Faith and science are natural blend for two juniors

By Magazine Staff  |  Photos by David Rehor
Student in lab

When Meghan McHale, ’13, arrived on campus as a first-year student, she knew she wanted to study math or science. As she started taking classes, she realized that calculus bored her, but chemistry inspired her. She considered pursuing a pre-med track, but didn’t feel the same pull toward biology.

“It just didn’t fit,” said the Manlius, N.Y., resident. Then she had an idea.

“I had just taken my first theology class, and I loved it.” She enjoyed learning Biblical history and also took great pleasure in her work for the Campus Ministry office.

McHale approached the chairs of the chemistry and theology departments to ask whether she could create an interdisciplinary theology/chemistry major. They agreed. “When you think about it, it’s kind of polar opposites, but it worked out that the professors saw my vision, too,” said McHale. “It’s almost like switching sides of the brain.”

McHale—who is planning a career in healthcare—doesn’t often tell her individual professors about her unusual self-designed major, but she feels that her studies allow her to bring a different perspective to her classes. “Just by having the background in both I automatically have more knowledge to look at things in a different way.”

Sarah Ward, ’13, was a biology major when she decided to add theology as a second major. She had taken a theology class to fulfill a requirement as part of the core curriculum and felt drawn to the field. “My faith’s very important to me. I figured I’m at Loyola, and I have all these great professors in the theology department. I might as well learn as much as I can while I can.”

Ward, who came to Loyola from Dundalk, Md., plans to become a physician scientist. “Not only will I treat patients with genetic disorders and work directly with them, but I also want to do genetic research,” she said. “My faith really just motivates me, and I think it’s really going to help me. I’m going to come face to face with things that are not really pleasant. I need to keep myself grounded and know that there’s an overall purpose, and there’s a God and He’s out there.”

Ward sees her theology studies as beneficial not only to her in her personal and professional journey, but also to those she will serve. “I want to help comfort my patients. I’m not going to be a preacher to them, and pull out my Bible and be reading scripture. For me to be able to do work and be able to comfort them, I have to be sound in my beliefs.”

Both Ward and McHale are used to fielding questions from people who are confused, surprised, or mildly critical of their fields of study.

“I get the double take and the ‘Oh, my gosh, really? That’s so bizarre,’” Ward said.

A Campus Ministry intern, McHale feels members of the Loyola community understand her decision to blend two seemingly different fields more easily than those outside the University. “When you explain it to people at Loyola, they have to take a theology course, and they realize what it is,” McHale said. “But even on campus I’ve gotten mixed reviews—‘Why are you doing that?’ ‘How did they let you do that?’”

For Ward, a pre-med student whose schedule is packed with her work as a work-study student in the theology department, and her volunteer work for programs through the Center for Community Service and Justice—there are times the double major seems daunting, though more because of the demands of the work load than the intellectual challenge. But she loves both majors.

“It’s hard because the theology has lots of reading, a lot of contemplation, and then the science is very fact-based. There’s so much work, so much studying required to be a bio major, that I find it hard to give as much attention to my other courses, not just theology,” she said.

Still, even though there are times when even Ward’s father tells her maybe she should just pick one major and focus on it, she feels the two fields pair naturally.

“I’m the type of person who wants to understand what I’m being told. I guess it’s my scientific nature,” Ward said. “I don’t just want to nod my head in church and say ‘OK.’ I want to know this is why we believe this. I don’t just want to follow blindly. And the theology teachers are brilliant. I’m really excited to take each of the courses and learn more about my faith.”

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