Catholic ministries pursue integrated wellbeing

Modern society increasingly acknowledges the importance of mental health. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 52.9 million American adults suffered from mental illnesses in 2020, whereas 43.4 million did in 2015, raising questions about how the Church should provide healing for believers who experience these issues. 

Notre Dame’s Response

As a Catholic university, Notre Dame recognizes the importance of supporting both the faith and mental health of its students. Tami Schmitz, Associate Director of Pastoral Care for Campus Ministry, described the resources that it provides: “Prayer, spiritual direction and accompaniment, one-on-one pastoral conversations, and our daily drop-in ‘Need to Talk’ hours are all ways we bring spiritual support and comfort to our students.” She also mentioned that other offerings of Campus Ministry such as retreats and liturgies are intended to nurture students and foster connection for them. Schmitz emphasized that “[Jesus] wants people to be made whole again … we [at Campus Ministry], too, can help our students feel whole by loving them, listening to them, praying for them, and walking alongside them as they navigate their social and emotional struggles and challenges.” But Schmitz also clarified that a spiritual director does not eliminate the role of a counselor, and that both can help the students in different ways. 

The university offers mental health support to its students through the University Counseling Center (UCC), a division of Student Health and Wellness. Dr. Christiane Gebhardt, Assistant Vice President for Student Services, discussed Notre Dame’s mental health resources with the Rover. She described that there are questions on the pre-counseling intake form about a student’s religious affiliation and how meaningful it is for that student, which a counselor can address in the session. Additionally, Dr. Gebhardt explained that, at their discretion, UCC counselors may refer students to faith resources on campus such as Campus Ministry, and, with the student’s consent, may collaborate with those in Campus Ministry working with that student. Like Schmitz, Dr. Gebhardt categorized the role of the counselor as distinct from someone helping them spiritually—she believes that the counselor can “[integrate] a student’s faith into the session as guided by the student and their goals for therapy.” She shared the aspiration of Student Health and Wellness that students focus on mental health not only in the midst of suffering: “we are … wonderful being[s] that God created and we need to take care of ourselves every day.” 

Fiat Program

Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life started the Fiat Program on Faith and Mental Health in 2022 with the mission of “generat[ing] research, teaching, and formation opportunities to inform and strengthen sacramental and pastoral care for persons with mental challenges and their families.” Fiat’s director, Beth Hlabse, who is a trained therapist, majored in theology and peace studies while at Notre Dame. 

Hlabse believes that Church tradition and the field of psychology should collaborate to help those with mental health challenges to “experience deepening communion in the Body of Christ.” One of Fiat’s first initiatives was a social concerns seminar in the spring of 2022 called “Accompaniment and Mental Illness: Known in the Breaking of the Bread,” which Hlabse co-taught with Lisa Anderson. Additionally, over the summer, Hlabse led workshops with the purpose of, as she put it, “integrating psychological and spiritual support for mental health for more than 200 Catholic educators and ministers” through McGrath’s summer offerings: its Teaching Life and Human Dignity Symposium, Notre Dame Vision for Campus and Youth Ministers, and programming for the current Echo Graduate Service Program cohort and mentors. 

In October, Fiat will host an inaugural symposium that will convene theologians and mental health experts from across the country to, in the words of Hlabse, “chart Fiat’s key areas of pastoral scholarship and formation.” In the spring, Fiat will launch an 8-week course for pastors, lay ministers, and diocesan staff on mental health and pastoral care. 

The Martin Center for Integration

“Double domers” Kenna and Pat Milliea founded the Martin Center for Integration, named after the Martin family (of which St. Thérèse of Lisieux is a member) in July of 2022. Both obtained their Masters of Theology degrees through Notre Dame’s Echo program, and Kenna studied theology with a minor in art history and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, while Pat studied theology and sociology. 

Kenna shared with the Rover that the Martin Center aims to prepare people to “tolerate the discomfort of life” and “be refined as saints.” The core of the Martin Center is their podcast, This Whole Life. The center also offers workshops, seminars, and retreats for Catholic groups including parishes and missionary organizations. Moreover, the Center offers therapy, which according to Kenna, “is able to address the more acute needs and distressing symptomatology that individuals and couples may experience.”

As the Church extends its outreach to those experiencing mental health challenges, members of the Notre Dame community are contributing to this effort by extending hope, connection, and an appreciation for the entire human being from a distinctly Catholic perspective.

Kathryn Bowers is a sophomore in the Program of Liberal Studies who prefers the weather in South Bend to the weather of her hometown, Dallas, Texas during the summer and early fall. Email her at to find out why sunflower butter really is the best butter.

 Jesus healing Bartimaeus by Eustache Le Suer

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