Several miles from the State Capital in Albany, New York, the old building that was once an orphanage stands proudly as the Pastoral Center for the Albany Diocese, whose boundaries span the Catskill Mountains to the Adirondack Mountains. Playgrounds are now parking lots. Once inside, there are friendly welcomes and an art gallery whose splashes of color and Christian symbols rival stained glass scenes in any cathedral. The Bishop’s Coat of Arms features a sea shell close to the heart of the crucified Savior: symbolizing the Apostle James, a fisherman. For 33 years Bishop Howard James Hubbard has been the Bishop of Albany, and I have come today to visit and talk about the role and value of psychology and social work in the Church.
Of the more than 220 bishops in the United States Church, only a handful have had formal training in the helping professions. (Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles is one of these, with a Masters of Social Work degree.) After his theological training, Bishop Hubbard enrolled in a graduate program in social welfare at the Catholic University of America. For his internship, he returned to Albany to work at Hope House, where he became immersed in helping those caught up in the scourge of heroin addiction that blighted Albany in the middle 1960s. Bishop McCann viewed service to these addicted persons as a higher priority than Hubbard finishing his studies, and so a ministry involving street outreach and work within treatment centers began. Bishop Hubbard’s good work here was noticed by many and in 1977, at age 38, Pope Paul VI named him the youngest bishop in the United States.
Hubbard looks back with fondness on his years of direct service. “I learned community service, group work, and how to do effective counseling. Without this background, my later work as a bishop would have been much more difficult. Psychology and social work have become a resource, a wonderful service for our people who struggle with problems along the continuum of adjustment disorders and family problems to more serious disorders.”
Hubbard noted that the relationship between psychology and the Church has not always been a harmonious one, because many of the ideas of the founders of psychology questioned the role of religion. “We now know,” said Hubbard, “that the behavioral sciences contribute to our Gospel demand, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you don’t understand yourself, don’t love yourself, it’s going to be difficult or nearly impossible to love your neighbor. So if you are a fully integrated human being you can more effectively serve your neighbor. In this way the disciplines of psychology and social work complement the Gospel.”
There is a distinction between spiritual direction and counseling, said Hubbard.
“Spiritual direction,” he said, “makes one’s relationship with God as the center, while psychological counseling starts with the human person carte-blanche and seeks to heal conflicts within or those problems one may have with others. The role of spiritual direction is to deepen one’s own understanding of who God is, and how this impacts on one’s life.”
During the course of Hubbard’s priesthood, there have been three individuals whom he has admired tremendously for their work in Albany. “Father John Maleck, who was my spiritual director, is really my hero. He obtained a degree in psychology from Columbia Universirty and helped our diocese start its own counseling center,” he said. “Sister Serena Branson, who did a marvelous job directing and expanding Catholic Charities, and Sister Susanne Breckel, were both outstanding role models for me.”
One of the aims of my blog is to discover and encourage ways that psychology is helping or can be of even greater assistance to the Church. Thank you, Bishop Hubbard, for seeing the value in our profession and for helping so many people during your nearly fifty years as priest and bishop!