Q&A with Missy Gugerty: Writing the Next Chapter
September 15, 2015
Eileen Simonson Hiebler,’95, sat down with Sister Catherine “Missy” Gugerty, SSND, former director of the Center for Community Service and Justice (CCSJ), as she shared personal details regarding her passion toward service, her cherished “dream job,” and her outlook on her resignation and beyond.
A Blessing. That’s my unequivocal observation as I recall the precious time I spent recently with Sister Catherine “Missy” Gugerty. As she begins her new chapter, we discussed what brought Missy to Loyola and what will be her guiding force as she enters the next chapter. I’m honored to share elements of our conversation as Missy provided perspective on her “new normal” and the journey of self-care that she is embracing with God directly by her side. —EH
EH: What would you like to share with alumni and Loyola community members about your resignation?
MG: I made the heart-wrenching decision to resign because I have Lyme disease, and the fatigue, memory, and cognitive issues persist even after 15 months of being under the care of several excellent Lyme-literate doctors. While difficult, I believe that it was the right and just thing to do for the sake of Loyola, the work of CCSJ, and for my own health. The transition from a job/ministry I referred to as “my dream job” to total care of self is very challenging, but I’m confident is necessary, in order for me to return to full health.
EH: How did you come to be known as “Missy”?
MG: My godmother lovingly called me “little miss” when I was born and at the time, my 4-year-old brother, Tom, eagerly latched onto that as the perfect alternative to Catherine Russell (my maternal grandmother’s name) and to what was otherwise too much of a mouthful for a 4-year-old. These many years later, still living in the area in which I was born and have spent most of my life, it’s simply too difficult to change, though my dad (now deceased) and several friends have been relentless in calling me Catherine.
EH: How did you choose to enter the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND)?
MG: SSND is really the only order I’ve ever known. For 16 years I was SSND-educated, both inside and outside of the classroom—grade school through college. I entered the order in 1984 and at a time when SSNDs were starting to move beyond formal classroom education. The SSND slogan became “we are educators in all that we do.” Though I had a brief stint “teaching” in a high school, by year’s end it was deemed by all involved that “formal” education was not my gift.
I have worked with people experiencing poverty and homelessness for many years and early on came to the realization that I was best being an experiential educator—educating through my work at Beans & Bread, Our Daily Bread, and Christopher Place. While working at all of the above named places, I began to see that mental health services were greatly needed. I expressed that need to the leadership of SSND and they encouraged me to pursue a degree that responded to that need, so I went for my master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling at Loyola. That degree has complimented both the justice-focused mission of SSND and all that I’ve done since receiving it in 1998.
EH: What brought you to Loyola, and what are some of your greatest achievements during your 23 years of service?
MG: While I was working at Christopher Place, I met Erin Swezey, who coordinated Loyola’s community service programs. Erin and I really connected and I began coordinating experiential educational experiences on hunger and homelessness for the students. As Erin and Fr. Tim Brown, S.J., began to dream of developing a “Center” (initially named the Center for Values and Service (CVS), now CCSJ), they invited me to consider joining the Center’s Team.
In 1992, when CVS was officially launched, I began working full time at Loyola. I thought I’d try it for a year or so. However, with each passing year I realized that Loyola’s commitment to further developing men and women for and with others was the perfect place for me to continue being involved in service and to living out the SSND educational spirit. For the next 23 years, I had the privilege of working with students thirsting to make a difference in the world and to understanding what it means to “pursue justice,” I was able to continue working with extraordinary community partners and with them, seek ways to respond to their needs via Loyola’s human and physical resources.
Fr. Tim Brown and I became co-directors of the Center in 1998 and seemed to compliment each other well—he had the ideas and dreams for programs, and I helped to get them off the ground! When he was called to serve as the Maryland Jesuit Provincial in 2002, I reluctantly but excitedly stepped into the director role, forewarning everyone that I could never be a “Fr. Brown.” Eventually I found my niche as the director and loved developing CCSJ programming and the opportunity to represent the awesome work of the Center staffs, both the full-time and student staffs.
I’m also deeply grateful for the many opportunities I had to further develop the culture of service at Loyola—through expanding service opportunities to faculty, staff, and administrators; through heightening Loyola’s and CCSJ’s commitment to justice; through helping develop the Beans & Bread/Loyola Partnership; through playing a role in getting the end of semester “Good Stuff Program” (recycling and donating clothing, food, and household items) off the ground; through being an integral part of Loyola’s Commitment to Justice Committee; and through being a part of Human Resources’ efforts to respond to employees in crisis and often in need of financial assistance.
EH: How do you envision the next chapter?
MG: I’m beginning to think that the next chapter is currently being written. And while I have a few ideas that include returning to Loyola, I feel certain that being an advocate for and/or working with people with Lyme Disease will have some role in my future. I am learning a great deal about this disease, especially the horrors of living with Lyme for people who can’t afford treatment and lack the support of family, friends, and colleagues. On my most difficult days, there are people whom I know I can call to help me out.
Last, but certainly not least, God and I continue to ponder the next chapter, and I completely trust that between the two of us, we’ll find the path to my next “dream job.” For now, I’m taking one day at a time, embracing the essence of Kobi Yamada’s words: “Be good to yourself. If you don’t take care of your body, where will you live?”
I speak for many students and alumni who simply say “thank you” to you, Sister Catherine “Missy” Gugerty. You are now, have always been, and will continue to be … a blessing to all who know you. —EH