A Conversation with Kathy Maguire-Zeiss, Chaplain-in-Residence

Dr. Kathy Maguire-Zeiss (right) with her children, Morgan (left) and Ben (center)

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 Dr. Kathy Maguire-Zeiss, Chaplain-in-Residence for Village C East. Read more about Kathy’s journey at Georgetown below.

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

I came to Georgetown in 2007, when I had no intention of coming to Georgetown. I was at a point in my career where I was offered tenure at my university. I was widowed in 1998, so I was busy as a single parent and we had a really nice community of people who helped us and that community was really important to me. But, when you’re getting a financial package [from a university], you have to have something to compare it to, so I interviewed here to get a comparison, and when I interviewed I fell in love with Georgetown. It’s easier to look back now and see why that was, but all I knew was that I had a feeling I wanted to be here.

Looking back at the Neuroscience department, I realized that it was a wonderful, collaborative space, and there were a lot more women in leadership positions, which I didn’t realize was important to me. When I came to Georgetown, I knew it was Catholic and Jesuit, but I didn’t think that being in a Catholic university was critical to my career. I am a cradle Catholic and I think because of that I had my children go to Catholic schools. Both Ben and Morgan at one point or another were in Jesuit schools, so I always felt like they had inside information about the Examen and Jesuits that I didn’t. So the truth of how all it emerged is that I was walking through campus and I saw the Prayer in Daily Life poster, and the date was near my birthday, so I said let’s do this.

My first spiritual director was Sister Helen Scarry, and she introduced me to Ignatian prayer. After that, I participated in the 19th Annotation [an alternative version of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises] under the direction of Fr. Joe Lingan and that experience really changed things. I finally realized how much God loves me and in turn I came to see people in a different way, as individuals loved by God. The idea that it changed my view of science, or my classes, isn’t true, but it does change how I see my students – I feel that we’re always working together to go even deeper in our subject.

So, as I continued in spiritual direction and through prayer, I felt like God was still drawing me closer and to something more. I don’t think of myself as “all that”; I was a first-generation college student who just liked science and kept doing it. But through spiritual direction and prayer, I realized that when my students came to talk to me about class, they usually ended up talking to me about real life. So to get more training, I joined Holy Trinity Parish’s Ignatian Formation training to be a spiritual director. I just kept having the yearning to do more of this work and that prompted me to apply to be a Chaplain-in-Residence. I don’t want this to sound weird, but I went on the 5-day retreat once as an aide and what I realized during that experience was that I had a lot more love to give. The bottom line is that I feel called to help people. For the first time in my life I’m okay not knowing where I’m going. I just want to be open to going where I’m needed. Ignatian spirituality isn’t the only way, but it’s a way.

Living with the students is a great thing for me – helping them and telling them that they matter, that they matter to God, whether or not they believe in him. I see the students as young adults and I think we enjoy each others’ company; we just hang out and talk about their everyday lives. There are days when I have open house and I’m really tired beforehand so I’m not very excited, but then they come and I don’t want them to leave. I feel energized and I feel the Easter joy we hear about so much.

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

Certainly, if you can connect with a spiritual director, I think there’s nothing like it. You don’t even have to be sure there is a God to get started, what’s important is that piece we remind students about at Georgetown: reflection. So if you are making a decision, like what job to take? Take time to imagine what would it be like to be in that job – give yourself a couple of days with that if you can.  Another way would be to imagine what you would say to a friend who is thinking about taking a similar job. These are just a couple of ways to proceed but important in all of this is to pray and share what you are considering with God.  Then discuss this with your spiritual director – that is, seek wise counsel. As as scientist, I believe you need to gather the information and data to discern. These things aren’t just based on emotion, you do need data. And take courage, because a lot of the time what keeps us from doing things is fear. Just take courage and know that if you screw up, it’s not your only chance. If you’re afraid you’re going to miss the “call” by not doing something right now, know that it’s okay because God will keep calling you.

What is your favorite thing about Georgetown?

I think it’s the undercurrent of people really caring about people. We have great examples of this with our colleagues, students and of course the Jesuits that aid us along the way. This is something that is unique about Jesuit colleges and universities and believe me, it’s not always the case that a work environment is so collaborative and pleasant. Of course, perhaps my favorite thing are the students because frankly we wouldn’t be here without them.

What is your favorite part of being a Chaplain-in-Residence?

I love the open houses and interactions with the students. It’s the best part. Definitely. There’s this joy that’s hard to put into words and that’s something I’d like students to see: that this way of life is really joyful. It’s a really small apartment, you know, but now it doesn’t bother me at all. I love having a much simpler life.

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

I’m a lot older than the students so I learn a lot from them. What many of the students face are not things that were talked about when I was in college or growing up. Even as a first generation college student I still feel like I’ve led a privileged life. What the students have taught me is that it’s important to see people. There are three things that I think make this ministry a ministry of consolation: attention, reverence and devotion. For me attention is noticing the person – who are they really? What is unique about them? Reverence is a call to not try to change them; it is an invitation to accept them for who they are and doing so in a loving way. And devotion means staying with them as they go through whatever they’re going through and noticing where God is in all of this.

I’m just a white woman from a middle class, Irish Catholic background, but I think I can identify with students because they share their experiences with me. And, I think my age and having grown kids who went through the college experience already, enables me to listen and empathize. Experience helps. Having gone through losing my parents, a brother, and my husband, those experiences are helpful to putting things into perspective and can help students when they’re going through their first loss. And, I think having children really opened me up to something, too, because there’s so much love there – my children really taught me how to love. For me the parent-child relationship is the closest thing to God-love because I love them just because they exist, and that’s helped me to see students with love.

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

Maybe just how much I care about them without even knowing them. You know there’s this thing about conversation: it opens up everything, which I guess is why I’m drawn to spiritual direction. It leads to conversion of heart, not like becoming Catholic or something, but if you’re holding onto anxieties, stress, etc. conversation can open that up. And I hope students know that they can come to me with anything. Also I’m pretty funny – or at least I think so!