A New Major

I commented to Fr. Thad later, “Even if you only used psychology 50% of the time in pastoral ministry, that would be a good enough reason for me to major in it.”

Welcome to article 17 of a weekly series on the formation journey of Br. Josh, MIC, a second-year seminarian at the Marian House of Studies in Steubenville, Ohio. It is the continuation of Br. Josh's previous column, "Novice Notes." Watch for a new column every Friday.

By Br. Josh, MIC 

While I was in novitiate in Washington, D.C., Fr. Thad provided us with a few classes in psychology as part of our human formation. 

His classes were very high quality, and he made a remark that stuck with me. In pastoral ministry, you deal with many, many ordinary human problems. As a consequence, Fr. Thad found that he needed to draw on his psychology a lot more often than he needed to use his theology. 

Psych major
About half a year later, I became a seminarian and took a required General Psychology class at Franciscan University. As the weeks passed and Professor Shaw guided the class through a myriad of important human issues psychology addresses, the significance of Fr. Thad’s comment grew stronger. 

I commented to Fr. Thad later, “Even if you only used psychology 50% of the time in pastoral ministry, that would be a good enough reason for me to major in it.”

He nodded. “I’m not opposed to you majoring in psychology,” he agreed, readily. 

Later, he asked me how much time a major would add to my time in Steubenville, so I crunched some numbers and gave my best estimate, that it may add a year-and-a-half to my time in priestly formation. I planned to take about five courses every semester. He said that he should probably talk with the Provincial Council to get this approved. 

Father Thad had me write a letter to the Council requesting permission to major in psychology. We submitted the petition on November 22, 2023. 

Then, I waited. 

Hard work
When I went to Stockbridge in December, the Provincial Council meeting had just ended. At lunch on Dec. 16, I hadn’t had a chance to talk with Fr. Thad yet. I saw him glance at me from across the church during Mass, probably with my situation in mind, but he couldn’t say anything then. 

Our provincial superior, the Very Rev. Chris Alar, MIC, stepped over to me as we stood near the kitchen window where plates of food were being served. 

“How are you doing, Josh?” he asked.

“Good!” I said. 

“So, your first semester is over; what courses are you taking next?” he asked.

“I’m scheduled for two courses in psychology and three in philosophy,” I answered. If the Provincial Council didn’t give me permission to do the psych major, I planned to have the psychology courses count as two of my required electives. 

Father Chris nodded, knowing more than I did, and he commented, “You know, when I was in seminary, I did all of my philosophy in one year.”

My eyes widened. “That must have been . . . six courses each semester —” I pitched a lowball number.

“Seven,” he answered, “and a summer class, as well. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

Doing seven courses per semester would be insane. Yet, Fr. Chris is the hardest worker I know, and this sounded like him. 

Education passion
I thought there was a message for me, here. My proposal to do five courses every semester was a lot of work, and Fr. Chris wanted to kindly caution me not to burn myself out. However, he also knew that there are people capable of what I was setting out to do.

My dad used to be a university math professor, and he and my mom instilled a passion for education in their children. While I was at the University of California, Irvine, and Golden West College, I did 5-6 courses per semester for four years and graduated with many honors, cum laude. My family has a very disciplined work ethic.

Father Thad walked by shortly after I talked with Fr. Chris. He said, “Just to tell you before it slips out of my mind, the Provincial Council said yes.”

At last it was clear: I could major in psychology! This was wonderful news.

Later that afternoon, Father Thad came into the gym as I got off the treadmill, gasping for breath at the end of an 8-mile run with a new speed record.

“Thanks for talking to the Council for me about that, for me,” I told him.

“Just doing my job,” he said. “And, it’s my joy,” he added, beautifully.

“I really appreciate it,” I said as I left the gym.

Next: "Taking the Plunge."
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