Divine Mercy University (DMU) celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and its 19th Graduation Mass and Commencement Exercises, with a virtual ceremony on June 20th, 2020, with 88 new masters and doctoral graduates from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS) and the School of Counseling.
This year, DMU students faced unique circumstances; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in the middle of March, all Psy.D classes for the spring and summer semesters transitioned to online instruction, while all on-campus residencies scheduled for May and July were scheduled instead for online format.
Father Charles Sikorsky, LC, President of DMU, opened the virtual ceremony by welcoming this year’s graduating class. “While your graduation and its celebration are taking place in an unplanned and unprecedented format, I think the circumstances that have brought about that only underscore how meaningful and critical your lives and careers are to so many people in need,” said Father Sikorsky. “While mental health, human service, and pastoral workers have always been in short supply – the harvest is great but the workers are few – the coronavirus and its consequences have created an even greater need. Whether it’s helping families grieve the loss of loved ones, helping those who’ve lost employment and hope, those who’ve suffered abuse or trauma, marital and family difficulties, or the many other emotional and mental illnesses that have been exacerbated, your skills and your gifts are truly needed.”
Father Richard Gill, who helped found IPS, and served as its president from 2002-2005, in his address to the students, reflected on the history of the university, from the moment when it was simply a hope and an idea. “It’s so beautiful to see that the vision has stayed the same and yet expanded over the years, that there’s a way to do psychology that serves the human person and helps him flourish, that starts from the vantage point that he’s made in the image and likeness of a good God, that he’s redeemed by the mercy and the sacrifice of Jesus and that he’s destined for eternal happiness in heaven,” said Father Gill. “And this is the noble task that all the graduates have: to help every person and every client that you have to regain the freedom so they can live as a child of God, that they can pursue that vocation to which God has called them all, the purpose God created us for.”
The 2020 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient was Stephen F. Auth, Executive Vice President and a chief investment officer with Federated Global Equities, and author of Missionary of Wall Street. In his commencement speech, Mr. Auth encouraged the graduates to use the unique education and training that they received at DMU – one that acknowledges that “to cure souls, you can’t leave out the role of God in their lives” – to recognize their great duty as healers in an unparalleled time of need:
“This year will always be marked on the calendar as a very special one, perhaps as one of those great turning points in human history – or at least as a big asterisk on history’s timeline. Somehow, within the eye of the storm, you’ve completed your studies here at Divine Mercy University, you’ve earned your degree, and now your job – which you’ve already accepted – is to help make that turning point one that leads to a better future for all of us.”
Sister Mary Patrice Ahearn, RSM, who completed her PsyD at IPS in 2013, was this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, and her address to the students was a call to be bold: “Go out, not afraid to be truthful and integral in who you are as a Christian, as a Catholic, and have great courage in doing it, because our world is very hungry,” said Sister Ahearn, “and you have a great education and formation now that has just made you more equipped to serve.”
Although this year’s graduates spent their final weeks at DMU dealing with the logistics and challenges of coping with a pandemic, instead of savoring their final days and celebrating their accomplishments together in person, they are forever grateful for the unique experience provided by DMU.
Rose Bond, who graduated with an MS in Counseling, is currently working as a Direct Support Professional, relying on the counseling experience she gained at DMU to help her better understand her clients, and provide important insight to their care teams. “I hope to help the persons in my area who are most affected by the global pandemic, who cannot fend for themselves. I hope to be a strong advocate for them and assist them to thrive in their world.”
Jennifer Weisbrod currently serves on several committees at the university-based health system and, since receiving her MS in Psychology, including completing a behavioral health coding course while enrolled at DMU, has been rendering services to mental health practitioners who seek better understanding of how to properly bill for their services, particularly as the demand for virtual counseling increases. She is currently investigating certifications through the Green Cross Academy of Traumatology through DMU. “This will better prepare me for serving in any future pandemic or other disasters.
Joni Seith also received her MS in Psychology; as a deacon’s wife, mother of four grown children (including one priest) and grandmother, catechist, and prayer group and ministry leader, she decided to pursue an education at DMU to equip her to better serve others in her various roles. The online MSP degree at DMU was an answer to Joni’s prayer; serious physical challenges due to a genetic connective tissue condition prohibited her from pursuing an on-campus program. Since completing her degree, she has already found a multitude of opportunities to share what she has learned, appearing as a guest speaker on podcasts and online conferences. Recently, she has been inspired to start a blog called Pain of Grace, and plans to complete her manuscript on the challenges of handling chronic pain and infirmity. “The education I received in psychology from DMU gave me the confidence and tools to do this.” Joni hopes to pursue the Spiritual Direction Certificate Program at DMU in the future.
Father Paulinus Okpala, who was born and raised in Eastern Nigeria, was ordained a priest in 2001 in the Diocese of Awka, and currently serves as the Parochial Administrator at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Cordele, Georgia. He intends to use the training he received while pursuing his MS in Psychology at the service of his parishioners: “Just being a priest in the parish already puts one in a helping position for different kinds of people – how much more when one has studied and acquired some helping skills. This was precisely why I wanted to further my education in psychology.”
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Father Longin Buhake is the Civilian Military Chaplain at the U.S. Air Force base in Tyndall, Florida. He graduates with an MS in Psychology and Counseling, and in his current role as Priest Chaplain, Father Longin recognizes his sacred responsibility to help those he serves to strengthen both their spiritual and psychological well-being, many of whom have felt their mental health impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. As a 2020 DMU graduate, Father Longin is ready to accept the immense responsibility of caring for the mental health of those he serves during this unprecedented time. “Graduating and entering the field of mental health during the pandemic means confronting a mix of unique obstacles of emotions, even as one celebrates their achievement. The pandemic has driven changes in both mental health care and residency training – it will shape the identities of Helping Professionals who specialize in mental and emotional health. As the pandemic evolves, the population is looking up to mental health care staff for guidance and care. Graduates will bear the opportunity of becoming leaders, developing outstanding empathy for patients.”
The 2020 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 703-416-1441 or visit www.divinemercy.edu.