Dr. Christina McShane accompanies men discerning priesthood
A perfect example of how God’s divine providence works in the lives of His faithful can be seen in the life of Catholic psychologist, Dr. Christina McShane, who serves the Office of Vocations.
A native of the Diocese of Phoenix, she accompanies seminarians of the diocese as they discern their vocation during their time of formation at Nazareth Seminary.
McShane has traveled a providential route of joy, sadness, and self-discovery to arrive at her current destination as she guides men along the path to the priesthood.
FOLLOWING GOD’S PLAN
“I feel like God’s had an interesting plan; I said yes to Him at a young age and he’s often surprised me,” McShane says, noting that she attended St. Thomas the Apostle Church and School, and St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Phoenix where the spark of faith was enkindled in her youth.
McShane participated in the parish Life Teen program in high school, providing a network of support when her family experienced the tragic loss of her newborn sister, Mary Katherine, when McShane was a sophomore at St. Mary’s.
“It wasn’t until much later I realized the impact it had on me, my faith and family,” she shares. “In hindsight, I see how God has used that loss in my own work, in understanding how trauma effects people and effects families, and how those things go unnoticed.”
McShane’s love of her Catholic faith led to her decision to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio – where she studied communications, business, and theology – but admits she was always interested in psychology.
Upon graduation, she initially refused an unsolicited job offer from Life Teen’s Camp Covecrest in Georgia, as she planned to return to Phoenix. “The person who offered me the job said, ‘If God wants you to come, I think you’ll come,’ McShane says. Friends reminded her it was her dream job, and she accepted the offer. “It was one of my first experiences of seeing how God listened to my heart’s desire.”
JOURNEYING WITH OTHERS
At Covecrest, McShane worked with youth ministers. “Teens and college students would come; a lot of their own pain would come out. We also worked with priests who came in, and they experienced a sense of community where they could feel appreciation, and open up about struggles in their ministry,” she recalls.
“When I look back, I can see how God was preparing me for this ministry (in Phoenix). I was already feeling the burden in my heart for the men to have the support and preparation they needed,” McShane says.
TAKING A LEAP OF FAITH
After three years at Covecrest, she felt compelled to continue her education. “I was not planning on a doctoral program, but through prayer and encouragement from others, I felt the Lord was asking me to take the step,” she says.
From 2009-2015, McShane studied clinical psychology at Divine Mercy University in Virginia and wrote her dissertation on ways psychology could be more helpful in seminary formation. After earning her doctorate, she worked with an organizational consulting firm in Washington, D.C., in a transitional period that seemed to lack clarity.
“It was a point in my own faith that challenged me to ask, ‘What is my why?’” she recalls. “God allowed me to ask the hard questions. It helped me begin to trust Him in a deeper way.”
In August 2016 on the feast of St. John Vianney the patron of parish priests, McShane was flying to attend a wedding. She knew in her heart it was time to move home. “God’s timing is crazy,” she laughs, as she didn’t realize at the time whose feast day it was “I took a leap of faith, slowly got reacquainted with the diocese and got my licensure.”
After returning home, she met Fr. Paul Sullivan, rector of Nazareth House, the first diocesan house of studies for seminarians created in 2019 under the leadership of now retired Bishop Thomas Olmsted.
In her first meeting with the bishop, she told him the story of her decision to move home even before the new seminary house of studies program was created. “He said, ‘Thank you for listening to the Lord!’ McShane recalls.
PRIORITIZING GROWTH AND MENTAL HEALTH
For the past four years, McShane has offered growth counseling to the Nazareth House seminarians, as their time in this intimate, family-like setting is designed to be a time of personal growth and self-knowledge.
“Growth counseling is one of the best tools available to help them grow in self-knowledge,” McShane says. “They’re starting to know themselves, their needs, their story, which is a base goal for everyone.”
As Bishop John Dolan, an outspoken advocate for counseling and mental health, explains, “Spiritual health includes emotional and relational aspects of our life. It includes intellectual ability and the understanding of philosophy and theology, as we have to broaden our horizons.”
“It includes the physical self, and how we are maintaining our health. And of course, it includes our prayer life and how we are maintaining a prayer environment. If all of those things are working, then typically we are going to do well spiritually – but added to that is also our mental health,” he adds.
Bishop Dolan emphasizes that rather than focusing solely on addressing a mental health issue as it arises, the diocese is committed to approaching mental health as a necessary part of formational growth.
“So, it’s not when they need it, or have to do it, it is an ongoing part of formational process which is a part of the overall spiritual health and spiritual growth of a seminarian,” he explains.
Through this type of accompaniment, “We want to change the culture of the Church, the priesthood, and the family,” McShane asserts. “These men are missionaries to their families, and some day they will be missionaries to their parishes.”
The best part of her job, she says, is “I get to witness inspiring growth, to journey with them and see them receive God’s love, becoming more fully themselves – and develop the belief that God has good plans for them whether they become priests or not, and together we’ll figure it out.”