A Conversation with Carmen Fitzsimmons Rosenblatt, Chaplain-in-Residence

This semester, Catholic Chaplaincy Intern, Alexis Larios, C’18, spent time getting to know some of the Catholic women chaplains at Georgetown. Their stories and insights about ministering to students are inspiring, thoughtful, and wise. Here, she interviews Carmen Fitzsimmons Rosenblatt, Chaplain-in-Residence for Copley Hall, where she lives with her husband, Mike, her dog, Pedro, and baby, Adela. Read more about Carmen’s journey to and time at Georgetown below.

What drew you to ministry? What did your path to Georgetown look like?

I applied to Georgetown because it’s a Jesuit school. I went to a Jesuit high school, and it made a big impact on my high school experience. I wanted a college that emphasized service and faith. I actually remember my grandmother saying that Georgetown was the crown jewel of Jesuit education, but I didn’t even know what it was. When I visited in April, I knew I was home. It just clicked. I wanted to be here and knew it would allow me to grow and find my path. I really loved going to Georgetown: I loved the opportunities I got involved with, like the CSJ and Campus Ministry. I majored in Theology because those were the classes I wanted to take when I went through the course listings. When I was a senior I applied to a bunch of different things because I wanted options. I talked to my advisor in the English department, and he told me that I was educated, and opinionated, and Latina, and could have a voice in the church. I applied to theology graduate programs, JVC, and other service programs. I was interested in a PhD at the time, so I chose pursuing a graduate degree in theology from Notre Dame. But when I finished the degree, I was tired of talking about faith as an idea; I wanted to talk to people and hear about their faith. Some of the best theologians have pastoral experience. So I first taught high school, but I really loved the ministry aspect – I loved the questions, and the conversations, and being someone the students could go to for support. I did more and more ministry until it became my job. When I look back on my career, it was campus ministries where I grew the most, so it’s no surprise that that’s where I was drawn. Campus ministry is a place where a lot of students find growth, and I like being a part of that.

I have always respected CIRs a lot, and I know they do a lot for Georgetown students. I was always interested in returning, so after I got married, I mentioned the idea to my husband, Mike. He didn’t have chaplains at his college, but after I explained it he really liked the idea, so we decided to try it as a family. I know being a CIR is exactly the space I love at Georgetown, where students who are so smart and driven and who care about the world take a break to say how am I really doing, to reflect, to catch their breath. I love being in a role that lets me accompany students in all of the things that they engage in.

What advice would you give to students who are trying to discern their callings or next steps?

So many things! I would say above all to give it time. To not make it an item on your to do list, but something you sit with over time, so that you can listen to the deepest yearnings of your heart, not the pressure to succeed or compete. To listen to your heart and ask where can I contribute to the world? Where I am I most myself? And how can I bring my best self to the world? I would also say talk to a lot of people. Talk to people whose careers you admire. Talk to people who know you really well. Talk to people who are having the same questions you are. And take all of that in as you listen to yourself.

What is your favorite thing about Georgetown?

My favorite thing is how deeply engaged and passionate students are. I have never met a Georgetown student who wasn’t impressive in some way. So often when I talk to students I hear the flip side of that – the pressure to compete, be successful, the intensity of caring, and I know that’s what makes them great, but it can be difficult to bear as well. I think it’s pretty fair to say the students. They are absolutely my favorite part.

I think the sense of history Georgetown has is remarkable as well. Georgetown doesn’t do what it does because it’s trendy. We are rooted in our tradition and faith. We’re not interfaith because it’s popular, but because it’s the cornerstone of our community. I love our basketball team, I love Dahlgren Quad, I love the Healy Bell. I think our colors and our mascot are the best. I hate orange, and Syracuse sucks. I love talking to my alumni friends and hearing the pride in their voice when they reflect on their experience. So much of Georgetown is the same and that’s really wonderful. I love that my daughter was born here and is part of the community already. I love that I married another Hoya even though he didn’t go here for undergrad – he got into Georgetown Law six weeks before our wedding. I think it’s fair to say that I couldn’t have married someone from a different faith if I hadn’t gone to Georgetown. It taught me how to understand other people’s faiths. I grew up mostly with other Catholics, so I came to Georgetown without a lot of experience in interfaith relationships/friendships. When I met Mike I thought a lot about what I learned at Georgetown and the friendships I had, so it gave me a blueprint for understanding and being with someone from a different faith background while still growing in my own faith.

What is your favorite part about being a CIR?

I love the connection between my family and my ministry. I love inviting people into my home and inviting them to get to know my family, and I love sharing my ministry with my family. I think being a CIR makes me a more authentic person. The faith I profess isn’t something I do part time, it’s what I do all day every day. I love the ways in which I get to share that with Mike. He gets to hear from the students’ updates about their lives, semesters, years. I love being able to share my dog, Pedro, and my baby, Adela, with students and saying come share in this and we’ll listen. I love being hospitable. I think hospitality is undervalued these days. I try not to make being hospitable mean being perfect. I think I would’ve worried about that before, but now I know I can be hospitable without being perfect. I think there’s value in welcoming someone in, saying come and rest, take a break. The biggest thing CIRs give to students is their availability. Our job is to be available. In a culture of Google calendar and constant notifications and moving from one meeting to the next, availability is rare and it’s a gift. I hope it’s one students can enjoy and appreciate.  

How do your identities impact your role? How do you engage diverse identities?

I think some of the identities that students have asked a lot about are the facts that I’m a woman who is Catholic, that I’m a person of faith and sorta fun, that I’m in an interfaith marriage, that I’m a wife and a mother, and that I’m an alum who successfully graduated from this place and have a career. Students ask me about those things: how did you know when to get married? How did you know it was time to move on to another job? What is it like to be someone’s mother? What does it mean for you to be Catholic in today’s society? I really enjoyed hearing from students through my pregnancy. I had a cork board in my apartment for students to suggest names, and I loved hearing their questions about that: how do you name a baby? How do you give someone an identity? Who gets to decide on a name?

I think this comes with being available. Often I hear questions from students, and they want to know more. They know things about me and want to understand. I try to open myself up to any student question because I know that simply talking about these identities and hearing from students can create a safe space for self-understanding. I’ve been thinking a lot about this phrase I heard recently in the context of interfaith families: you can’t be what you can’t see. When you’re talking about diverse identities, you need to look around and see a model. There are so many wonderful people at Georgetown who bring their identities to their work – faculty, staff, chaplains – and if I can share my few identities with students then I’ll do that. I also think so much of my time in college was exploring that identity, in new and different ways, and some of that has to come from encountering people with other identities. I’m not just a chaplain to women, Catholics, Latinos, I’m a chaplain to everyone. I hope that in the process of their own self-discovery students can feel comfortable engaging other identities. Too often, people think that self-discovery means surrounding yourself with people who are the same as you, but in my life it’s come from dialogue and close relationships with people who are different from me.

What’s one thing you wish students knew about you that they may not know at first?

My first year here was a disaster. I flunked my calculus final, never studied or did my reading, skipped a bunch of 8am classes. I didn’t have a roommate for a while which made me lonely. I loved Georgetown, but I didn’t know how to get the most out of my experience, and I was pretty shy, so it took me a while to grow into the Georgetown community. Some of that growth was through older students, people around me, welcoming me and showing me the way. Some of it was finding my niche in my studies. And some of that was campus ministers and chaplains bringing me into the Catholic community.