By Seth Arnold, Diocese of Wichita
Although life is all but mostly normal at Mundelein Seminary, one thing that has been different is the lack of opportunity for students to engage with new faculty and staff members. Dr. Juliana Vazquez Krivsky is one of the new faces who, despite the importance she plays in Mundelein’s mission of forming parish priests, may be unfamiliar to the seminary community. Vazquez Krivsky has spent her first semester on staff at Mundelein teaching philosophy via Microsoft Teams to the men in the Pre-Theology program. Nevertheless, she is thrilled to be a part of the Mundelein community and is grateful for the warm welcome and sincere kindness she has received.
Vazquez Krivsky hails from the Chicago suburb of Lombard, Illinois. She describes herself as “a suburban girl at heart” and has many fond memories of growing up in western Chicagoland. During these novel times, she enjoys drinking coffee, going for walks in the park, catching up with friends and browsing petfinder.com for a possible pet dog. She has also used these months to dive into Joseph Pieper’s Leisure: The Basis of Culture. She has a love for poetry and Russian literature and would enjoy getting back into horseback riding, something she greatly enjoyed in the past. There are many Midwestern landmarks she would like to visit, including Starved Rock State Park, the Dunes State Park in Indiana and Devil’s Lake and the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin.
Vazquez Krivsky went to school in neighboring Milwaukee, receiving both a master’s and doctorate degree in systematic theology through Marquette University. While studying at Marquette, she developed a specialization around the 20th century Jesuit thinker Bernard Lonergan, as well as Aquinas, philosophical anthropology, Trinitarian theology and grace and conversion. Cognitional theory is of a particular interest to Vazquez Krivsky, and she hopes to explore further how current theories of trauma intersect with various theologies of healing and conversion narratives. The strong connection between the human sense of awe and wonder produced by philosophical introspection with spiritual discernment and prayer greatly interests her.
While she is new to Mundelein, Vazquez Krivsky is familiar with the professorial role and the territory of teaching philosophy and theology. Before joining the faculty at USML, she had experience teaching an “Introduction to Theology” class and a class in “Prayer and Mysticism” at Marquette. This past spring, she taught Catholic “Social Teaching” and a philosophy class on “knowing and being” to master’s level lay leaders in the Cor Unum program at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.
“…she is honored to participate in the formation of future priests, which she sees as an opportunity to “touch the very heart and future of our Church and our world.'”
Growing up in the western suburbs, Vazquez Krivsky was always aware of Mundelein’s presence as one of the nation’s largest Catholic seminaries, so she is honored to participate in the formation of future priests, which she sees as an opportunity to “touch the very heart and future of our Church and our world.” She was attracted to the “vision of education as a path to wisdom and happiness rather than a mere repository of factual information.” Vazquez Krivsky is very excited about “the idea of intellectual formation as it intersects with the human, spiritual, and pastoral dimensions of formation.”
In her experience so far at Mundelein, Vazquez Krivsky is elated by her students’ thirst for knowledge and their ability to collaborate, to critically discuss pastoral and practical implications of philosophy, and to make connections between philosophy and the life of faith. She has been impressed by the charity and patience displayed by all members of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake and is looking forward to being back on campus as soon as possible. “To think that I could contribute in even a small way to the comfort a parishioner might receive from their pastor during a crisis, the wise counsel a penitent might benefit from in the confessional, or the conversion experience of someone who may have felt abandoned by God is incredibly rewarding and humbling,” she said.
This article originally ran in the Fall 2020/Winter 2021 issue of the seminarian-produced BRIDGE magazine. The full magazine can be viewed here.
Want to learn more about Dr. Vazquez Krivsky? Read the Q&A below where she shares about what she hopes to accomplish at the seminary, a glimpse into her personal faith journey, and some themes she has focused on during this past year of the pandemic. Please continue to pray for Dr. Juliana Vazquez Krivsky and all of our faculty and students.
What do you hope to accomplish during your time here?
I’m really looking forward to just meeting the students and hearing the stories of how they ended up in seminary. God is leading all of these men to discern the vocation of receiving Holy Orders, but there’s a different path and a different longing experienced by each student. I’m really interested in how the academic material that we’ll talk about might connect to their faith journey and might help them heal and evangelize this culture, which in some ways is really fractured.
One of the big components of Father John’s vision for the seminary is forming parish priests to have a heart for Christ—where it’s not just about the academics and becoming smarter, and it’s not just about the pastoral skills and learning how to talk to people—it’s about how these different worlds connect. I’m really interested in how I can further that vision of integration at Mundelein.
I’m hoping to get some research done and just learn from the faculty, many of whom have more experience in research and in teaching. I’m also looking forward to being on campus again and immersing myself in the liturgical life of the campus, which is key to being a theologian. It is such a gift to be part of a prayerful community.
Can you describe your faith journey?
I was a cradle Catholic. My parents definitely talked to me about God and they’re definitely faithful people. I think going to a Catholic high school gave me a vision of how faith can permeate and heal all aspects of our lives, and it was at this time I started to take my faith more seriously. Even though I had gone to CCD, I didn’t really know the teachings of the Church that well.
One thing that really moved me was my high school freshmen year religion class. I had this older senior teacher named Mr. Flood and then later another wonderful teacher named Dr. Mordente. We read through the Catechism and I had never done that before. And it’s actually much easier to do than to read through the Bible because with the Bible you’re going through different cultures and different time periods, and it encompasses different linguistics that you can’t always relate to immediately. I was impressed with the major message of Christianity and I realized every single thing in the Catechism revolves around this main message of the salvation of God’s love. God loves us. We’re precious to God. We have a purpose. We have a destiny. We have this origin that’s supernatural because we all are created by God. I think that started to awaken in me this awe and wonder.
What I’ve tried to do with my life and maybe how God has led me further on is to become a professor, and help others to understand powerful religious experiences they have had and how we can prepare ourselves for service and use our minds to better love God. Between my personal experiences in prayer, my communal experiences in prayer, and then reading books—I’m trying to use the books to make sense of all of it.
You’re one of seven faculty members who chose to go fully online. What do you see as a good way to engage your students while online?
My situation is a little bit different because of a medical exemption. I have pre-theology students and so the classes are really small, which allows for more discussion. Some of my classes feature two weekly synchronous classes and others are half synchronous/half asynchronous. For the latter, I’m excited about leading students through what hopefully will feel like an organic integrated weekly experience of introducing the big ideas as starting to go into the primary text on Tuesday—saying hello to the text and hello to each other. I will also refine some questions and clear up some basic confusion about the text on Tuesday, and then really drill down into the content in a deeper way through the asynchronous elements. For my synchronous/asynchronous classes, on Fridays I’ll have Microsoft Sway presentations, and at the end I usually have a pastoral, practical question or application idea that I pitch to the students, and then there will be an online discussion based on that question.
I recently ran across a quote from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity where he remarks, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” I love that because I think we’re living in a time of greater self-reflection and self-analysis, but sometimes you can get trapped in yourself with that too. That can be a real danger.
I’m excited about how these Sway presentations might help the students learn in a more multilayered way because I’m bringing in different elements and trying to be creative. I think that different multimedia modalities can present opportunities for creativity. At the same time, I naturally wouldn’t really be drawn to audio and video modalities, because I’m a bit of an introvert, but what can be gained here is to think less about myself and more about my students.
How did you engage with your more challenging students in your classes? And how did you overcome it?
A lot of the undergrads that I taught at Marquette University are very thoughtful and some of them do personal prayer practices. Oftentimes, you see that they have some type of prayer practice, but they’re not going to the communal prayer practices, such as the Mass. So often they are very self-reflective in terms of developing spiritual values and developing some type of relationship with God, but there’s such a division in people’s minds today between spirituality and religion.
The overarching belief is that people can be very spiritual without religion. So with my undergrads we started the semester discussing why does one need religion? Why does someone need an institutional superstructure? We then talk about the the power of community, the importance of thinking things through, of developing different spiritual practices and positions of morality and how that’s really best done in community, and even with an authoritative structure helping you along the way. In other words, what are the benefits of spirituality and religion coming together?
Another thing that I see in the culture—and I noticed it in myself as a teacher—is the fear of offending someone. All of these spiritual values and prayer practices should be included in our faith lives; religion is a great expression and nurturer of spirituality. If I put this out there, but there’s disagreements, then I’m always worried about offending people, rather than embodying a more ancient, philosophical view of dialogue—well, if we disagree, this is a great opportunity to love one another. Maybe I don’t understand something as well as you do, maybe you’re wrong, maybe I’m wrong, but if we love one another we can come together to discover truth through initial disagreement and then the search for common ground. I like the idea of intellectual humility—trying to help each other through a patient, charitable, and open-minded process of question-and-answer. Socrates talks about how he rejoices if someone points out his error. He’s happy about it because it’s like a doctor helping a patient who’s ill. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all felt that way?
One last thing about the challenges of teaching college students is that there’s a lot of relativism: the truth is relative to you or me and there isn’t really anything that can be validly or universally agreed upon for legitimate reasons. I just work a lot anthropologically with what does it really mean to be human? And if we can all self-appropriate and go within ourselves and observe certain desires, it seems like certain actions should not be taken and certain actions should be taken, based on who we are as people who experience, understand, judge, decide, and love—the levels of consciousness that my favorite theologian, Fr. Bernard Lonergan, SJ, discusses.
I found this great textbook called The Great Conversation for my pre-theology students that actually goes through the ancient and modern philosophers with the purpose of examining skepticism and relativism. This isn’t just characteristic of 21st century United States—these ideas have been around for over 2,000 years and they keep repeating themselves in the history of philosophy and there are arguments both for and against skepticism and relativism. From an apologetic and evangelization standpoint, it might be interesting for the seminarians.
During the pandemic, what have you found yourself most praying about?
I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas of isolation versus community. We can’t be as close to one another physically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be close to one another spiritually. And how can we support one another through this? My pre-theology students that are new to seminary—their experience is going to be different. They’re still going to bond with their brother seminarians and they’re still going to meet people and it’s going to be wonderful, but I’m trying to think about how we can help build community in a different environment. In addition, how can we build love even through what might feel painful, overwhelming, and frustrating—for example, with things that need to be attended to on a broader level in our society, like all of the racism and violence we’ve witnessed. I’m trying to think about compassion, solidarity, and the thirst for justice.
I have also been trying to grow in gratitude, but not just staying in the place of–wow, look at how God has blessed me with this amazing job—but how can I still use that for solidarity with people that don’t have jobs? And I just found with my own self-reflection in March and April 2020, I was so inspired that the lay students I was teaching at Sacred Heart Seminary in Franklin, WI, just came together on their own—it had nothing to do formally with the class—and they organized different charity projects to help people in their community, such as how to help elderly people get food. I was really inspired by that and I kept thinking about how I could do something.
And I noticed as the semester went on, I kind of got a little bit more complacent and didn’t follow through with these inspirations from the Holy Spirit, even if it’s just donating money, trying to check on someone, or making a phone call. Sometimes I think when we see a lot of suffering on TV or even in our community more directly there’s a numbing effect. You want to put up a wall because it’s painful to think about or it’s overwhelming to think about so many people dying. We might ask ourselves—what can I as a Catholic Christian do? I think maybe just first fostering empathy is crucial—how can we build the virtue of empathy and turn it into compassion and solidarity, and then take action to help people. And I’m approaching these thoughts with a lot of care because I’m still working on it and trying to figure out how I can help people during these difficult times.