Sharing Our Faith - Graduate Testimonials

Why study at St. Bernard's?  The reasons are as varied as the individuals who are called to do God's work.  Below are some of the personal stories shared by our graduates who are putting faith into action in our community.

 

Lisa Irish (MA Theological Studies, 1992)

Chaplain and Spiritual Director with This Little Light

 

I was so grateful when St Bernard’s came to Albany. I happily commuted from the Berkshires to study with and among such wonderful and thoughtful people of faith. My husband and I moved to Connecticut as my studies ended in 1992, but I carried this new Master of Arts in Theology into the next chapter of my life.

 

As my children grew and my husband pursued his career, God built on my SBI foundation over the years and I ministered as an adjunct professor, high school teacher and university campus minister. A year’s residency in Clinical Pastoral Education led me to chaplaincy 10 years ago. Currently, I’m on the staff of Yale-New Haven Hospital - St Raphael campus coordinating an out-patient bereavement program. I also continued training in ministry at Mercy Center in Madison CT and now offer Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership.

 

In January of 2014, I launched This Little Light, a community based chaplaincy described at www.lisairish.com. St Bernard’s helped illuminate my path in ministry and gave me the confidence to trust this ever-evolving call. I am humbled and thrilled to join those in our world who are willing to say “yes!” (submitted 5/2014)

 

 

Cylon George (MA Pastoral Studies, 2012)

Catholic Chaplain and Spiritual Advisor with the Jane H. Wells Sprituality Center

 

After completing my studies at St. Bernard's, I became a college chaplain. I currently work at Hudson Valley Community College and Russell Sage College, both located in Troy, NY. My time at St. Bernard's has given me the tools to approach my ministry to the college community with confidence, creativity, and love. I fondly remember my time spent in class with other Christians, mature in their faith, who were seeking to equip themselves spiritually in order to minister to others. The faculty constantly amazed me with their ability to seamlessly balance their academic scholarship with their personal faith. This combination of "head" and "heart" is what I will always take with me from my time at St. Bernard's and I am most thankful for the opportunity I had to be formed by outstanding faculty and fellow students. (submitted 3/2014)

 

 

Rick Lesser (MDiv, 2013)

Seminarian for the Diocese of Albany, Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, Weston MA

 

I have been blessed by God with two wonderful vocations. For 24 years my wife and I raised our family as we worked together in our veterinary practice. I also served various practice and university hospitals as a management consultant. Before Marilyn passed away in 2005, we had already heard God calling me to a more active participation in ministry, and I enrolled in Albany’s Formation for Ministry Program (now the Kateri Institute). Upon completion, I enrolled at St. Bernard’s with a vague notion that God was asking me for a little more. While there I began the process of discerning a vocation to the priesthood. Doors kept opening in that direction. Our kids flourished, making a second vocation a possibility for their dad.  Qualified practitioners asked to buy our practice, and other facilitators came forward to continue my management services. Friends asked to rent the farm. I had the support and encouragement of many.  In the fall and winter of 2013, I left all that behind and asked Bishop Hubbard to accept me as a seminarian for Albany.  At 58 years of age, the Bishop sent me to Blessed John XXIII for a final two years of formation – something that was possible only because of the gift of my education and formation at St Bernard’s. When I return to Albany to be ordained in the summer of 2015 (God willing), I come prepared by not only the seminary faculty in Weston, but also by all the dedicated, qualified, and wonderfully pastoral People of God at St Bernard’s, without whom, this would not have happened. (Submitted 2/2014)

 

 

Jim Gulley (MA Pastoral Studies, 2012)

Pastoral Associate, St. Joseph’s Parish, Penfield NY

 

Three noteworthy elements in my ministerial formation were a gap, a change, and an invitation.  I was in a Franciscan seminary when I was younger, but a marriage, birth of two beautiful children, and a career interrupted my formation, and also my active faith practice for many years. I was slowly drawn back to the Church.  I wanted to do something much more important than what I experienced in many years working in telecom & computing marketing. One stewardship step led to another in my home parish. Our pastor invited me to participate in my first St. Bernard’s class, which he happened to be teaching. Before long, I had matriculated in the MAPS degree program. 3 years later, I celebrated briefly at our Sacred Heart graduation, and then went promptly to work in my new career as a pastor associate at St. Joseph’s, a large suburban parish. Today, I am actively involved with small group and bible study programs for adults, stewardship initiatives, pastoral care, liturgy support, plus use of web technology and social media in support of worship, evangelization, faith formation, and community building activities.  Study at St Bernard’s was hard, with long evenings, but very much worth it. I learned how to learn on a new level. I learned how to listen in a new way, and how to engage in ministry through my presence to those in need. Thanks for the opportunity.  (submitted 9/2013)

 

 

Deacon Kevin Carges (MA Pastoral Studies, 2005)

Owner, Canandaigua Quick Print

 

As a Deacon, I have gotten into international ministries and chair a solidarity committee in the Rochester Diocese. With the help of others, I’I have created Deacon Kevin’s Circle of Friends. We have two goals: to raise funds for our brothers and sisters in Third World countries and to increase awareness of their living conditions.

 

I've visited some of these countries and saw the squalid conditions with my own eyes. The people I met and the villages I visited made such a lasting impression on me that I felt I must do something to help.  I have set up a website: www.deaconkevin.org to share some of my experiences. I've been talking a lot about Haiti and have been working with Maryknoll, CRS, and Food for the Poor.

 

I took one of the Spanish courses at St. Bernard’s last summer, since my parish in Geneva has a Spanish Mass, but I still have a lot to learn there.  (update 01/2010)

 

 

Rev. Louise Tallman Shepard, (MA Theology, 1995)

Pediatric Chaplain, Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital, Syracuse

 

I am the pediatric chaplain at Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital in Syracuse.   I did my CPE residency, fellowship, research and was staff Chaplain in Charlotte, NC for seven years before coming here to develop a pediatric chaplaincy program six years ago. We have published two books to hand out to patients/families and sell to the general public.

 I graduated with a MA in Theology from St. Bernard’s. I hope to share the wonderful things going on here at Golisano Children's Hospital. It is quite the building with a tree house containing a solarium and chapel, and more!  (update 01/10)

  

 

Nancy DeRycke, (MDiv, 1991)

Pastoral Associate at Our Lady of Lourdes in Brighton, NY

 

I went to St Bernard's while I was working full-time in a parish (St. Helen's) which was challenging in itself time wise and energy wise. It was so rewarding to work with professors who had an understanding of other commitments and also challenged us to make it work for both and to see the connections between classwork and ministry and God working in our lives. 

 

I have since continued to work as a Pastoral Leader (Pastoral Administrator) in other parishes and have also taught courses at St. Bernard's over the years. It is my privilege to encourage and challenge others to "make the connections" between education and ministry, always with the pastoral side in play. I remember learning from Fr. Kevin McKenna in our Canon Law course that "we need to learn the Law so that we can use it FOR people instead of against people." It has made all the difference. (update 01/2010)

     

 

Lisa P. Marcelletti (GC Pastoral Studies, 2007)

Faith Formation Director St. Mary of the Assumption Church

 

Since graduation in 2007, I've been very happily ministering with the people of St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Scottsville as their Faith Formation Director. I've never been more fulfilled and never knew this kind of peace was possible. Hokey as that sounds, it's the truth.

 

I will always be grateful to my professors at St. Bernard's for supplying me with a new lens with which to see the world, those people around me, and my own wounded soul. Without them and their guidance and encouragement, I would still be searching to find what was within my reach all these years - God and his best desire for my life! (update 01/2010)

 

Mary Alice Westerlund (MA Pastoral Studies, 2005)

Evening Chaplain, Lourdes Hospital, Binghamton, NY

 

I went to St. Bernard's to find out where and how I could get good information about the Catholic Church, its rules and traditions.  I was so tired of listening to people with old or bad information that they still believed was correct.  There was never a desire to teach or do anything with it other than being an informed Catholic laywoman.  However, the further I got into study, the more I began to realize that I should "put my talent's to work."  The call of God took shape when I took a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Strong.  After 4 more units of CPE, I applied for and received the position of Evening Chaplain at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton, NY.  My education at St. Bernard's is the bedrock of my ministry.  I wouldn't be the chaplain I am today without it.  CPE used my St. Bernard's experience and built on it. (update 01/2010)

 

 

Susan Gruber (MA, 2003)

High School Teacher

 

My story is not a "wow" story, but here it is...Working with the people from our parish's RCIA program is how the Holy Spirit led me to St. Bernard's.  Mid-way through my studies I felt called to work as a Pastoral Associate in Corning for 3 years (and really enjoyed the parishioners) and then felt called to leave.  I returned to the public school system from whence I came. 


I teach high school French... I see my teaching vocation now as more of a ministry than I did before my studies and work at the Church.  I can't share my faith with my students, but I TRY to help them make better, kinder, and smarter decisions... I am not always the role model that I would like to be, but I do start each day anew with the best intentions to make a positive difference in their lives.  Some days I succeed; some days, not so much!  My pastoral care and counseling courses are the ones that provided me with the practical skills that I need each day (and I sometimes remember to use them!)  


A surprisingly big part of my "job" here has been ministering to many of my colleagues, especially those who are grieving or dealing with heavy burdens.  It is not unusual for us to talk openly about faith, or even pray together.  I have even led funeral and committal prayer services for some of their relatives.  I am truly blessed to work in a secular environment with so many faith-filled, good-hearted people.  We support each other through the bumps in the road and celebrate each other's joys!  Who could ask for more?

 

Attending St. Bernard's gave me a different perspective on the world around me and enriched my life...I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity of that rewarding experience, which keeps on giving. (update 01/2010)

  

 

Maureen Collins (MDiv, 2000)

Catholic Chaplain, Cayuga Correctional Facility, Moravia


Because of my degree from St. Bernard's I was able to become the Catholic chaplain at Cayuga Correctional facility in Moravia.  There are only a few women Catholic chaplains in the state and I may be the only one with an M.Div.  And, in December, I received my D.Min degree.  My thesis involved helping faith communities understand their role in welcoming ex-offenders when they return to the community. (update 01/2010)