“It reminds me of how special a school I work at, a school willing to put its money where its mouth is when it says it cares for the whole person: mind, body and spirit.”
Assistant Campus Ministry Director and religion teacher John Guinan is talking about the pastoral counseling program at Xavier High School. He’s also talking about the foundational values of a Xaverian Brothers Sponsored School.
“At the end of the day,” Guinan said, “a Catholic institution needs to be a place that not only cares for the intellectual formation of the students but cares for the development of their souls, and we believe that takes place best in the context of relationships … that students know they’re cared for in a relationship of trust, respect and love.”
Director of Campus Ministry and Faculty Formation Peter Lyons says pastoral advising responds to the vision of the founder of the Xaverian Brothers, Theodore James Ryken, to create and maintain enduring personal relationships.
“It is also one of the many ways in which we fulfill our mission of fostering the spiritual growth of the young men entrusted to our care,” Lyons said. “The pastoral care of our students extends far beyond the boundaries of the Pastoral Advising Program. All of our teachers and staff members recognize that they have a role to play in helping our students to grow in virtue, take responsibility for their actions, and use their God-given gifts and talents in service in to others. Specifically, Pastoral Advising allows us to get to know our students on a more personal level and to help them navigate the challenging waters of their high school years in light of their relationship with God.”
In addition to his guidance counselor, each Xavier student has an assigned pastoral advisor. The pastoral advisor for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors is their religion teacher. Seniors get to choose their pastoral advisor from among the religion teachers, administrators, and a small pool of other teachers. The pastoral advisor meets as many times as a student would like.
“On a personal level, it is good to be able to talk with students to find out where they’re from, their background, their interests, their challenges, their expectations,” religion teacher and pastoral counselor Brother Philip Revell, C.F.X., said. “It is a chance to know them more on a personal level than just the day-to-day of the classroom. I always ask them about their religious practices, their faith formation, and encourage them to take advantage of everything the school has to offer.”
Has it ever been easy being a teenager? Every generation would recall challenges, some universal, some particular to the times. Guinan sees one particular to the times.
“Right now the greatest concern in our culture is loneliness, and I don’t think it’s new to the pandemic,” Guinan said. ”I think we’ve seen it over the years. Students need to be assured that they’re loved, and with the rise of social media it is contributing to a culture of isolation and loneliness that can only be rectified with true relationships.
“Since you don’t have to be face to face with someone, technology and social media tricks us into thinking we can have relationships, all the conveniences and joys of a relationship, without the cost of a relationship, which is sacrifice. Having to listen to someone talk, having patience, giving of yourself is difficult, so social media allows us to live an illusion that we can have relationships without the sacrifice. But we come to find out that is not possible, and while we think we have a lot of friends because of interaction through social media, at end of day we oddly can find a loneliness that’s lurking in our heart.”
Of course, no matter the era, some things do not change.
“Students are looking for directions in their lives, and I think as a Catholic institution we provide that as well,” Guinan said. “We provide them with a moral framework by which they can navigate the complexities of life, and ultimately a happy life. One of the things I find, we all are, and especially young people, searching for direction.”
There is yet another subtlety to pastoral counseling that is different from other interactions that are necessary in the development of a student.
“It is not meant to be evaluation, an assessment … in the sense of checking up on the students in regards to academics or discipline,” Brother Philip said. “It is a chance for students to talk about how their lives are going and to bring up any concerns they might have.”
As Mr. Guinan puts it: “It is one of the ways our Catholic identity is on display … Pope Francis has called on the church to be a field hospital. That is to say a place where people can find rest and comfort, and I think pastoral advising is exactly the type of thing envisioned for the church when he says we need to be there every day in the struggles and joys of people’s lives. So it is one of the ways that Xavier lives out the church’s missionary calling. To be there in the good and bad times and let them ultimately know they are loved.”