired, he entered the minor seminary where he studied for six years. “I always wanted to be a missionary,” he adds. He left the seminary to get degrees in anthropology at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Chicago, but returned once more to his seminary studies.
Fr. Albert Koppes always expected he would teach and since he went to the seminary at the age of 13, he knew he would be doing his teaching as a Carmelite. Now, at age 69, he is tackling a project that will help form the next generation of school administrators. He is developing and raising the $300 million needed to start a doctoral program in Leadership for Social Justice, which will be connected with Loyola’s program for school administrators. The program will address a range of topics from cultural diversity to social justice issues such as poverty and human dignity.
Fr. Myron Judy spends 14 hours a day in a Catholic hospital in Philadelphia “helping people experience the healing presence of God,” in the “mundane burdens of the day,” as he puts it. His day includes offering the sacraments, providing ethical guidance to patients and members of the hospital staff, and taking part in social work and counseling. “I’ve always felt called to provide the supportive counseling needed to get folks through the down times in their lives. I also enjoy advocacy and education,” Myron says.
Each of these men didn’t know where their life as a Carmelite would take them. Each of them has found new callings different from their first ministry as Carmelites.
Taking a new road
“My work with psychology helps my ministry for my parishioners and friends as a priest and my work as a priest does the same for my psychological work,” Fr. Michael explains. At the VA, he provides advice to the medical doctors on a number of topics ranging from complementary medical treatments for cancer to pain management and compliance with treatment. He is also a practitioner and strong advocate of the medical and psychological value of hypnosis.
Fr. Michael notes that he recently treated a woman in the parish for intractable pain secondary to back surgery. “Her pain was so intense she was becoming suicidal. I was able to help her shut off the pain sensation when chemical anesthesias didn’t touch the pain. Bringing relief for pain is especially gratifying and fulfilling when you see the relief in the patient. I also do a lot of work with the dying in the hospital and their family and friends. It’s a special ministry and a very important one.”
Fr. David’s opportunity to combine his anthropology training and missionary desire came when the Washington Theological Union asked him to contribute his expertise to their missionary training program. “I wanted to be a missionary in the field, but the folks at the Washington Theological Union were unique and I decided to take the teaching position,” David explains. At this time, the late 1980s, the province was focusing a great deal of attention on the situation of El Salvador. Peter Hinde, a Carmelite who was deeply involved in social justice ministry in Latin America, invited David and other Carmelites to come to El Salvador and get a firsthand understanding of the situation.
“I hoped to create a system where students could do their pastoral experience in El Salvador and come back better informed about social justice and the work that needs to be done,” he explains. In 1988, he received permission to teach in the fall and then go to El Salvador to assist the refugee community. In the summer, he receives students who come to El Salvador to take part in their pastoral experience. “That’s been my life for the last 12 years,” says the 51-year-old. “Half of my life I teach, then I spend the other half working alongside the poor in El Salvador.”
One of the projects Fr. Albert has been involved with at Loyola is a partnership with Teach for America. The students teach at inner city Catholic schools in some of Los Angeles’ most poverty-stricken neighborhoods and live in a convent in Compton. “Our program is modeled on one that Notre Dame created. What attracted me is the way this program directly attacks social justice issues,” he explains. “There is a real shortage of teachers in these areas and we’re able to train young people who want to teach there. I believe that these young people are the religious of the 21st century. There has been an incredible response among young people to the program. The first year, we had 10 applications, then 50 the next year, and we’re expecting 75 to 100 for next year’s class.”
“In a community hospital as in a small family, from time to time everyone is also expected to help with other tasks, from educating the community to policy development. One moment you may be in the ER trying to convince an addict to be a better steward of the body God has given her and 15 minutes later you’re trying to help a young staff member just diagnosed with cancer keep in touch with God’s love and power,” Fr. Myron explains.
Recognizing a Carmelite
Asked what Carmelite characteristics he brings to his ministry, Fr. Myron replies, “Hopefully, there’s a little bit of Elijah in me advocating for good treatment of the poor in our midst and also being comfortable with a solitary God-centered life at times; a little bit of the scholarly Titus Brandsma who sought to ensure that moral principles were adhered to; and a little bit of some recently deceased Carmelites who were ‘people people,” finding God in the day-today minutiae.”
As a Carmelite, Fr. Michael believes that the characteristic of being a prayerful person who shares human life with his fellow man is paramount. “What makes us useful and helpful to others is found in the quality of the relationships we form with other people, whether we work as a psychotherapist, a spiritual director, or a priest doing sacramental work in the Church,” he believes. “I strive to be like the title of a book I read many years ago: ‘A man of God for others.”
Fr. Albert reflects that “The Carmelites are very open. I’ve been able to do almost everything I’ve wanted in my years as a priest,” he adds. “Now it’s my turn to give back by sharing the money I’ve earned to help support the order and our social justice ministries.”
The Carmelite charism informs Fr. David’s work in many ways. “What I do involves comfort and challenge, both of which are part of the Carmelite charism,” he believes. “Our Lady of Mt. Carmel represents the comfort we must offer to others, while our symbolic founder Elijah stands for our commitment to challenging evil and announcing the good news. The service we undertake always demands this aspect of comfort. We must listen even if we cannot help and must offer comfort in any form possible-food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, care and an attentive ear for the elderly. In El Salvador we currently have 1,500 malnourished children we are feeding, 600 elderly people who are without family to look after them, people for whom we provide health care and education. As a Carmelite, we must ask why these things happen and speak the truth apolitically, challenging the structures that create poverty, hunger, and loneliness. And we must empower the people to take on the work of the church. When we leave, we’ve left something of the Carmelites behind.”