by Gordon Nary
Gordon: What degrees did you earn at the University of Illinois, what was your favorite course, and why was it your favorite?
Mike: I earned two degrees at the University of Illinois at Chicago…31 years apart! The first was in sociology straight out of the Army. The second, in midcareer, was in social work. The sociology class I found most compelling was Sociological Theory. The social work class which fits the bill was Crisis Intervention, which I happened to be taking at the time of 9/11.
Gordon: What interested you in psychiatric social work?
Mike: My initial, albeit superficial, interest was in the capacity to work during the evening since I was then still working as a Certified Financial Planner. In time I fell in love with psychiatric social work. It allowed me to serve the in marginalized when they were in crisis and to engage in my passion for facilitating groups.
Gordon: Where did you work as a psychiatric social worker?
Mike: In four places: Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s emergency department; Interfaith House (now called The Boulevard), a shelter for the ill and injured homeless; Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, and for 13 years on MacNeal (now Loyola MacNeal) Hospital’s inpatient psychiatric department.
Gordon: What do you do as a Volunteer at Ignatian Volunteer Corp?
Mike: For the last five of my eight years as an Ignatian Volunteer I have served at Cook County Jail, teaching classes and facilitating groups on a wide range of topics. It has been the most satisfying gig of my long career. In addition, we Ignatian Volunteers meet in community for monthly days of recollection and an annual retreat.
Gordon: What have you been doing during your retirement?
Mike: My wife Mary and I enjoy travel. Last January we explored Colombia with Roads Scholar for two fascinating weeks. Each summer we travel to western New York to participate in Chautauqua Institution programming. I thoroughly enjoy reading and mastering Spanish.
Gordon: What are the psychological challenges of those in jail and how are they best addressed?
Mike: They are many. Some prominent ones: worrying about the outcome of their cases; boredom; loneliness; guilt about the effect of their absence on loved ones, particularly their children; and concern about acceptance upon reentry
Gordon: You presented at an Alzheimer’ conference. One of my relatives has Alzheimer’s disease. What prompted your interest in Alzheimer’s disease?
Mike: I accompanied my mother on her Alzheimer’s journey and I frequently encountered early stage Alzheimers patients during the hospitalization that resulted in their diagnosis.
Gordon: In his 2022 interview with America Magazine, Pope Francis called for overcoming polarization in the life of the Catholic Church: What are some of the factors contributing to this polarization and what can be done to address this challenge?
Mike: I’m convinced we are all more alike than different. Unfortunately, however, our differences are more salient. Until we can achieve a measure of humility and self-reflection, the tendency is to frame our differences as ‘we/good’ ‘they/bad.’ James Joyce famously described Catholics as ‘here comes everybody.’ Now however we open our hearts only to those who conform to our worldviews. That is to say, even when we embrace diversity as our ideal, we balk at viewpoint diversity. There is no easy solution, but I think a good start would be to seek out friends who see the world very differently than we do. Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsberg are a model.
Gordon: Thank you for an exceptional interview.