PCPS Freshman Lecture Reflection

By Kate Wisner'21

When I first booked a tour at The University of Scranton, the Jesuit mission was completely foreign to me. The University’s gleaming facilities and accelerated occupational therapy program drew me to campus, and from there, I fell in love with more than just the academic institution.

Many years earlier, before I could conceptualize a college education, let alone a Jesuit education, my grandmother taught me to knit. It was quite an ordeal; a 5-year-old girl and a 60 year-old woman snuggled into an armchair, entangled in several feet of yarn. As I grew older and my knitting abilities advanced, I sought greater meaning in my craft. Armed with my mother’s support and encouragement, I established a church group to knit for charity. Each week, we would convene and share our projects, and a pile of hats in the corner of my living room, destination unknown, began to accumulate.

When the pile morphed into a large Rubbermaid tub, we selected a charity to receive our hats: the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey. As I continued to produce countless hats, I began to imagine the children who would wear them and the joy that I hoped the hats would bring to their lives. However, it wasn’t until I personally delivered a box of hats and saw the faces of the children and families illuminate with gratitude, that I truly understood the meaning that my service could have in others’ lives. Thus, my love for knitting evolved into something much more: a passion for serving others.

A lifelong Methodist, I had never had the slightest intention of attending a Catholic university; nevertheless, from the moment I set foot on Scranton’s campus, the University’s commitment to serving others overwhelmed me. Soon, I learned that this self-sacrificing service embodied the Jesuit mission, and a more concrete concept of a Jesuit education began to form in my mind. I quickly realized that many of my personal beliefs about service and compassion toward others were analogous with those put forth by St. Ignatius in the Jesuit mission. As I continue to learn about Jesuit values, I am even more certain of the capacity of my education to mold me into not only a highly skilled occupational therapist, but also into an OT guided by the Jesuit mission of compassion, charity and love.

A fundamental conviction of the Catholic Church is that all human lives have dignity; as such, every human being deserves proper care. Likewise, occupational therapy emphasizes the importance of a client’s dignity, striving to enable patients to be self-sufficient in everyday life. Furthermore, the Jesuit aim for cura personalis, or “care for the whole person” parallels the goal of occupational therapy to treat individuals in all facets of their lives. In occupational therapy, this often means helping individuals return to the activities that give them a sense of identity and purpose, a goal that is perfectly accentuated when underscored by a Jesuit education.

As a helping professional, it is impossible to execute cura personalis without forging personal connections with patients. Similarly, the Corporal Works of Mercy, based in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, stress the need for service to be sacramental, that is, for the individuals to be both present and connected. Regarding the helping professions, this relationship is often established in physical touch. As an occupational therapist, I will, no doubt, support a client as she dresses herself, lifts herself from bed, lowers herself into a shower chair; this is sacramental. The faith that a client places in a therapist forges an effective client-practitioner relationship. However, this faith exists only when a therapist honors the sacrament of therapy and is present for the client.

A therapist’s actions must demonstrate her devotion to her client, if she is to establish that she is present for him or her. St. Ignatius of Loyola incites followers of the Jesuit tradition to show love “more by deeds than by words”; a mission that is often fulfilled when Jesuits serve in hospitals.  , he recalled serving in an AIDS hospital in the late-20th century. He contended that serving individuals with such vile illnesses prevents the abstraction of suffering. A Jesuit praying with an AIDS patient cannot pretend that victims of AIDS are a faceless mass; rather, he must acknowledge the individuality and dignity of the individual. In the case of helping professionals, they must indicate, through the commitment to the patient’s dignity and individual needs, that they have a patient’s best interest at heart. Thus, a helping professional forms a viable connection with his or her client.

Lastly, the Jesuit concept of a vocation, where “your greatest passion meets the world’s need,” is applicable nowhere if not in the helping professions. At The University of Scranton, Panuska College of Professional Studies students are “embracing the call to care.” The idea that a higher power called me to be an occupational therapy major seemed trivial to me at first; I had simply chosen a field that combined a number of my interests. But, reflecting on my experiences, perhaps God called me here to put my passions to work. In Jeremiah 1:5 the Lord proclaims: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”; could it be that He had drawn me here all along?

Perhaps, when I was 5 years old and curled in my grandmother’s lap, He was forging a plan for me. He taught me the meaning of human dignity, as I served smiles and soup in a local homeless shelter; the sacramental power of touch, as I held my grandfather’s hand when the tumor that overtook his brain forced him into a coma; and the importance of deeds, each time my father reminded me to “walk the walk” if I wanted to “talk the talk.” Although He never appeared to me in a dream, God shaped my experiences to call me to the University.

Father Jim Skerl offers an apt appraisal of the value of Jesuit education: “An Ignatius education does not exist to make you better than everyone else; it exists to make you better for everyone else.” As an occupational therapist, I do not need to be the best in my field, only the best for my clients, and I know, unequivocally, that a Jesuit education will prepare me for exactly that.