Seminary psychologist earns award

Counseling an important part of priestly formation at St. John Vianney

As a psychologist helping to form Denver seminarians, Christina Lynch is like a stethoscope in God’s hands working to heal their hearts, she said.

“I listen to their heart as they tell me their life story,” said Lynch, the director of psychological services for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. “I listen to their hearts, but God is the divine physician. He’s the healer.”

Lynch was recognized for her achievements and work as a conduit of healing for young men preparing for the priesthood. In May at the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C., Lynch was presented with the first Distinguished Alumni Award by the Institute for the Psychological Sciences (IPS)—where she was also the first student to receive her doctorate—for her contributions to society and excellence in the field.

Paul Vitz, professor emeritus of psychology at New York University, presented the award at an IPS graduation Mass when Lynch also delivered the alumni address to the graduates. She was also recognized for her continuing leadership as president of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association.
The award and her work for St. John Vianney Seminary is exemplary, said seminary rector Father Scott Traynor.

“What has been established (at the seminary) under her leadership is a model for seminaries around the country,” Father Traynor said. “Those unique contributions she’s made are recognized by IPS in offering her that award. It’s duly deserved.”

Christina Lynch delivers an alumni address during a graduation ceremony in May in Washington, D.C.

Christina Lynch delivers an alumni address during a graduation ceremony in May in Washington, D.C. Photo provided


Journey to the seminary

Lynch’s path to become a licensed clinical psychologist did not begin with the goal of helping seminarians. Initially, she sought a doctorate in psychology to help heal post-abortive women. She counseled women for a time when she opened a home for them with her husband in California. Then her eyes were opened to a call to help serve men studying for the priesthood, she said.

“In formation, what I realized was if you can help one priest or one future priest know himself through the eyes of the Lord and help remove any human obstacles in that area to open their spiritual life … then they can serve and be healing instruments, not only for their parishioners, but especially for people who are struggling with post-abortion syndrome,” Lynch said.

Her journey led her to St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, where more than 100 men are studying for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Denver and other dioceses. She said for nine years her focus of offering psychological healing based on Catholic anthropology is aimed to help young men “know themselves and have a more intimate relationship with the Lord.”


Fostering human growth

While in seminary, men are formed to grow spiritually, intellectually and apostolically, in addition to receiving human formation, Father Traynor said.

“In the seminary you have a lot of people who are contributing to the formation of the future priest,” he said. “The counseling services we offer fill a critical role in that human formation. This is one of the real challenges in priestly formation is this human formation and how the Church understands it.”

The counseling role Lynch offers aids men in growing humanly.

“Everyone knows grace builds on nature,” he continued. “Chris Lynch, in her counseling services, offers what we can call human growth counseling—how to help a man in his various human qualities to grow and be healthier so that grace has the healthiest foundation in his natural capacities to build on.”

Part of that human formation involves helping men see themselves as made in the image of Christ. Lynch said modern secular culture can damage a healthy self-identity.

“The culture forms us to believe that our identities are based on what we do, what we feel, and what we think,” she said. “When in reality the only identity we’re created to be is a beloved child of the Father. If we knew that and believed that these other labels or identities wouldn’t confuse us as they do in culture today.”

More than 80 percent of the seminarians at St. John Vianney seek her aid—counseling is not mandated for the men—to understand how cultural distortions may manifest in their lives and take them to prayer so Christ can heal.

“They come totally on their own,” Lynch said. “Having that open door policy which remains confidential within formation—it gives the man an opportunity to take responsibility for his own formation in a more offensive rather than in a defensive approach.”

The valuable program Lynch offers seminarians, and her own dedication to the Church, is a model for others, Father Traynor said.

“Chris has a deep love for the Church, love for the faith and reverence for the priesthood,” he said. “You put that all together and she’s an amazing person.”

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”