September 2023

An interview with dr. timone davis:

The life of a theologian is a fascinating story.  dr. davis (who uses lower case spellings of her name to decrease herself as God increases in her life) has a faith story that is no exception.  Her story is Spirit-led, practical and rooted in prayer.  The opportunity to talk with her is always a joy.  In our conversation, a theme that came up again and again was an unapologetic surrender to the Spirit.  This way of being began when she was a young adult and found her faith again.  As a child she went to church but did not identify with her faith until she was entering adulthood.  She discovered that her faith could heal, soften sharp edges, and bring hope to herself and those around her.  She reacquainted herself with her faith through opening her perspective to God and whatever the Spirit had in store for her.  The Spirit led her to teach faith formation classes in her local parish and the rest is history.  She now blesses IPS with her teaching and leadership as an Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology.   

In our conversation I asked about her journey into academia within the backdrop of her Spirit-led faith.  She chuckled at the question because her career in academia was not originally her end goal.  She shared she was working in churches in faith formation capacities and felt that was where she was supposed to be.  She came to IPS after the former Dean of the IPS, Dr. Brian Schmisek, heard her speak at an event. He shared with her there was an opening for an adjunct professor at the IPS.  That position led to a new tenure-track professor position at the IPS. This hiring for the position she currently holds at the IPS was the beginning of an unexpected and successful path into academia. 

She shared the context around the decisions she faced when accepting the appointment to a professor position at the IPS.  She and her husband were and are entrepreneurs.  The career path she thought she was on, when the Spirit came in and opened up these academic opportunities, was a small business offering pastoral counseling and spiritual accompaniment.  Her husband is a clinical counselor and with him, she was developing plans to fund the counseling program through another small business offering medical billing services.  She noted, God had different ideas.  She found that the spiritual accompaniment and counseling business gained enough traction to stand on its own.  With that intact, she said yes to the professorship and began to acquaint herself with campus life.  As a woman of color, she discovered there was ‘an assumption that she ‘should be’ in the social work or education fields.  She felt a Spirit prompting that being in academia was a necessary calling.  As a professor at the IPS, she can challenge assumptions and be a role model for future theologians and ministers of color.  Through this consistent surrender to the Spirit, she has embraced teaching, writing, presenting and research.  It is easy to see the congruence with her Spirit-led posture and the many speaking and writing requests she receives from student and professional organizations looking for expertise in how to bring the next generation of faithful into the Church. 

In closing, I asked her what makes the IPS a unique higher ed experience for those seeking a ministry-focused graduate program.  She said, the IPS has God, it’s that simple.  This summary coming from someone who has vibrant faith journey filled with testimony about what God has done for her, makes this statement a compelling one. 


dr. davis shares her spirit-led message of faith at events and on multiple platforms. She has also written a book focused on faith formation through intergenerational storytelling entitled: Intergenerational Catechesis: Revitalizing Faith Through African-American Storytelling. She is the first woman of color to be awarded tenure at the Institute of Pastoral Studies.  Her tenure achievement was recognized at the 2023 Faculty Convocation.  She is returning to write at and will soon have a podcast that features her preaching.

A conversation with Jenni Dressler ’22 IPS alumna

Jenni Dressler is a 2022 graduate from the MA in Pastoral Counseling program at the Institute of Pastoral Studies. She took the time to share some of her thoughts about her experiences in the program and what the future holds. In her own words, she shares her journey with us:

“From childhood, I somehow knew that I was going to law school, where I would learn a trade. Therefore, for my bachelor’s degree, I undertook the study of philosophy and literature to discover what my 17-year-old self referred to as “the meaning of life”, fully embracing the pursuit of wisdom through critical thought. The works of William Shakespeare and Albert Camus particularly influenced me, and nearly 40 years later, I continue to study Hamlet. Like my life, the story opens with the eternal question, “Who’s there?” and continues through all five acts (or, in my case, five decades) attempting to answer it.  

I have been a devoted student of A Course in Miracles (the “Course”) since 2003. Through the Course I have experienced a profoundly deepening spirituality, peace, and love of God, as well as love of my neighbors. As a result of my study, I have come to understand that internal peace is the ne plus ultra of spiritual practice. As Tolstoy wryly noted, everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. If a person is peaceful, he has no need to make an other of his brother. Likewise, Matthew 22:34-40 teaches us that the most important commandment – and therefore our most important work – is relational: we must love God and our neighbor with everything we’ve got. However, we cannot truly love another if we are not first at peace with ourselves.”

The drawback to the study of secular philosophy, as well as the practice of law, is that neither embraces spirituality. In the years following my discovery of A Course in Miracles, I continued to stumble upon opportunities to listen to the struggles of others, offering support and creating a space in which they could find their own answers. Despite my grand plan to live a quiet retirement after I left the practice of law in 2017, I finally had to admit to myself that I was being called to this ministry. I then spent months looking at counseling psychology programs that would provide the credentials I needed to offer professional therapy, but none of the programs felt right. Finally, one day I stumbled upon a newsletter from JourneyCare, the hospice for which I volunteer. The newsletter contained an interview with Joel Bregman, a JourneyCare chaplain, in which he revealed that he had come to pastoral counseling from corporate America in his 50s (like me), and he had pursued his degree at Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies. I opened the IPS website, and immediately felt at home. As I discovered when making the intellectual transition from secular philosophy to A Course in Miracles, IPS, like the Course, had something that all the other programs lacked: IPS had God. My spiritual and intellectual paths had finally converged.

The blessing of the Spirit’s prompting led Jenni to the IPS and we were honored to have her study with us. I asked her, what, if anything, from her academic experience would she would lift up as a valuable tool or experience that you took away from her degree?

JD: “Although Loyola University Chicago is a Catholic, Jesuit institution, I appreciated the support I received from faculty to explore how A Course in Miracles, my faith practice, integrates into my pastoral vision, identity, and practice.  In addition, I had exceptional experiences with the people and program. Specifically, I worked and continue to work closely with Michael Bland, who has been my professor, mentor, clinical supervisor, and role model. He has taught me to emphasize God’s gifts and grace in the people I meet. His abiding kindness and goodness are both a source of inspiration and a paragon of pastoral care to which I aspire.

Professor Bill Schmidt and Professor Deb Watson provided unfailing leadership, support, and patience. They helped forge my pastoral counseling identity, and their influence will extend to everyone who comes to me for care. 

As I mentioned above, Loyola University Chicago and the Institute of Pastoral Studies offer a unique program that combines a traditional counseling curriculum with theological attention to the important healing work of Spirit.

I was blessed with steadfast, principled, and inspiring companions on this journey in my pastoral counseling cohort: Marguerite Galvez, Greg McPhee, Charles Nuwagaba, Tara Parker, Norma Pocasangre Umanzor, Kathie Smith, Imad Syryany, and Uzochukwu Ikechi Ugo.

I also would like to raise up The Claret Center, the parish of Saint Mary of the Lake, their respective staffs, and my supervision colleagues for providing an unparalleled internship opportunity. The depth and breadth of my experience afforded by these institutions and their people was remarkable.

Jenni is doing amazing things professionally. I asked her to share some details and she was happy to share.

JD: I am currently, a psychotherapy resident at the Claret Center, a non-profit agency in Chicago that emphasizes the integration of spirituality and psychology. In additional to psychotherapy for individuals, I have offered psycho-educational programs and group therapy at Saint Mary of the Lake, a Catholic parish in the Buena Park/Uptown neighborhood. I counsel a wide variety of clientele in various sociocultural contexts and all along the spectrums from vulnerable to powerful and underprivileged to privileged. These services span the life cycle and include psychotherapy for children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families. I serve clients ranging in age from 11 to 70+, and I treat a wide variety of conditions and diagnoses including grief, PTSD, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, PMDD, attachment issues, and borderline tendencies. My clients, many of whom are immigrants, are of African, Asian, European, Latinx, and Native American origin or descent.

JD: In addition to my master’s degree from Loyola, I have completed Level 1 training in Internal Family Systems. I will complete Level 2 training and become a certified IFS therapist by the end of 2023. I am currently training in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a mental health treatment technique that facilitates the processing of traumatic memories and healing from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. I also hold a graduate certificate in Psychedelic-assisted Therapy and Research from the California Institute of Integral Studies. In October of 2022, I presented, “Psychedelic-assisted therapy: Integration vs. harm reduction” at the American Counseling Association 2022 national Virtual Conference Experience, leveraging both my psychology and legal expertise.

I have developed specific interests in counseling applications for people with terminal diagnoses, as well as the people who accompany them; psychedelic-assisted therapy and research; and spirituality in counseling, particularly as it relates to unitive experiences. I hope to focus my practice on psychedelic-assisted therapy and research once psychedelics are legalized. Interestingly, psychedelic-assisted therapy became legal in Oregon in 2023. I asked her how her IPS experience informs her professional work and she said that her IPS experience informs every aspect of her professional work.

As a parting question – I asked her if there was anything she would like to share with future IPS students or grads that would be helpful advice for their journey?

JD: What I found particularly interesting about my IPS MAPC cohort was their age: all were mid-career or second-career professionals. It’s never too late to take advantage of the invaluable skills afforded by an IPS education. After all, Doogie Howser may have been a young genius, but no one went to him for wisdom.

Jenni Dressler, MA, is a psychotherapy resident at the Claret Center, a non-profit agency in Chicago that emphasizes the integration of spirituality and psychology. She also offers psycho-educational programs and group therapy at Saint Mary of the Lake, a Catholic parish in the Buena Park/Uptown neighborhood.

For more information about the IPS MA Counseling Program, please contact Julie Garcia, Student Coordinator, at

Dr. William Schmidt Celebrates 30 years with IPS

The Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago has evolved over its nearly sixty year life.  Dr. William (Bill) Schmidt has accompanied the Institute for the better part of the second half of its existence.  During his tenure with IPS, he has seen changes in university structures including a building out of the Institute of Pastoral Studies from a summer program to the robust offerings of degree programs it has today.  His contribution to those offerings emerged as a contributor to the spirituality program during his time as the Graduate Program Director.  The lens through which Dr. Schmidt has experienced the IPS is Pastoral Counseling and Chaplaincy.  He talked about the purpose of IPS as pastoral.  He was open about the ambiguity of the term pastoral in a post-modern world.  His response to how a pastoral organization can persist in an ever changing world, was that the IPS is engaged in Jesuit-driven pastoral accompaniment.  The pastoral term encompasses the journey and the complications that arise from it.

We delved into his areas of expertise discussing the arc of the profession of pastoral care and counseling from a partnership with chaplaincy in the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE ) to a stand alone discipline and back to being a branch of the ACPE.  The focus of pastoral care and counseling falls under the depth psychology branch of psychotherapy.  Dr. Schmidt referred to the concept of spiritually integrated counseling as a way of summarizing the distinguishing characteristic of pastoral counseling from other forms of counseling.

We talked about meaning making within the context of spiritual seeking.  The IPS has a broad range of programs that pulls from all areas of interest, but a commonality that has been observed among the IPS student body is a sense of spiritual seeking.  Dr. Schmidt observed that spiritual seeking is not only institutionally driven.  The prescriptive body of knowledge that an institution, such as a spiritual community, offers does not usually match the spiritual journey of the seeker.  The field of pastoral counseling is tasked with preaching the world to the church and the opening the church to the world.  The spiritual seeker is seeking spiritual nourishment and as a discipline, pastoral counseling, is poised to experience the raw existential human experience of emerging realities.  Dr. Schmidt describes the field as having one foot in the ever changing dynamism of human experience and one foot in the faith tradition.  When pressed about the world of today with the many faith traditions and spiritual experiences that seekers are bringing to graduate school Dr. Schmidt referred to his working definition of pastoral care and counseling which is bringing the inner meaning of the gospel to persons at their point of need.  The inner meaning of the gospel, Dr. Schmidt lifted up as the core of the message of pastoral counseling, which is surrounded by the human values, love, hope, and compassion.  Dr. Schmidt has recently co-authored a book entitled: Spiritual Formation in Local Faith Communities: A Prompt Card Approach: which highlights his research interests in Psychology, Theology and Spirituality. His specific current focus addresses the theme of contemporary Pilgrimage as a resource for personal growth, transformation, and healing.  The IPS is honored to have Dr. Schmidt among our faculty and we celebrate with him his 30 year milestone.

The time is now – to discern, reflect, comprehend and act

Author:  Rida Mansoor


Unlocking Communities’ founder and CEO, Josh Goralski graduated from Loyola Chicago’s Masters in Social Justice Program with a specialization in Social Entrepreneurship in May 2019.  While pursuing his degree, he wrote the business plan for Unlocking Communities, a global social enterprise founded on Catholic social teaching that provides communities with access to essential products such as water filtration systems and clean burning stoves.

 What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your time at Loyola?

The most important or valuable lesson I’ve learned is how to put faith into action, and what it means to be a man and woman for and with others. How do we go out and integrate the Jesuit teachings into our everyday learnings and things like community organizing? Things that we talked about in our class translated into the everyday work that we do.

 Why did you choose Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies?

I chose Loyola because it was one of the only schools in the area that had a Master’s in Social Justice, and I had already done an undergrad in Nonprofit Management, but really wanted to deepen my theological learnings in the area of social justice. I had heard wonderful things from the graduates of the program.

My time at IPS was was foundational to my current success. The time spent in class to discern, reflect and understand how to build a social enterprise like ours, provided the bedrock for Unlocking Communities. We are a Catholic-informed organization, but not a Catholic organization. We don’t draw lines that separate people in communities based on religion. We are and continue to be a uniting and not a diving force.

 What has been the most memorable part of your Loyola experience?

The most memorable part of my Loyola experience was getting a chance to sit around a table with the professor and fellow students and engage in conversation. It was an intimate class setting, and we would brainstorm around the conference table on what it means to organize communities. Felt very real and applicable to me.

 What does Loyola’s Jesuit mission mean to you? How has it influenced your experience as an entrepreneur?

For me, the Jesuit mission means to men and women for and with others. I truly believe that this generation can see transformative change; I see movement towards issues like ending extreme poverty and want to motivate others by leading with example.

 How did you come up with the noble idea of Unlocking Communities

I came up with Unlocking Communities through a faith journey when I met a priest from Haiti. I’ve been involved in non-profit activities in Haiti since I was 8 years old. Hearing about his successes and lessons learned along the way was an enlightening path for me. Throughout graduate school,  I had an opportunity to look at what is truly social justice and how social justice base models really put that computing power in the hands of communities.

 What are your organization’s long and short-term goals?

Our short-term goals are to build a factory in Haiti that will reach provide clean water to over one and a half million people in the next five years. Our long-term goal is a focus on fundraising, allowing us to continue our mission-driven work in more countries.

Unlocking Communities’  core mission is to equip entrepreneurs with the education and tools to sell sustainable products that unlock economic, social, and environmental transformation. We are focused on improving health outcomes and environmental change by selling water filtration systems and clean burning stoves as our products.

Meet Julie

The IPS community would like to extend a warm welcome to Julie Garcia, our newest department staff member.  She will be serving as the IPS Coordinator of Student Services.  Prior to joining IPS, Julie was the College Placement Director at Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago, where she developed and led the College Transfer and Alumni Support Department.  Julie has a background in clinical psychology and has worked as a Professional School Counselor and a counselor in the corporate outplacement industry.   Julie holds an MA in Clinical Psychology  and is an adjunct professor at National Louis University.  She is a dedicated runner and an ALS “find a cure” champion, as well as a former high school soccer coach.  She enjoys spending time with her husband and three sons, running, reading and watching soccer. We are thrilled to have Julie join us and are looking forward to her contributions to student success.  Welcome Julie!

“As long as you make trouble, it’s okay.” Pope Francis

Last October, we were part of a team of Loyola University Chicago faculty (four of us in all) brainstorming ways that we could connect the university community to the Synod 2021-2023 process now underway. Pope Francis launched this unprecedented global project more than a year ago with an invitation to Christians everywhere to offer their perspective and voice. His goal is for everyone to participate in a process of shared discernment (a “synodal” process) on the way the Catholic Church must evolve to embody its mission today. Our ideas for University events evolved in unpredictable ways and led to Building Bridges North-South: a Zoom meeting of 16 students with Pope Francis himself! Those students were selected as representatives by their peers in regional groups from across North, Central, and South America. In all, we accompanied in those regional groups 128 students attending 59 different universities in 22 different countries.

It went well.

So well, in fact, that Pope Francis invited us to meet with him at the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. That meeting took place on May 13, 2022 and it represents a transformative moment for us personally and an inflection point for our work with students in the Building Bridges North-South initiative.

What did we talk about with Pope Francis?! We entered the meeting with talking points but also wanted to leave more than enough room for the Holy Father to lead the conversation. We described our desire to support the participation of university students in the Synod process and to link students across borders to share, listen, and learn from each other in diverse ways and concerning a variety of issues. Pope Francis offered to support our work: “I will collaborate in whatever ways you tell me!” Yes, he said exactly that.

The Holy Father has a special place in his heart for young people. It’s clear to me that he finds joy in this! He described his approach carefully:

  • Young people must be able to share their experiences freely
  • Too often, the adults around them “anesthetize” them by dismissing them, constraining them, distracting them, leading them somewhere else, etc.
  • We must accept them as protagonists of history
  • We must not lead them where we think they should go but let them discern their way
  • They should create trouble and stir up conflict
  • We can accompany them and should help them turn that conflict into crisis and that crisis into constructive transformation, but knowing that they are the agents.

Working with Dr. Emilce Cuda, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, we also met last week with leaders (lay and ordained) both inside and outside the Vatican, including the heads of the Synod itself, the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and several others.

What will come next?

Well, we are discerning that together as we proceed… together. This is the way of synodality: meet, listen for understanding, discern a shared vision of the present, and walk forward together toward a common future. Right now, concretely, we’re continuing to accompany students who participated in the spring event as they pursue some of the projects they proposed to Pope Francis. Also, we are advising university leaders in Europe, Asia, and Africa as they pursue events analogous to our Feb. 24 event with Pope Francis (“synodal encounters of students across borders”) on their continents. Also, we’re building out undergraduate and graduate courses that will take place simultaneously in universities across North, Central, and South America (the first in Spring 2023), linking together all the students in new ways and thereby integrating diverse voices and visions into their course experiences. Finally, using the support and network we’ve created, we are connecting Pope Francis and other leaders in the Vatican to the incredible work already being done according to his vision and which may benefit from his engagement.

What a transformative experience! We sought to serve our University community by engaging the Synod process. This evolved away from a discussion about synodality to become an act of synodality that centered relationships among students from across the Western hemisphere. When presented with our activity, Pope Francis saw his own desires coming to life in them and agreed to participate by meeting with the students. What an honor for him to pop in on one of our meetings and get to know a few of the students! He stayed up late, listened, took notes, and called the students by name as he responded to them. This is his example of the type of leadership he expects from church leaders, lay and ordained and at every level of the ecclesial community. Not long after this, he invited us to do more and to meet with him. Now, new possibilities we hadn’t dared to imagine just six months ago are on the horizon.

The Spirit is at work. God is good!

* The four LUC faculty who organized the Building Bridges event and met with Pope Francis: Felipe Legarreta, Miguel Diaz, Michael Murphy, and Peter Jones.

Meet Storm

Albert-André Nast, “In Lieu of Stethoscope” 1953 France 

A baker, philosopher, teacher, writer, and giver of unvarnished answers; we are delighted to welcome Storm Obuchowski to the Institute of Pastoral Studies.  Storm joins the IPS team as the Coordinator of Student Services.  His professional experiences make him well-suited to the position and his laid-back demeanor makes him a natural fit into the IPS community.

Storm graduated with a BA in Philosophy (2013) from Loyola University Chicago.  He went on to obtain an MTS degree from Boston College.  Born and raised in Chicago, joining IPS has been a welcome opportunity to come back to his roots.  I asked him about the discerning process that led him back home to Chicago and to IPS.  He philosophically reflected on how life passes in seasons and that he came to a season of rest in his life.  He was able to ‘work from anywhere’ due to the pandemic and he chose to come home to Chicago to rest and reflect.

I asked Storm how he sees his new role at IPS currently and what he’s hopeful for in the future.  He said he feels very welcomed at IPS and defines his role as a nexus for the many moving pieces in the department.  He’s hopeful to have the opportunity to streamline some processes in the future; with an eye towards efficiency and proactively meeting student needs.    He is also a potential contributor to the IPS blog, so please stay-tuned for posts from Storm.

Every good introductory interview has a fun fact and as a fellow owner of an unusual name, I was curious about the origin story of Storm’s first name.  He said that his parents are musicians and that while composing a song during her pregnancy, his parents landed on the name Storm, and it stuck.  His last name, is also a good story, involving the evolution of a battle axe into a walking stick during medieval times and we made the executive decision to save that story for another post.  Storm works in the IPS office in Lewis Towers, during regular business hours.  He looks forward to serving the students of IPS, please stop by and say hello.

Listening to the People of God

By Jessamyn Anderson Magri

In conversation about the upcoming event, Building Bridges North-South: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students, Dr. Felipe Legarreta emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is at work.  He cites the fact that this encounter, and the series of events associated with it, have transcended all expectations; shows evidence of the Holy Spirit challenging us to listen to its voice in the cry of the poor and in the cry of our Common Home, cf. Romans 8:15.  This opportunity to listen came about while working with colleagues, Dr. Emilce Cuda, Dr. Peter Jones, Dr. Michael Murphy, and Dr. Miguel Diaz, through a playful suggestion to invite Pope Francis to a synodal dialogue with university students.  That suggestion quickly turned into a happy reality.  Upon reflection, Dr. Legarreta said the potential for this historic event has been percolating in the background for some time and he feels the Holy Spirit is saying; Listen up!  This is the time.


Legaretta cites the groundwork for this event as the publication of the document, Ecclesia in America.  This document was published in 1992 under Pope John II, during an assembly of bishops that gathered around the theme, “Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America.”  Building on that theme of solidarity established during that assembly, the CELAM (Conference of Latin American Bishops), invited Pope Francis to come to their assembly to discuss these ideas.  Pope Francis gently declined; asking the bishops to go back and “listen to the People of God”.  Instructing them to find the people on the peripheries, the margins, and listen to their stories, needs and concerns.

This brings us to now and Pope Francis’s second redirect to a leadership team to “listen to the people of God’ and to listen to the people on the margins.  Dr. Legarretta explained that the original idea was to invite Francis to dialogue with faculty, staff, and students at Loyola University Chicago.  Francis said, yes, I will come, but I want to talk to only students and students from all across the Americas, not faculty.  Thus, we land here with the anticipated historic event of university students in direct communication with the Holy See.

In thinking about such a monumental occasion, I asked if the dialogue would be structured or moderated in anyway.  Dr. Legarretta said that the only guidepost for students was the topics of migration and economic justice.  He, and the team putting the initiative together, want to give students true freedom in asking the questions that are on their hearts.  The only limiting factor in the conversation will be time.  Each student representing a different region of the Americas will be given about three minutes to ask the questions they have, and then Pope Francis will respond for about five minutes.  Again, Dr. Legarretta referenced the Holy Spirit and how this event was so far beyond anyone on the team’s wildest dreams, that the only explanation is the Holy Spirit is at work and we should step out of the way to let that work happen.  He framed the dialogue in terms of dialects.  The dialect of youth – passion, urgency, and hope, conversing with the dialect of wisdom, as found in the ancient wisdom of the church.  There are plans to continue this dialectic dialogue throughout the synodal process with events that give students a platform to raise their voices and be heard.

“To learn more about the Feb. 24 event and to register for the livestream of this historic encounter, visit the event website: Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope Francis and University Students.



Listening to the signs of our times

By: Michael M. Canaris

As the two-year global synod process begins, this special time in the Catholic Church demands that we pay attention and read the signs of our times, as called for by the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis has asked the entire church, even across denominational “borders,” to help him navigate a path forward in passing Christ’s message on to the next and every generation. This requires work and collaboration on the part of the whole (and holy) community.

We learn in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 11 that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch, in the Roman province of Syria. However, this took some time to spread along with the nascent religion across the ancient world, and so the first generations of believers called themselves followers of “The Way.” Thus, the synodal roots to our Church run deep, as the word synod literally means “traveling together on the way” in Greek (syn + hodos). We often see the pope use a related Spanish phrase: “caminando juntos.”

Saint John Chrysostom – a preacher so rhetorically effective that his nickname that comes down to us in history literally means “golden-tongued” – once even went so far as to say that church and synod can in fact be used interchangeably.

If one wants to learn more about Pope Francis’ vision of this process and how it colors his entire ecclesiology, some important resources may help:

The first is his programmatic homily given Oct. 17, 2015, at the ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of the modern synod of bishops created by Pope Paul VI. Many theologians see that speech, along with “Evangelii Gaudium,” as a roadmap for understanding the goals of the Francis agenda from its earliest formulations.

In that homily, Pope Francis expresses his desire for what he calls an “inverted pyramid” ecclesiology. He says that in the church founded by Christ, with special reference to the washing of the feet found in John’s Gospel, “the top is located beneath the base.” Thus, he upends the familiar power structures with the pope at the top, the clergy serving to carry out his mission as dutiful foot soldiers or franchise managers, and the vastly most numerous segment of the Church – the believing laity – left mainly to “pay, pray and obey.”

Instead he says the bishops, cardinals and pope are themselves “ministers,” which comes from “minus” the Latin word for “less.” Interestingly enough, its polar opposite leads to the word magisterium, from “magis” meaning “more,” albeit through a circuitous etymological route. Christians cannot bifurcate these two realities, pitting one against the other. Yet, the institutionalism that would put the clergy somehow “above” the people of God is critiqued constantly by Pope Francis’ condemnation of clericalism and triumphalism.

The second indispensable reflection on the topic was given to the faithful of the diocese of Rome on Sept. 18, 2021. This rather lengthy exhortation calls the Body of Christ across differences in charism and state in life to recognize ever more fully the “infallible sensus fidei in credendo.” This means emphasizing that each of the baptized have a “sense of the faith,” and that anyone in a shepherding role is called to walk “in front, in between, and behind” the flock.  Only in this way can the sensus fidei give “everyone a share in the dignity of the prophetic office of Christ, so that they can discern the paths of the Gospel in the present time.”

It is in this text that we get Francis’ rejection of a parliamentarian approach to collective discernment, where one side must either absorb or obliterate the other. Instead, the question and response that must interrogate our lives is as follows: “If I am a Christian, if I believe in Christ, how do I give that gift to others? God’s universal saving will is offered to history, to all humanity, through the incarnation of his Son, so that all men and women can become his children, brothers and sisters among themselves, thanks to the mediation of the Church. This is how reconciliation is accomplished between God and humanity, that unity of the whole human family, of which the Church is a sign and instrument.”

The last reference shedding light on Pope Francis’ vision for the synod was given on Oct. 9, 2021, mere hours before the 59th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, from which this whole process and event cannot be dissociated. It’s here that he quotes the French conciliar theologian Yves Congar in saying “there is no need to create another Church, but rather to create a different Church.” Pope Francis traces three potential risks for the synod and the renewed church he hopes to develop through its processes of candid discussion and collective discernment: formalism, intellectualism and complacency. All three would result in an undercutting and distorting of the culture of encounter and theology of proximity that should result from active listening and honest storytelling (in that order) as we journey the road of ecclesial belonging together.

He prays for and with all of us at the conclusion: “Come, Holy Spirit! You inspire new tongues and place words of life on our lips: keep us from becoming a ‘museum Church,’ beautiful but mute, with much past and little future. Come among us, so that in this synodal experience we will not lose our enthusiasm, dilute the power of prophecy, or descend into useless and unproductive discussions. Come, Spirit of love, open our hearts to hear your voice! Come, Spirit of holiness, renew the holy People of God! Come, Creator Spirit, renew the face of the earth!”

Our events at Loyola University Chicago in collaboration with the Pontifical Commission for Latin America are geared toward contributing to this collective spiritual renewal.  We are immensely grateful that so many students in our network are going to be able to speak to their experiences frankly and openly to one another and to others in positions of influential service in the church, even including the Servant of the Servants of God himself, Pope Francis.

*This piece is adapted from one that ran in the Catholic Star Herald Newspaper, Oct. 21, 2021.

To learn more about the Feb. 24 event and to register for the livestream of this historic encounter, visit the event website: Building Bridges: A Synodal Encounter between Pope francis and University Students.

Michael Canaris, PhD is an Associate Professor with the Institute for Pastoral Studies at Loyola University Chicago.  Further bio and publication information can be found here.

A conversation with Lolan P. Adan: IPS Alum ‘20

Lolan is a light in this world.  He brings heart, pizazz and polish to every conversation.  I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Lolan about his recent start at the Center for Personal Development in Chicago.  We explored how his time at IPS informed and prepared him for his new career.  His reflections focused on the broad reach of an IPS Pastoral Counseling Degree.  He noted that the transition between a faith-based experience, such as his residency at the Claret Center, and a human-centered practice, which is how he would characterize his current position, was seamless.  He attributed the ease of transitioning between these different spaces to common language and the universal values of intention, grace and hope.  He said that, “IPS has given me the language and confidence to engage people in any community around meaning – making for people.”

He reflected on some apprehension he had around a “Pastoral Care” degree in a human-centered organization.  This apprehension evaporated in his first staff meeting.  Drawing on those universal meaning-making values, his colleagues accepted his degree as it were any other counseling degree, completely respecting spirituality as a facet of meaning-making in the counseling room.  He also reflected on acknowledging that faith-based institutions have been a source of hope for many, but also a source of harm, and how his time at IPS gave him the ability to navigate the tensions represented in that institutional history.

Lastly, we talked about what wisdom he could share with those of us still in the journey.  He said, ‘Everything counts.’  All the professional and personal experiences one has had up until entering IPS and thereafter, all count towards realizing the vocation to which one is called.  He encouraged future graduates to reach out to alum who are out in the world making their way.  Ask questions, find out about how they got there and allow those conversations to build your confidence in the path you’re currently on. As a current IPS graduate student, I was encouraged to hear him say this: 

“IPS is a bridge that allows your past and present to talk – embrace reintegrate and reconstitute your life journey.”

Further bio and contact info for Lolan can be found at:


By: Jessamyn Anderson Magri, MDiv ’24