PHOENIX — For the second year in a row, the Diocese of Phoenix used the liturgy and the Eucharist to honor and pray for the professionals, caregivers and clergy who serve those with mental health concerns, part of a growing effort to spotlight the once-misunderstood area of care.

The Office of Mental Health Ministry invited professionals, social workers, counselor, pastoral caregivers and mental health ministers to Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, where Mass was celebrated Sunday in their honor.

May is also National Mental Health Awareness Month, a time set aside by the advocacy group Mental Health America for recognizing the millions of Americans dealing with some type of condition as raising awareness of resources and advocating for improved public policy.

During Sunday’s Mass, green ribbons were handed out, along with prayer cards of St. Dymphna.

Green signifies new life, new growth and new beginnings, and reminds people they need not suffer from the stigma over mental illness.

St. Dymphna is the patroness of those suffering nervous or mental afflictions. Her Feast Day is May 15.

Read more about her life here:

Those unable to attend can view the Mass online via YouTube and Facebook.

It also was broadcast for the first time on CW7.

Fr. Matthew Henry, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral was the celebrant.


Although Catholic mental health practitioners provide clinical care, their role differs in at least one respect from others in the field. These individuals are responsible for bearing witness to God’s unique love.

“(It is) striving to be like Christ,” noted Office of Mental Health Ministry Program Manager Maricela Campa. “He loved and cared for the sick. That includes souls who are mentally ill.”

No data for the number of Catholic mental health professionals in Arizona was available, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates more than 1.2 million individuals overall worked nationally in the field during 2020. The number of Catholic professionals would be a fraction of that figure.

Counselors, therapists, psychologists and others need the Church’s prayers, say Catholic ministers and professionals.

Office of Mental Health Ministry Director Mary Permoda said practitioners must open their heart to the people they serve and hold what they encounter without that heart breaking.

“A lot of people think it’s an easy job; it’s not. This is a ministry of love. Sometimes there’s compassion fatigue (or) burnout. So, I pray for their hearts,” Permoda explained.

She also asks God to provide these individuals a “decent wage.”

Caregivers and mental health ministers are aided by prayer, said Campa.

“(They need) continued wisdom and understanding, as well as compassion for those (they) minister to,” she said.

Others cite the mental health field’s growing demand for quality, God-centered personnel.

Terry Braciszewski, a neuropsychologist and official with a nationwide organization for Catholic mental health professionals, said spiritual decay is driving more people today into some type of mental suffering.

“We are in a culture that has lost its moral compass. For example, we have totally lost the male-female identities (in) God’s order,” explained Braciszewski, the regional representatives chair who serves on the executive board of the Catholic Psychotherapy Association. “There is (also) a tremendous amount of oppression by the Evil One. That manifests itself in anxiety, fear, depression, lack of hope.”

The Irving, Texas-based CPA supports practitioners with professional and spiritual community as well as connecting them to professional development and educational opportunities.

Dr. Anne Vargas-Leveriza, director of the Diocese of Phoenix’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment Training and a licensed mental health therapist, is one of the agency’s representatives for Region 13, which includes Arizona.


Across the U.S., many live with a form of mental illness.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that 57.8 million adults have a condition, from those able to perform daily tasks to the more severe illnesses that may qualify a person for government disability aid.

The problem is particularly acute among teens.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through its biannual survey of U.S. high school students, found that in the year 2021, 42 percent of those students “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” —- up from 28 percent in 2011.

For practitioners, the mission is clear, Braciszewski said.

“We (as mental health professionals) have to offer a ‘big Ark;’ (a) safe haven for people who want to know the truth and not have the Band-Aid.”

He encouraged Catholics to pray the rosary for mental health providers, caregivers and patients.

“The power of the Rosary — it’s simple. Most of us raised in the Church have been raised with it. We know it,” he said. “It’s beautiful; absolutely beautiful.”

Sunday’s Mass was also the latest in a series of steps taken by Bishop John P. Dolan to raise awareness about mental health.

His own family’s experience with suicide having been well-chronicled, Bishop Dolan in December 2022 launched the Office of Mental Health Ministry to establish a Diocesan center for prayer and referral to resources.

In nearly a year and a half, the Diocese has established “satellite” offices in each of its 15 deaneries – or parish clusters – and has trained ministers, both laity and clergy, in use of the “mental health toolkit,” a guide for initial response and referral.

On Jan. 5, the Diocese hosted the first-ever Interfaith Mental Health Meeting at Creighton University School of Medicine. The gathering produced an interfaith task force to increase advocacy and education around mental health issues in Arizona.

The Diocese’s efforts appear to be bearing fruit.

“We know there are a greater number of people who feel they can reach out,” said Permoda. “You don’t have to live with (mental illness). You don’t have to walk alone. What greater place than the Church to come in and feel like you are loved?”