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  or call 720-377-1359

> To donate to the 2015 Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal, visit



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: Radical living and my friend Shelly

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I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.