By Elena Dini
ROME — The beginning of a new academic year is always an important moment. Students are full of energy. They look forward to the certainty of lectures and study in the next nine months, but are excited about the unexpected.
On Oct. 3, The Lay Centre opened the new academic year with an inaugural Mass in its Chapel of the Holy Trinity. Father James Corkery, SJ, celebrated the Mass, followed by a festive dinner, during which Dr. Catherine Stevenson, an alumna of the Lay Centre, gave a short talk on the theme, “Becoming Your ‘True Self’ in Rome.”
Dr. Stevenson is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst; she has a private practice in Houston. She is also a clinical assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and a professor at the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies. Her wonderfully variegated profile is enriched by her studies in spirituality — the reason for her studies in Rome in the 1990s — and by her artistry, specifically in iconography.
“I welcome you all, knowing that maybe in 25 years some of you will be in my position tonight to encourage new students,” she said. Dr. Stevenson gave students some very useful tips.
“There are so many interesting things you can do while you are here but you also have to learn to say, ‘no,’ to something in order to be focused,” she said.
She shared her student experience of what she called, “The Six-hour Study Club.”
“You can’t study all the time, and we had a routine here at The Lay Centre: we used to meet for breakfast and talk, then each of us would study on her own for 90 minutes; a good and long pause for lunch, and then two other slots of 90 minutes with a break in the middle. This is what got me through my license thesis and also through med school,” she said.
Dr. Stevenson lived at The Lay Centre (1994-1995), when it was located by Piazza Navona. She completed her license in spiritual theology at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum).
While at The Lay Centre, she had painted in acrylics in a makeshift “studio,” situated over the radiator outside her bedroom. Her room, nicknamed the “broom closet” was the smallest, but quite famous because a stuntman jumped out of her window in the film “Double Team,” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
After Rome, she went on to medical school at the Menninger Clinic. She began psychoanalytic studies at the Topeka Institute for Psychoanalysis and completed the program at the Houston-Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute. Now besides her flourishing private practice and teaching commitments in Houston, she is completing a doctorate in spirituality at the Angelicum in her spare time. Her research is on the spirituality of the Order of Malta, of which she is a member.
Her spiritual path since her time at The Lay Centre has been formed by her membership in Order of Malta and by iconography. Recently she combined the two in a prayer card that featured an icon she had painted and a prayer that she wrote for prisoners. Members of the Order of Malta distribute these prayer cards to prisoners, contributing beauty to a desert-like environment.
“When I was a student, everything looked really chaotic: psychoanalysis, spirituality, art… but I felt each aspect (as) real and imperative. Vocation is not only about priesthood and religious life. We all have a vocation and to find it is a huge part of our work as human beings,” she told The Lay Centre students Oct. 4. “Media tend to narrow everything into shoots, but your vocation might be unusual and you are maybe called to be something much more extraordinary than that.”