Appeal puts psychology at the service of the Church

Julie Filby

From helping wounded families, to aiding post-abortive women and men, Regina Caeli Clinical Services extends the healing ministry of Jesus Christ by bringing psychology to the service of the Church.

Established four years ago under Catholic Charities, Regina Caeli Clinical Services (RCCS) is one of nearly 40 ministries aided by the Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal.

“RCCS was created as a response to the expressed needs of priests, deacons and Catholic school administrators,” explained 25-year psychologist Kathryn Benes, director of clinical services. “(People) needed to have access to psychological services that are both affordable and enlightened by the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

While services are available to anyone regardless of religious affiliation, RCCS therapists adhere to Catholic doctrine and moral teaching in their practice.

“About 95 percent of our clients are fellow Catholics,” Benes said. “Approximately 86 percent of the people who come to us are referred by their priest, deacon, or other Catholic entity.”

RCCS provides services to individuals, families, adolescents and children, as well as post-abortion care and counseling through Project Rachel, and services to Catholic schools.

Fifteen people, including four licensed psychologists, six master-level therapists, three doctoral interns and one registered therapist, staff RCCS. While the main clinic is located in Littleton, satellite clinics are in Loveland, Northglenn, Fort Collins and the University of Colorado in Boulder. Additionally, counseling is provided at nine Catholic elementary schools.

“Crisis mental health services are available to all schools with the Archdiocese of Denver,” Benes said, adding that RCCS also provides psychological assessments for seminarians and women religious candidates discerning a religious vocation.

At a time when the family is under attack, RCCS is especially proud of its services to couples and children.

“Married couples and children are the heart of the Church,” Benes said. “When they are hurting, the Church is hurting. By helping to strengthen families in need, we are helping to strengthen the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community, as well as the greater social order.”

Not only is RCCS providing professional counseling that is in keeping with Church teaching, but through its doctoral internship training site in the archdiocese, it is producing graduates who then go out and evangelize through the mental health profession. This effort aims to fix a “broken” mental health care system, Benes said.

“This objective, to form outstanding mental health professionals from a Catholic understanding of the human person, along with the objective to provide clients with excellent Catholic community-based mental health services, fills an important need that is present in Colorado and throughout the U.S.,” she said. “To Catholic Charities’ knowledge, there are only three such Catholic community mental health internship training sites in the United States.”

While fees at RCCS are competitive with other mental health providers in Colorado, approximately 80 percent of the clients receive significant grant assistance. Clients who choose to use insurance are also accommodated.

“Without grant assistance, most of the clients seen at RCCS would not be able to receive any type of mental health services,” Benes said. “No client is turned away because of their inability to pay.”

The commitment to provide services to clients regardless of their ability to pay means Regina Caeli Clinical Services needs to raise more than $1 million a year to cover operating expenses.

“The bottom line is simple,” Benes said, “RCCS couldn’t keep its doors open and provide mental health services to those in need if it were not for the generosity of … donors.

“The very idea,” declared Benes, “that we exist to service our community in a time when resources are limited in Colorado is our success story.”

> For more about Regina Caeli Clinical Services, visit www.RCCSDenver.org  or call 720-377-1359

> To donate to the 2015 Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, visit www.archden.org/donate

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MORE ABOUT CATHOLIC CHARITIES

www.ccdenver.org | 303-742-0828

As the charitable arm of the Archdiocese of Denver, Catholic Charities serves 50,000 people in need a year throughout northern Colorado. Headquartered in Denver, it has regional offices in Glenwood Springs, Greeley and Fort Collins. Services include:

Adoption – services to birth parents, adoptive families and individuals involved in past adoption.

Child care – six child-care centers in the Denver metro area including early childhood education for infants to preschool and educational services to parents.

Counseling – Regina Caeli Clinical Services offers individual, family, marriage, school-based and outpatient counseling services, including post-abortion care and counseling.

Emergency assistance – one-time aid to families and individuals who can prove a state of emergency.

Foster care – equips and supports foster families caring for children in out-of-home placements and offers a foster-adopt program.

Homeless shelters – provide homeless individuals and families with safe shelter, warm clothing, food and supportive services that aim to help them become self-reliant.

Housing – as an affiliate of Catholic Charities, Archdiocesan Housing provides affordable, service-enriched housing for seniors, families and disabled persons, as well as farm labor housing.

Immigration services – direct legal assistance and public education to persons with valid legal claims to status in the United States.

Lighthouse Women’s Center – a licensed medical center dedicated to helping women make important decisions about their reproductive health.

Pregnancy counseling – guidance to individuals, couples and families facing an unplanned pregnancy.

Relatives raising children (kinship care) – support groups, material assistance and referrals for relatives acting as primary caregivers.

Senior services – help older adults maintain safe, quality independent living via benefit assistance, case management and referrals, chronic disease management, and the Mulroy Senior Center in Denver.

Victim assistance – aid to families and individuals who are victims of crime referred through the District Attorney office in metro Denver and Weld County.

COMING UP: From Columbine to Christ: “Not only did God lead me out of Columbine, he was leading me to himself.”

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Every school day for almost two years, Jenica Thornby would spend her lunch hour in the library at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Every day, except April 20, 1999.

“I was sitting in my art class when all of the sudden I had this urge to leave school. I remember thinking, there is no way I am going to be talked into staying.”

Thornby found her friend that she always studied with and talked her into leaving too. As they drove away in a car her father had bought her just a week earlier, behind them they saw hundreds of other students running out of the school. Thinking it was maybe a fire drill, Thornby kept driving.

Back inside the school, two students had entered with guns, where they would kill 12 students and a teacher, and wound over 20 more people before taking their own lives.

In the days that followed, Thornby would learn that many of the casualties took place in the library, where on any other day she would have been sitting.

“I remember thinking, I always went to the library, and the only reason I wasn’t there was because I had this urge to leave. That was really hard to wrap my mind around, and so I really wondered, ‘What gave me that urge, why wasn’t I there?’”

Two decades later, Thornby is now Sister Mary Gianna, a religious sister of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and on the 20th Anniversary of the Columbine massacre, she shared her story with the Denver Catholic of how God led her out of her high school that day, and through a series of events, led her into a deep relationship with Christ.

Sr. Mary Gianna DLJC poses for a portrait at the Columbine Memorial on April 18, 2019, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

SEARCHING FOR FULFILMENT

Sister Mary Gianna said growing up in Texas, California and then Colorado, she had loving parents, but as a family they did not practice any religion or faith.

After the school shooting, like many of her classmates, Sister Mary Gianna struggled coming to grips with what had happened. Coupled with emotional scars from bullying in her teenage years and other insecurities, she said she tried desperately just to fit in.

“I started drinking and going to parties, thinking if I was in a relationship, then I’ll be happy,” Sister Mary Gianna recalled. “I was searching for fulfilment.”

But near the end of her junior year a classmate of hers who seemingly had everything going for him committed suicide, and Sister Mary Gianna said her senior year she hit rock bottom.

“If he was in so much pain and suffering and took his life, what do I do with all my suffering and all my pain?” Sister Mary Gianna said she asked herself. “I thought I was going to take my own life by my 18th birthday.”

It was that year that a friend invited her to come to a youth group at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, where Sister Mary would meet a youth minister named Kate.

“I remember seeing something different in (Kate),” said Sister Mary Gianna. “She was so bright, so full of life. I could tell that she had something in her life that was missing in mine.”

Sister Mary Gianna said Kate and the youth group introduced her to a God that loved her, and that had a plan for her life.

“I felt like I was junk to be thrown away, and (Kate) would tell me you are made in God’s image and his likeness, and if God created you, how can you call yourself junk?” recalled Sister Mary Gianna. “I realized God did have a plan, and I love the words of St. Augustine: ‘Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” and I realized not only did God lead me out of Columbine, he was leading me to himself.”

RCIA, NET and DLJC

After high school graduation, with the support of her parents Sister Mary Gianna chose to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville, where her freshman year she went through RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 2002.

After college, she spent a year with NET (National Evangelization Team), sharing her testimony with teenagers across the country. At the same time, through the encouragement of others, she began to consider religious life.

“I felt God wanted to use me to lead others to Christ as my youth minister had led me to Christ,” said Sister Mary Gianna. “And I felt God was calling me to share how he had worked in my life, my personal testimony.”

Sister Mary Gianna said words in a book by Father Benedict Groeschel really impacted her.

“He wrote, ‘Instead of asking God why something happened, ask him, what would you have me do?’” Sister Mary Gianna said. “So instead of reflecting on my life and why did this happen or that happen, I began to ask God, ‘What would you have me do?’”

In 2010, Jenica Thornby entered religious life as a member of the Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, was given the name Sister Mary Gianna, and last year on August 4, 2018, took her final vows. She now serves at The Ark and The Dove retreat center in Pittsburgh.

CHAIN REACTIONS

Standing in the center of the Columbine Memorial at Clement Park, Sister Mary Gianna is drawn to the plaque that remembers Rachel Joy Scott.

Sr. Mary Gianna DLJC poses for a portrait at the Columbine Memorial on April 18, 2019, in Littleton, Colorado. (Photo by Anya Semenoff/Denver Catholic)

Rachel was one of the first students shot on April 20, 1999, and after being wounded, one of the gunmen reportedly asked her if she still believed in God, to which Rachel replied, “You know I do,” before the gunman shot her in the head.

“Unfortunately the two boys talked about how they wanted to start a chain reaction of death and violence and destruction,” Sister Mary Gianna said. “However, Rachel had a theory that if one person could go out of their way and show compassion and kindness, we would never know how far it would go, it just might start its own chain reaction.”

Sister Mary Gianna said Rachel’s story has become an inspiration to her, and coincidently, Rachel’s family played a role in her own conversion. Sister Mary Gianna said the day after the shooting she was at a friend’s house and her friend’s mom told Rachel’s aunt about how she had left just before the shooting began. Sister Mary Gianna said Rachel’s aunt replied, “God must have a plan for your life.”

It was one of the first seeds planted in Sister Mary Gianna’s heart, that started to grow, and as Sister Mary Gianna continued to say ‘yes’ to God, led her to the life she has today.

“Even when I didn’t know God that day at Columbine, he led me out of school, he protected me,” said Sister Mary Gianna. “He loved me so much that he drew near to me and has shown me this path of life.”

“Even in the midst of tragedy, God can bring good, God could bring life out of death. The worst tragedy was Jesus being put to death on the Cross, and it led to our salvation. And even in the midst of this tragedy of Columbine, God could bring good.”