by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When and why did you join Holy Name Cathedral?
Eileen: I joined Holy Name Cathedral because of the Eucharist. I wanted to go to Mass each day at different times because of my University schedule and the Cathedral gave me the opportunity to do so. I bought a place near the cathedral and am able to pray at Mass everyday. I have been devoted to the Eucharist since my First Communion in New York. I start my day with His companionship and He fills me with the grace necessary to carry out His work. My motto is FIAT: be it done to me according to your word.
I came to the cathedral in 2012 after raising my sons in the suburbs. My husband passed away when my sons were young.
One of the reasons I came to Holy Name is to get support for my position as a practicing Catholic in my University. The priests here have been helpful in figuring out how to live as a Catholic in a very secular atmosphere.
Gordon: You may have set the gold standard for parish volunteering, serving as Lector, Minister of Communion, Chair of Boost your Beliefs of the Faith Formation Commission, a member of the RCIA Team, and book club facilitator for "Mercy in the City" where the members are all from RCIA.
Could you comment on the mission of the Boost your Beliefs of the Faith Formation Commission, some of the projects that the Commission has sponsored and approximately how many people attend these events?
Eileen: The Faith Formation Commission assists in helping our fellow parishioners grow in discipleship by deepening our Catholic faith. We do this by helping all who walk through our Cathedral doors understand God’s word in Sacred Scripture; gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of our faith; of the Mass and of the Sacraments. We help spread the Word of God and the Good News in collaboration with the Director of Faith Formation. In my own words. the purpose of Boost Your Beliefs has for its mission the creation of a forum in which presenters and parishioners can share their life on topics to do with increasing the transformative aspect of our faith. Each person that comes to the sessions shares and formulates a new way to express their faith and to be with the Lord. Each session has 40-50 people attending the sessions.
The work of the Faith Formation Commission includes gathering people of the parish to listen and interact with outstanding speakers in regard to Faith Formation including evenings of reflection in which our own staff assists us in developing a stronger bond with Christ and the community. The topics include the role of Scripture in our everyday lives, ways to honor Mary and the Saints, our own ability to develop a significant relationship with Christ and issues of the environment.
Gordon: I understand that you currently sponsor three candidates for RCIA. Based on your personal experience, what are some of the primary reasons why people choose to convert to Roman Catholicism?
Eileen: A candidate might chose to convert to Catholicism as a realization that the joys, troubles and worries of the world can be handled by each person with God’s help! Catholicism has the structure and rhythm that assists us in formulating a relationship with God and His people. Catholicism encourages them to stay true to their beliefs by calling them to be part of the Church in a meaningful and intentional way. The sacraments are markers of growth and belief of God’s journey with us. Another candidate chose Catholicism as a foundational form for their life. They want their children to enjoy the hard work, joys and challenges of being a Catholic. Another candidate might want the Catholic Church as the spiritual sameness with their spouse or daughter is important to them. During this RCIA program, there are 3 Mother/Daughter pairs
Gordon: Having a book club so popular with RCIA candidates may be a model that some other parishes may want to consider. Could you provide and overview of the book club?
Eileen: Faith Formation has also developed small groups to share the book "Mercy in the City" by Kerry Webber. These groups have met in the rectory or homes of participants to discuss the content of the book in regard to bringing Christ to others in our homes and work. The words of Pope Francis resonate in regard to finding the Face of Christ in those we meet each day. We meet once a week for about 2 hours. We start with greetings and a prayer. We sometimes share food and we are nourished by each other’s thoughts. We will probably use part of the Gospels for the next book reading.
Gordon: You are also a consecrated hermit. Some of our readers may not be aware of the consecrated eremitic life. What prompted you to this vocation and what impact has this had on your faith?
Eileen: The reason I chose this style of life is that I wanted more defined time for prayer. I say the liturgy of the hours, confession every other week, rosary, Mass everyday and then personal prayer for an hour, generously giving to the Seminary for the education of priests, as well as Catholic schools. I am not removing myself from the glories of God’s world as I have a full life with University work, the Golden Apple Selection Committee for teachers, mentoring teachers in mathematics, my responsibilities to HNC and reading/walking for leisure. I’ve taken vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. My mantra in my life is the Latin word FIAT. This has impacted my life by increasing the joy I experience. The sense of peace from prayer carries over to my work..
Gordon: You earned your PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, while raising three sons, and working full time at Xavier University where you are now a full professor in the School of Education. Raising three sons of whom you are especially proud, while working and studying for your doctorate must seem like a miracle to many of our readers (you only need two more miracles to be called St, Eileen). Please tell us something about your sons, their professions, families, etc.
Eileen: My three sons are the biggest blessing in my life. My eldest son who is 33 is a Village Manager and cares deeply about the environment. Jack’s wife Raphaela and new son, Matthew, (3 weeks) live in Arlington Heights. My next son ,Patrick, is an anthropologist who is an instructor at UIC, his wife, Caitlin, is an counselor. They have a daughter, Maeve, who is 2 on St. Joseph day. My son, Michael, is a lawyer, who is extremely compassionate with all whom he meets including his brothers .He works for the Mayor of Chicago. He is single (with a delightful girlfriend Meredith) they both live in Wicker Park.
Gordon: How has technology affected the teaching profession over that past decade and what do you perceive as the technology challenges that may be affecting our educational system in the future?
Eileen: As you can imagine there are two sides to technology: it has made my job easier as accessibility is of paramount importance; I teach classes online such as Leadership, Change and Collaboration, Anthropology and Sociology of Education (co-designed with my son Patrick) and several other courses. The students find this an orderly way to organize and store information that makes a difference to them. It is also a big distraction not only for the students but also for the teachers. The glut of information makes it almost impossible to keep up with everything on a particular topic. It is hard to filter at times what is important and what isn’t. Sherry Turkle has written Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other that deals with this issue.
Gordon: Any thoughts on the interrelationship between technology and mathematics and the how the study of mathematics may have evolved in the past decade?
Eileen: I know how to use a slide rule and yet we’ve come so far. My position on mathematics is to teach students how numbers behave. The tools they use are up to them: calculator, apps, each other, any strategy that helps them figure out how to get to their final destination. I’ve taught Statistics at the Police Academy and it was so much fun as we figured out what we wanted to count. The statistics helped us to realize what information needs attention and what is irrelevant.
Gordon: You have been widely covered in the local media on your position on the voucher system in Chicago schools. Could you explain the issues that appear to affect the use of vouchers and how their use may or may not have a beneficial affect on students?
Eileen: At first glance, vouchers seem to be a dream come true. A student gets to go to a magnificently endowed school such as Stevenson, Hinsdale, Ignatius, Naperville and other well equipped schools who will get them the best education that life has to offer. The trouble with vouchers is that they don’t serve the economically poor who use the voucher to go to some wonderfully affluent school but they have no money to get there or home and can’t afford what the other students have. The parents can’t afford to get to their sport’s games or other events that need their input. The vouchers in most regards upset family life.
Gordon: Xavier University appointed you to Illinois Board of Higher Education Advisory Committee. What are you primary responsibilities as a board member?
Eileen: The primary responsibilities of a Board of Higher Education Advisory Committee member is to present the needs of my University in the clearest and most succinct way possible so the State will assist us in creating responsible citizens. Lately, the issues have been around finances as the moneys promised by the State have not been delivered. This is a serious break in a covenant that was made. We also discuss curriculum and need to provide adequate services to the underserved population. Our particular University has a large minority population that is first generation college students. If they don’t get adequate money to attend they will not transfer to another similar institute to finish up their work, they will succumb to low paying jobs.
Gordon: You are also board member for Mother McAuley Catholic High School. What are some of the major challenges affecting Catholic schools in the Chicago area?
Eileen: Mother McAuley High School is the largest single gender high school in the State. The girls are very empowered and in charge of their progress. The faculty offers them an excellent education with the technology they need to succeed in this society .As the society changes and we have a smaller number of students we have less students available to us and therefore things change such as number of faculty needed, number of staff needed, use of buildings ,etc. These issues affect/effect finances too so that there is a re-organization of allocated funds. In dealing with strategic plans this effects who we are and what we can accomplish.
Gordon: Violence, especially gang violence, has been a significant factor affecting the education of many of our Chicago schools. Could you provides our readers with an overview of how this may have been addressed by the leaders with whom you work?
Eileen: I have worked as a consultant and math coach in many economically poor areas for the past 30 years. The students and teachers are delightful to work with. They want to help their students become good Catholic Christians and successful members of society. Their neighborhoods are often plagued with violence. In areas of undocumentation, the people who are living in the neighborhoods are afraid of the police as they are thinking their job is to send them back to their original country and not to protect them.
Quite some time ago, I gave a talk to adolescents who were gang members and told them that just like Jesus belonged to a gang, they do to. Now make this gang good for everybody! They got the message and laughed. They want to belong and we need to find a way to assist them in doing so. Most successful people, “belong”.
Gordon: You are a popular presenter at many educational forums through the United States as well as globally, including Czech Republic, Ireland, England, France and Panama. On what topics do your primarily present, and what are some of the primary challenges affecting education globally?
Eileen: I give many presentations about pedagogy and what markers are important to determine the appropriate level of sophistication for the students. In mathematics I focus on five variables: estimation, the use of word problems, the use of a variety of strategies, the use of drawings or manipulatives and the connection to everyday life. Students who have dismissed the issues of mathematics as unlearnable know that they are capable learners. I create a rhyme and rhythm to the class so that they begin to self-assess what they are good at and what they needed added work or more challenging input. I also have worked in the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Globally, I think every country wants their students to be full members of society as a result of the instruction. We are getting better and better at designing instruction and carrying out strategies that will best serve each student. I have done a great deal of work in creating joy filled, educational sound programs in both high school and grade school so that the students can figure out their gifts and talents and continue to nourish them. My spiritual life connects with my work life which connects with my home life, thanks to the God who loves us all.
When I presented in Belfast Ireland at Queen’s University, I had the pleasure of presenting with my son, Patrick, because of his different interest in anthropology the presentation was replete with examples from anthropology. The audience was interested in looking at mathematics in light of the anthropological issues brought forth.
Gordon: Thank you for a great interview. We all can learn much from other people's lives, and yours has been blessed with many talents and a powerful spirituality.