by Gordon Nary
Gordon: Where did you attend college and what was your major?
Christine: I attended Christ the King Seminary in the Diocese of Buffalo. Our diocese was concerned that I understood my vocation, but was very supportive of me as a woman and I am the first Roman Catholic woman in our diocese to graduate with the Master’s degree in Divinity (a first professional degree).
I completed my Religious Studies Bachelor in Arts degree from Niagara University, in the Vincentian tradition, and also have a degree in Journalism from the State University of New York at Morrisville.
Gordon: When did you serve as Director Of Religious at Immaculate Conception Parish and what were your primacy responsibilities?
Christine: I served as Director of Religious Education at Immaculate Conception Parish from 1994 until I began my full-time seminary studies. I loved the parish ministry. I oversaw a volunteer staff of approximately 25 parishioners who assisted with a religious education program for close to 400 students.
I also served on parish counsel and led several retreats at the parish. I worked closely with RCIA and the Youth Ministry. I loved the family ministry and especially enjoyed promoting a deep understanding of vocation for all the baptized. We are all called to serve Jesus by serving each other in the light of truth as best as we can.
Gordon: What are some of your favorite memories when you served as Pastoral Associate at Saint Gerard's and Saint James parishes?
Christine: Saint Gerard and Saint James parishes were very different from Immaculate Conception Parish. We were two joined parishes in the inner city in an area that was challenged by poverty. Our parishioners were mostly white but our neighborhood was mostly African American.
I enjoyed reaching out to the neighborhood by visiting the sick, working with the African American Deacons and providing them with opportunities to preach and welcome new parishioners from the neighborhood. I enjoyed overseeing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
During this time I also had the opportunity to serve on the Muslim-Catholic Dialogue Committee which was very enriching. I enjoyed the multi-cultural environment and expanding my understanding of inner city ministry and how parishes can adjust to transitions.
Gordon: What were your primary responsibilities when you served as Mission Integration at Catholic Health?
Christine: The Catholic Health System was founded by religious sisters and my hospital was truly encountering a transition as the very last Sister of Mercy was preparing to retire as a mission leader and I was tasked with helping the hospital to carry on it’s mission. I found there was a strong struggle between corporate and religious values. I served primarily on the mission committee groups of the corporation and on the Administrative Team for the specific hospital I was serving.
My work was to help all staff, laborers, nurses, doctors, and administrators understand and embrace their work as founded upon Christian principles. I especially enjoyed designing courses for on-going corporate training. I worked on courses on the teachings of Jesus and other mission-related topics.
However, I found the work too business-focused for my heart. I wanted to be more connected to people on a personal level, and although when I did hospital chaplaincy I was able to do that, as a mission leader I did not feel I was where God wanted me to be.
Gordon: What courses did you teach at Niagara University?
Christine: The University is such a wonderful ministry because you are reaching human beings at a time when they are truly thinking and wondering about life and their purpose and place. My favorite course to teach was Jesus the Christ, because following Jesus has always been the most important aspect of all I do as a baptized Christian Catholic. My second favorite was Christian Sacraments, because I had the opportunity to connect the sacraments to human rites of passage and to experiences of God outside of Church. I enjoyed that! I also taught Introduction to Christianity, The Sacrament of Marriage, Theology of God and Christ and Culture.
Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of Immaculate Home.
Christine: I founded Immaculate Home when the prison ministry showed me how desperate women can be for safe housing and how, due to this desperation, they often make unhealthy relationships with the first male who offers to help them. I founded the home to provide a place where women could help women, but specifically as a Christian ministry. We do what we do in the name of Jesus.
Immaculata Home is a spiritual, communal home for women in transition who live together, pray together, and grow together in independence and faith in God. Many of our participants are homeless due to struggles with addiction, mental health or finances.
We link them with outside social services to meet their personal obligations and needs, while we provide a safe and secure spiritual-growth program that enhances and supports them in their goals of healthy independence.
Our home is unique because we encourage working on yourself before getting into a romantic relationship, and although other transitional models usually move people out in 3 months, we give women up to two years so they can have the personal growth that facilitates long-standing change.
Gordon: What was your family’s response when you decided to serve as Prison Chaplain at Albion Correctional Facility ?
Christine: My family has always supported all of my Christian ministry and I think that is because I understand that my spouse and children are my first vocation and I must be both a good wife and mother in order to be a good example as a Christian minister. The prison is the first ministry where I truly felt I had to completely depend on God everyday. That is how I knew it was the right place for me. My family was a big support as I adjusted to the pain and suffering I encountered in the incarcerated sisters God had called me to comfort, support and walk beside.
Gordon: What are you primary responsibilities as Prison Chaplain?
Christine: My first responsibility is to love each person and to help them know the love of God for them. I am and must be an avid listener. When people are paid close attention to they feel that they matter, and this presence is the most powerful gift I offer them. I am not so unlike them at all. We are all hungry for love and learning to forgive ourselves and others. I have much in common with them as a human being hungry and seeking God. The incarcerated have taught me how strong faith can be and how possible it is to change and to find healing in God.
Gordon: What have been some of your most rewarding experiences as Prison Chaplain?
Christine: I am rewarded in every respect as a prison chaplain. I grow and find Jesus close to me regardless of whether the people I serve are successful at change or continue to struggle. I know that we as human beings are limited and that all hope and grace comes from God’s presence in our lives and the degree to which we can trust and surrender to God. So, no matter what, I am in that process of learning how to trust more and surrender more to God, so every circumstance is an opportunity to love and grow.
As a woman in the Catholic church, because our priest can not preside on holy days of obligation, I am able to preside and preach at Communion Services. It is very rewarding to lead in this way, and a wonderful privilege that I would not necessarily have as often in a parish. I love to preach and hope that parish coordinators and priests allow more educated lay ecclesial ministers opportunities to preach at non-eucharistic services and retreats. Many of us with theological degrees are well-prepared to do so from the perspective of the priesthood of the baptized, and that is special and needed.
Gordon: How has your work as Prison Chaplain affected your commitment to forgiveness?
Christine: Forgiveness is all around me. I am amazed at how generous victim families are with their love and forgiveness toward those who harmed them. I am amazed at how generous the incarcerated are toward their own families and those who have failed them. I am amazed at how wonderful the staff day in and day out are when they love, forgive, discipline and challenge the incarcerated person to do better. Corrections is a wonderful field that is misunderstood and often only considered when things go wrong.
Most of the people in Corrections are the strongest and most forgiving and loving people I have ever met. Forgiveness for me is not the resolution of the feelings or pain from the hurt, but rather a purposeful choice to love the imperfect human being (an act of will) (even when that imperfect person is ourselves) and to offer them (or myself) a chance to do better by being strong enough to know that the struggle is all about learning how to love. The greatest love is divine love, and when we come to know God’s love in prayer and can infuse God’s divine love into our actions, we can overcome all sin.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.