Just out of college, Christina Lynch landed a job as a secretary at a men’s clothing company and quickly rose through the ranks in sales, marketing and design. Six years later, she was hired as the first female vice president of a national clothing corporation. For more than two decades she lived as a globe-trotting clothing designer.
Then, in a spiritually transformative moment, Lynch knew she was called to channel her creativity in a different direction. She wanted to help create not slacks or shirts but flourishing, God-centered lives.
That realization years ago led Lynch, now 64, on a circuitous path to a career in Catholic psychology and to her role as an educator and counselor for countless seminarians.
Change and conversion
An only child, Lynch was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., by an Irish Catholic mother and nonreligious Protestant father. She grew up without a strong foundation in catechesis but was drawn to the faith as a young girl. “I always loved God; I knew that God loved me,” she said.
Following her graduation from Long Island University in New York, Lynch began a successful career in clothing design and eventually was named vice president of the sportswear division of Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., a large American clothing company.
A few years after moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, Lynch felt pulled to attend a retreat at her parish titled “Change and Conversion.” The spiritual fruits of those three days would change everything from her career to her personal life.
“It was at that retreat that I had a profound experience with the Lord and knew my life was to be directed at ‘life,’” she said. “It was the most incredible thing.”
One week later, Lynch left the garment industry.
At the retreat she’d also met Patrick, the facilitator, and a few months later they married.
The couple moved to California’s San Bernardino County, and Lynch radically dedicated herself to life. The couple began praying in front of abortion clinics, and when they met women who had nowhere else to go, they welcomed them into their home.
“At one point we had five pregnant women and four young children living with us,” said Lynch.
They taught the women marketable skills and helped many gain sobriety.
Unable to have their own children, God “blessed us with a multitude of them,” said Lynch.
The first in their care was “a prison baby,” she said. The infant was born to a woman in prison, and they cared for the baby and took it for visits at the correctional facility until the mother was released.
Lynch served as a midwife at several births, and Patrick was the chauffeur for many doctors’ appointments.
“Each birth was a joy and a miracle,” said Lynch, who was asked to be a godmother to a number of babies.
They eventually turned their home into a full-time ministry called Veronica’s Home, which continues to provide long-term housing to pregnant women and their children.
One priest, a thousand lives
After the death of Lynch’s mother, the couple moved to the East Coast. There, Lynch continued her pro-life work with Human Life International in Front Royal and Priests for Life, based in New York.
One day while flipping through the Catholic Herald, she saw an advertisement for a new psychology program now known as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS), located in Arlington.
“I felt I was being called to work with women either in crisis counseling or post-abortion healing, but I knew I needed the psychological skills to really help them,” said Lynch.
So 30 years post-college, she enrolled in the IPS master’s degree program. Six years later, in 2005, she became the first graduate of the school’s doctoral program.
Before graduation, Lynch was recruited to teach a course and eventually begin a summer counseling program at the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. Each summer the program forms more than 170 diocesan seminarians from more than 65 dioceses.
“I always felt I would be helping women in crisis, but my husband kept saying, ‘You’re going to be working with priests, because one priest can help thousands of women who are struggling,’” she said.
He was right. Lynch just celebrated her 10th summer at the Omaha institute and has served for seven years as a teacher and director of psychological services at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, where she and Patrick currently live.
Just as she shared in the joy of many infant births, Lynch said she now celebrates seminarians’ human and spiritual rebirth as sons of the Father.
“No words can describe this joy,” she said.
Her work with priests has focused especially on the gift of celibacy — something misunderstood and discounted in the current culture. This is not surprising, said Lynch, given society is overly sexualized and undervalues the human person.
The goal is to help seminarians first understand the dignity of every life and to deepen their own self-knowledge; only then can they fully understand and value celibacy.
While many see the absence of sex as a sacrifice, “the church has always understood celibacy as a gift,” said Lynch. “Not all are called to it. But if you are singled out for something very unique, then it’s a gift.”
Accepting this gift does not mean living without intimacy.
“You can live without sex, but you can’t live without intimacy,” Lynch said. “Personal intimacy must first come from God. The men who are the happiest are those who have a close relationship with him.”
Intimacy also takes root in community. Seminarians and priests, like all humans, need to spend time sharing the joys and sorrows of life with others, she said.
Taking this to heart, Lynch and her husband open up their home to priests for retreats and welcome them on Sunday afternoons to socialize and relax.
Lynch said the Church has taken strides in the psychological care and formation of priests, including in response to the clergy sex abuse scandals. One example is the 2008 Vatican document entitled “Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood,” which affirms the need for physiological counseling in seminary formation.
Ever closer to God
In all her work, Lynch knows she must be an authentic witness to what she imparts.
“No education or catechesis is going to mean anything if the person delivering it is not a witness to it,” said Lynch. “I have to practice what I preach.”
To do so, she makes full use of the spiritual tools the church offers. She attends daily Mass and regular confession, prays the Liturgy of the Hours, and has a spiritual director.
“I intentionally practice my faith with my heart not with my head; it’s not a ritualistic faith,” she said.
“Ever since that retreat, I’ve been called by God into a deeper and deeper relationship with him and with Our Lady. I feel the Blessed Mother’s presence every time I’m in a counseling session.”
Along with her other responsibilities, Lynch serves as a spiritual adviser for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, and is an associate researcher in psychology and spirituality for the Sacred Story Institute, a Jesuit nonprofit whose mission is to research and develop evangelization resources.
Lynch also is part of a panel of experts on a new EWTN weekly news and commentary program called “Heroic Media.”
In 2013, she was named president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association. Founded in 2007, the CPA supports the development of psychological theory and mental health practices that encompass a full understanding of the human person and society as taught by the Catholic Church.
“The goal is to educate each other in the beauty and teachings of the Catholic Church, so that we can witness to them and integrate them into our practice,” said Lynch.
This year’s annual CPA conference will be held in Arlington Oct. 23-25. With the theme “Witness to Hope: Catholic Anthropology as the Foundation of Psychological Practice,” the conference will honor St. John Paul II and include Mass with Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. Lynch will offer opening remarks on Friday.
The seeming incongruity of Lynch’s early and latter careers surprises and delights her.
“Although we can’t see it at the time, I think God uses everything in our lives,” she said. “He is the giver. You can’t out-give God.”
At its heart, her work honors God’s greatest gift and the one she dedicated herself to years ago.
“Catholic psychology is all about life and living it to the full,” said Lynch. “The Lord wants us to flourish, and to flourish you have to be holistic and remove any human blocks that might be blocking our spiritual growth,” she said.
“I just want to help the men in seminary move closer to God in whatever way I can.”