Divine Mercy University (DMU) celebrated its 20th Graduation Mass and Commencement Exercises with an in-person and livestreamed ceremony on May 7th, 2021, at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Sterling, Virginia, awarding 89 masters and 10 doctoral degrees to graduates from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) and the School of Counseling, and 46 certificates to graduates of the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program.
Ite, missa est
The welcoming message from Father Charles Sikorsky, LC, President of DMU, to the graduating class of 2021 was one of commission – the students embark now not just on a career, but on a mission of collaboration to bring hope and healing into a world in which their work has become even more critical and necessary. “[In English,] at the end of the Mass, we say ‘go in peace, the Mass has ended,’ but the Latin is ite, missa est – ‘go, you’ve been sent,’” said Father Sikorsky. “We have been sent, and our life is much more than just a job – it’s a vocation, it’s a calling, and it’s an opportunity to serve, with the Lord.”
Michaelene Fredenburg, the founder and CEO of Life Perspectives, an organization which provides reproductive loss care training, received the honorary doctorate this year. Life Perspectives provides training and resources to help hospitals, medical professionals, therapists, social workers, pregnancy centers, and community and faith leaders to offer hope, healing, and non-judgmental care to those experiencing reproductive grief and loss; in the past year alone, Life Perspectives has helped over 73,000 hurting men and women, and has trained over 2,100 community leaders and health care professionals. Fredenburg is also the author and editor of several books and resources on reproductive loss, including Changed: Making Sense of Your Own or A Loved One’s Abortion, Hope After Loss, and Grief and Abortion: Creating a Safe Place to Heal. Besides writing numerous articles and appearing on over 100 radio and television programs, in May 2020, Fredenburg presented reproductive grief care training to DMU staff, faculty, students, and alumni.
As the 2021 commencement speaker, Fredenburg shared the journey that created the desire in her to seek to create healing spaces for those experiencing reproductive grief of any kind. As a young ballroom dancer at the age of 18, Fredenburg chose to terminate a pregnancy that she felt threatened her career. The consequences of this decision were devastating to Fredenburg, and radically changed her life from that moment. With the help of professionals and trusted friends, she was able to grieve her choice and ultimately find peace, but her own experience opened her eyes to the similar pain and silent suffering of those around her. “As I began to share my story in the hope of breaking this pervasive silence, men and women shared their stories with me,” said Fredenburg. “They taught me how to communicate with passion and empathy, they taught me how to listen, they showed me the depth of their shame, and taught me how to create a safe place for them to tell their story, a place where their loss could be acknowledged, where they could begin to grieve, where they could be assured that their children would not be forgotten.” For Frendenburg, to glimpse into the private pain of another, and to be trusted with such a deeply personal and stigmatized experience, is a privilege. “These are truly sacred moments,” said Fredenburg to the graduating students of DMU. “Honor them.”
Each year, the Distinguished Alumni Award goes to a graduate who has made significant contributions to society, and whose accomplishments, affiliation, and career have honored the legacy of DMU in the areas of professional achievement, leadership, service, and faithful advancement of its mission and vision. This year, the Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Dr. Gregory Gisla, who completed his doctorate at IPS in May of 2014. Dr. Gisla is currently the Director of Emergency Psychiatric Response and Patient Access at the Sutter Center for Psychiatry in Sacramento, California. He also has an out-patient private practice providing individual and couples’ therapy, and specializes in working with severe mental illness and suicide assessment. To the graduating class of 2021, Dr. Gisla offered these words of advice:
“So what can I offer you that may be of some help as you each begin your career in this fantastic field? First and foremost, stay close to God. You won’t be successful in this field without him. If you try to take on human suffering alone, you’ll get buried in all the pain, and you’ll lose sight of the hope and redemption guaranteed through his resurrection. Trust that he will give you what you need to be successful in this vocation.”
And this is a vocation for which the need has become more and more critical. “Perhaps more than ever, people today have a need to be heard, to be understood, and most of all, to be loved,” said Father Sikorski to the DMU graduating class. “Your studies and training have positioned you uniquely to do just that, and there can be no doubt about the collective, individual, and vital impact that you will have upon your communities, upon the culture, and upon the world.”
Looking with Hope to the Future
As DMU celebrates the successes of the past years with its 20th graduating class, it looks toward the future with several new tracks in a wide variety of fields of study, including Marriage and Family Studies, which aims to help those interested in marriage and family ministry and care; Leadership Psychology, to offer students a solid education in transformational leadership to equip them to make a difference in the organizations in which they work; Human Service Counseling, to help individuals gain more applied and hands-on training in interpersonal relating, group counseling, and addictions work; and a pre-PhD program to assure foundational training in the areas of psychological research and writing for those moving toward doctoral studies.
The new tracks were not selected at random – last fall, surveys were sent out to current students, as well as alumni and other individuals interested in DMU programming, requesting feedback on their needs and interests. “The choice of tracks is mostly a reflection of interest indicated in these surveys, as well as needs that we have observed over the years through advising and mentoring students on their capstone projects,” says Dr. Julia Klausi, program director and associate professor at DMU. “These new concentrations will help students get more specific training for their areas of work and ministry, and broaden the impact of the Master of Science in Psychology degree by reaching individuals who need more specific training and might not have considered DMU for their education without these concentrations.”
These new offerings, which will be available for the fall semester, are just another example of how DMU takes the needs of its students and graduates to heart, and embodies its approach to psychology as one that prioritizes the human person. “Having the Catholic Christian view of the person as a starting point to the study of psychology adds incredible depth and richness to the understanding of the person and their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors,” says Dr. Klausi. “Seeing each individual as created with innate dignity and called to flourishing is essential for any work with people.”
The 2021 graduates embark on their unique mission to accompany those who are suffering, to be present to those in need and to share the insights regarding the human person with everyone they encounter.
For more information about the degree programs at Divine Mercy University, contact 703-416-8300 or visit www.divinemercy.edu.