Xavier Magazine

The Nature of Pope Francis

His mission of caring for the earth, protecting the poor and re-examining the world’s economic systems defines him as the Jesuit leader of a morally challenged world.

It also highlights how Xavier’s commitment to Jesuit education is being lived out through its pledge toward sustainability and environmental justice in the classroom, across campus and by its alumni worldwide.

[divider] THE POPE  [/divider]

Students in Kathleen Smythe’s History of Agriculture class spend part of the semester working at local farms so they can experience what they’re studying. At one four-hour session last year, students planted more than 100 tomato plants.

“They later talked about the satisfaction of looking back and seeing the clear sign of their accomplishment, going from a set of empty rows to rows now filled with plants producing food (for others),” Smythe says.

There is a connection, she says. It has to do with the impact our actions have on others. Getting dirt under their fingernails helps students reconnect with America’s agrarian roots so they can appreciate the environmental impact involved in bringing mass-grown food products to the table versus growing it locally.

Addressing ethical issues of environmental sustainability on a global scale, while modeling it on a local scale, is just one example of how Xavier is incorporating a new way of living and thinking into the classroom. It’s the hallmark of a Jesuit education, one that has been made more visible since the election of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope. And, in his first two years, Francis has made it clear what his top priorities are: the poor and climate change. They have become, it seems, nearly interchangeable.

“This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.” —Pope Francis

Titled “Laudato Si’,” which means “Praise Be,” the pope’s encyclical on climate change brought renewed attention to the deteriorating conditions of the earth and its impact on the desperate needs of poor and marginalized populations of the world. As The New York Times explained when the encyclical was released in June: “The hardest-hit…will be the poorest citizens of the poorest countries, those least able to adapt to the rising seas and devastating droughts and floods that are likely to occur even in this century without swift remedial action.”

For Jesuit schools in particular, Francis’ universal call for a renewed focus on economic and environmental sustainability creates a heightened sense of purpose and reinforcement of what it means to be Jesuit—a clear lens through which universities and their students can view and experience the Jesuit way of life. It’s a tradition that from its founding in 1540 has been grounded in the value of education. Jesuit priests distinguished themselves from other orders by choosing to live among the people rather than isolating themselves in cloistered monasteries. They traveled the world seeking knowledge and God and became known as scientists and explorers.

Today’s Jesuits are still considered leaders in education, and their students are encouraged to go out and experience the world. At Xavier, Jesuit pedagogy is being lived out through the University’s commitment to sustainability both in the classroom and across campus. Five years before Pope Francis issued his call for a cleaner climate, Xavier was well on its way to creating a cleaner and more sustainable campus and educating students about how to carry that into their personal and professional lives. The pope’s visit to the U.S. highlights not only Xavier’s commitment to Jesuit education but to sustainability as well, an area where the University has emerged as a leader among Jesuit schools.

The University zeroed in on the environment when it held its second annual celebration of Francis’ election as pope last March and invited Xavier alumnus Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, as the keynote speaker. His message, says Xavier’s Chief Mission Officer Debra Mooney, echoed that of Francis: “It’s not only important to protect the earth because we are a part of it and we’re interrelated, but the degradation inadequately impacts the poor.” President Michael J. Graham, S.J., encapsulated the University’s commitment in 2011 when he said, “Our mission as a Jesuit, Catholic university cannot be fulfilled as such without an ongoing and ever-greater appropriation of sustainability across the entire horizon of University activities.”


[divider]SUSTAINABLE [/divider]Pope-Francis-Dove

Sustainability director Ann Dougherty was in the student cafeteria in 2013 the day that Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit, was elected pope. She was watching the TV screen when he also announced he had taken the name of Francis, patron saint of animals and the earth.

“As a lifelong ecologist and steward of the environment, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “This was going to be a different kind of pope. Taking the name Francis meant there was going to be a stewardship of the environment and a redefinition of what dominion means, and the Catholic Church would be part of healing the world.”

At the time, Dougherty had been at Xavier for two years working to help the entire
campus become more sustainable by adopting practices to reduce energy consumption and waste, and grow its own food.

“At Xavier, we think sustainability is part of the mission. Period,” she says.

For her, Pope Francis symbolized the work she’d dedicated her life to do—she’s now working in sustainability for a private company—and his “Laudato Si’,” which means “Praise Be,” affirmed that commitment.

“The Jesuits are the guys who study philosophy, theology, history, science and government, and put it all together,” she says. “As a people holding the world in their hearts looking beyond to what is real, they become sustainable individuals. If there is anyone who can lead the world to greater sustainability, it’s the Jesuit charism and the Ignatian process of reflection—of looking beyond what is apparent to what is real.”

As Dougherty was working on improving the physical environment at Xavier, professors Smythe, in history, and Nancy Bertaux, of economics, were focusing on the academic. They were part of a team that developed four undergraduate degrees in sustainability and environmental science plus a master’s in sustainability, led by former city planner Liz Blume, director of Xavier’s Community Building Institute.

Bertaux was nearly giddy when the encyclical was released, not just for what it says, but because it affirms how well Xavier has performed. Plus it reinforces the connection between ecological and moral issues with up-to-date science, economics and theology.

“He’s the world’s leading environmentalist at the moment, and what the encyclical says is we’re on the right track here with our programs and curriculum,” she says. “Taking ecology and economics core courses related to theology, history, English, statistics and economic theory are tools students need, but also the vision of the connectedness of everything—to see that the economy has to exist within society and society within nature overall, that we are a part of nature and what we do to nature we do to ourselves.”

It also reinforces what Xavier started working on five years ago.

“I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” —Pope Francis

“We are absolutely the leader among Jesuit schools in terms of curriculum,” she says. “I don’t know anyone with the kind of interdisciplinary programs that we have.”

Bertaux also worked with Dougherty to create sustainability projects on campus that involve students enrolled in sustainability or environmental science courses. That includes students working on the Urban Farm, creating a water bottle reduction project, and conducting energy studies that have resulted in a nearly 7-percent reduction of energy use across campus.

“We have pioneered looking at sustainability across all the divisions and silos of the University and getting on one page,” Bertaux says. “We have put together a whole suite of interdisciplinary sustainability programs that are absolutely cutting edge.”

Sustainability practices have also contributed to a 30-percent reduction in waste. One of the most visible improvements is in the cafeteria, which was paying for food waste and cardboard to be hauled to the landfill when Dougherty arrived in 2011. Now there is almost zero waste to the landfill, the University collects cash for the recycled cardboard, and two food waste dehydrators dry all food scraps from the kitchen, producing a granular waste that is returned to the farm as compost. In return, fresh vegetables and produce are delivered to the cafeteria.

“The external deserts in the world are growing because the internal deserts have become so vast.” —Pope Francis

The process exemplifies an important concept in the encyclical, Smythe says. “Part of the encyclical is reconnecting people to the environment and recognizing we are not separate from it. He makes it clear we are stewards and caretakers of the earth, but we don’t have dominion over it…and as we are harming it, we are harming ourselves.”


[divider]JESUIT [/divider]

world-iStock_000001975805_LargeStudents at Xavier are introduced to the Jesuit side of their education from the day they first set foot on campus. Beginning with their orientation, they hear about “The Jesuit Way,” which increasingly includes elements of sustainability, the environment and the earth.

Faculty mentors work with new and veteran faculty to guide them in incorporating Ignatian pedagogy into their coursework. As a result, students learn about the ethical issues of the subjects they’re studying—like Smythe’s African history students, who discussed the ethics of sending cast-off American-made T-shirts to the African continent as waste. But the emphasis is also to learn through hands-on experience. For example, Smythe also had them make recommendations to the Congolese government about how to allow oil exploration in Birunga National Park and defend it to their people.

As director of the Center for Faith and Justice, Greg Carpinello works with students daily. His office serves about 1,200 students during the year by offering retreats, worship services, faith-sharing and prayer groups. He focuses on helping students discover their spirituality and the benefits of a Jesuit viewpoint.

“A Xavier education orients students toward something bigger than themselves, the realization they’re part of a world that’s internally connected and really crying out for their service and sense of vocation,” Carpinello says.

Which, like the encyclical, reflects on the early Jesuits “who were not the ones who stayed cloistered but were out with the people experiencing the gritty realities of the world and putting to the forefront the issues of humanity.”

That’s why Xavier encourages students to ask the big questions here so that when they leave, they’re inspired to lead lives that are not focused only on themselves.

“It’s no surprise Francis chose to write his encyclical on the environment, because the world is facing critical questions about the environment,” Carpinello says. “To be Jesuit is being on the frontier of what happens in the world.”

[Editor’s note: The original version of this story has been updated to include corrected references to reductions in energy use and waste produced on campus.]


Xavier Magazine

Altered Hall: Classroom Central Gets a 21st-Century Makeover

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of the new Alter Hall is that it looks like it’s always been here. The graceful lines, harmonic masonry and signature turrets perch gracefully on campus. In comparison, the original Alter, christened “Xavier’s first million-dollar building” and dedicated in 1960, bristled with such space age confidence it could have sported tail fins. Instead, a pair of “McDonald’s” arches provided the finishing touch.

So what does $18,000,000 buy these days? Quite a bit, actually, and it also saves a lot—in terms of energy consumption. The interior is definitely not old-school either, with three floors of innovative classrooms and learning spaces for traditional classes, small work groups and collaborative group projects, while also supporting the Honors Program and housing the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Truly a class act.



A nostalgic Look back of Alter Hall

Alter Hall Grand Opening

Xavier Magazine

Faculty Spotlight: Jonathan Gibson, Associate Professor, Art

Historically, Cincinnati’s artistic temperament usually hovers between a fetching bit of Rookwood pottery and a Charlie Harper print. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Xavier Magazine

A Classic Change: Moving the Music Series in a New Direction

Almost from birth, Polina Bespalko’s life has been filled with music. Records of the great classicists spun endlessly in her Russian home. Her first piano lessons began before she was old enough to count all 88 keys.

“My mother was my first teacher,” she says.

Showing ability beyond her age, she was plucked from the population at the tender age of 6 and enrolled in the Central Music School and later the elite Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow to hone her burgeoning skills.

It worked. She emerged as a significant talent on the world’s stage, and proof of her prowess is as close as the nearest Internet browser. A quick search of YouTube rewards you with her virtuosic performances at the 2008 New Orleans International Piano competition. Her style is physical, fearless and dramatic. In the hands of Bespalko, classical music is a contact sport. Her musicality commands the stage. 

[lightbox link=””]polina video[/lightbox]Life on the international tour, while glamorous, is also exhausting. So as an alternative to a life on the road, Bespalko came to Cincinnati to continue her studies, recently earning her Doctorate of Musical Arts. She also joined the faculty in Xavier’s music department and became director of the Xavier Music Series.

Her goal is to bring a fresh perspective to the Series and move into a new era—and she’s doing so with the same force and fervor she brings to her piano playing. What hasn’t changed in the year since she’s taken over is that the Xavier Music Series remains one of the longest-running and most prestigious music series in the United States featuring classical piano, classical guitar and swing. What has changed is nearly everything else.

Bespalko has dusted off the Series and put her stamp on it—although she hasn’t totally abandoned all the traditions of classical music, composers and pianists, especially her adoration of Franz Liszt. “Women would go crazy over him,” she says. “They even collected his cigar butts.” 

Liszt’s butts aside, it was his devotion to live performance that inspires Bespalko’s own approach to reinventing the Series. 

See this year’s Music Series lineup.

“The biggest thing about Liszt was that he was not only a genius who reinvented classical music and elevated the performer to rock-star status. But what other people tend to forget is that he supported so many other composers like Schumann, Brahams, Wagner and Chopin.” 

With such motivation, the performers she’s identified to feature in the upcoming series are ones she wants to experience live. And, to those people who have banished the live performance of classical music to hoary halls and well-heeled patrons, rest assured that this is not your grandmother’s brand of Bach.

Take, for example, Anderson and Roe, a piano duo who describe their approach as a mix of “physical friction, charged chemistry and emotional danger.” It may be of interest to the classical music death-watchers that their video Libertango has garnered more than 1.4 million YouTube views.

“It’s more than just the music, it’s also the personalities behind the music,” she says. “Everyone has a very interesting background and story. They also represent diverse aspects of music. And they make the experience less intimidating.”

This challenge of bringing classical music into the 21st century isn’t new to Bespalko. It’s part of her doctorate, she created a multimedia presentation, giving a recital and projecting program notes simultaneously on a large screen, providing a historical and inspirational background. Her subject? Liszt.

Xavier Magazine

The Office: Marsha Karagheusian

Like an afterthought, Marsha Karagheusian’s office is tucked into a corner of the rambling, crowded ceramics studio in the bowels of the Cohen Center.

It’s not very big. The shelves overflow with things she uses today as well as things she hasn’t touched in years, such as the Kodak carousels holding slides of art she once showed her students.

Collectively, it’s all a reflection of her 31 years at Xavier tinged by a love of art, sculpture, ceramics—and her students. Individually, it’s:

• Bas-relief ceramic sculpture of a nude woman lying on a deserted plain with skulls and bones and, in the background, volcanic mountains. This particular piece of Karagheusian’s art has been featured in several art books, as well as admitted to gallery showings including at the N.A.W.A. Gallery in New York City.

• Finished objects by her students, such as a large vessel with wavy sides in muted blues and greens, and another of two reddish pots resting in a wooden frame. One of these students is now a high school art teacher in Kentucky.

• A box of clay teapot handles made to demonstrate to her students but repurposed into napkin rings that are yet to be glazed.

• Items from nature—rosy quartz crystal, pink conch shells, white sea coral and gray animal bones—because “artists have always looked to nature from the beginning of time.”

• Unglazed orange-pink clay teapots, pitchers, mugs and bowls used to demonstrate the different forms of ceramic sculpture—flat slabs of clay to be shaped by hand, coils for the potter’s wheel, or delicately thin pinch pots that dry to the consistency of fragile egg shells.

• A wooden elephant in bright colors of blue, red, green and yellow with white tusks that came from Mexico as an example of how to use native country art to teach elementary-age students.

• Tools of the trade hanging by the door where she can handily grab what she needs to teach or work on her art: brushes for glazing, a hammer, a hacksaw, wire cutters, needle-nose pliers, screwdrivers and rubber gloves.

Xavier Magazine

Psychology Today

Christian End is, arguably, the most quoted professor on campus. The associate professor of psychology is an expert in understanding the behavior of sports fans, who sometimes seem to defy logic but leave him with an unending source of examples for his research. When the media look for an explanation, they call End. Beginning this summer, he’s also expanding his media coverage. The editors at Psychology Today, the leading journal devoted to understanding what people do and why they do it, asked him to write a monthly blog on sports psychology for its website. His first post is now at


Xavier Magazine

Summer Dresses

Sometimes, English professor Trudelle Thomas imagines herself walking down a dirt road on the rugged island nation of Haiti.

In the midst of drab shacks and the smell of raw sewage, she comes upon a group of little girls jumping rope.


The girls are orphans—many of them lost their parents in the 2010 earthquake—and have little to
call their own. But they are wearing dresses of crimson and yellow and cobalt blue with pockets and collars and lace and ribbons—as pretty as a field of wildflowers bobbing up and down in the breeze.

The dresses make the girls feel special, loved. And they make Thomas feel the same way. For the past two years, Thomas has spent part of her summers creating the dresses for Angels Dress Shop, a church organization in Owensville, Ohio, that began organizing the dressmaking campaign in 2011 after their pastor visited Haiti and saw a need he described as “infinite.”

Thomas read about the project in a news story last year. Being a skilled seamstress, she wanted to help, so she and a friend began making dresses using the group’s pillowcase pattern. She also bought fabrics—yellow gingham, pink floral, blue batik—and added ruffles and pockets. She made some of the dresses reversible since many girls have only one dress to wear.

Since last summer, Thomas made more than 100 dresses. They donated about half to the Angels Dress Shop and half to the Restavek Freedom Foundation, which works to free girls from servitude in Haiti.

“It’s a small thing I can do,” says Thomas, who sponsors a girl through the foundation. “It’s good for my mental health, it helps other people, and it makes me feel really good.”

The dressmaking continues this summer. Thomas expects she’ll make 20-30 dresses and a number of shorts for boys from a bolt of red cloth sent to her by the Angels organization. In Thomas’ mind, boys in bright shorts can be wildflowers, too.

Xavier Magazine

Mindful Health

Judi Godsey did not have to look far to see the devastating effects of extreme poverty.

Most of the people in her home in McCreary County, Ky.—a beautiful part of the country in the rolling Appalachian foothills near Lake Cumberland—were extremely poor, and it showed in their health.

A lot of the adults smoked and had poor eating habits, which led to excessive cases of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. By high school, a lot of her friends had picked up the deadly habits as well.

She even saw it at home. They weren’t poor—her father had a good job working with machinery—but he was a smoker and died of a heart attack at age 47.

Now the assistant professor in the School of Nursing is working to do something about it. Godsey recently published a research article on using a therapy known as “mindfulness” to help people with obesity control their weight. It’s part of her research into solutions to the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and improving health overall—especially in her part of Kentucky, where childhood obesity is third in the nation and adult obesity is seventh.

In spite of its beauty, she says, “It’s a very sick county.”

Wanting to improve her own life and help change the outcome for the people of Kentucky, she became the first in her family to graduate from college, earning a nursing degree at Northern Kentucky University while raising two children. She continued on, eventually earning her master’s in nursing and is now working on her doctorate. As she studied for her degrees, she developed an interest in researching population health issues, including how more than a third of adults in the U.S. are classified as obese and how it’s one of the largest health care threats facing American children today. 

“I wanted to understand the growing epidemic of obesity both locally and nationally.”

Her research ultimately led to her discovery of “mindfulness-based interventions” as a common-sense means of treating obesity and eating disorders. Her report, published in July in the
medical journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, finds that despite mounting evidence the therapy is an effective tool in treating eating disorders, there has been very little research into its use in treating obesity.

Mindfulness is a psychological term for being aware of one’s actions in the present moment, paying attention without judging yourself. It’s typically used to help a person change behaviors that are destructive or unhealthy, like stress or smoking. In weight management, Godsey says it can augment more typical strategies like changing one’s diet or adding regular exercise.

But that’s not what’s happening in most cases. Despite some pocket studies that have had promising results, the therapy is rarely used as a method of weight management. It’s time for that to change, she says.

“The literature supports its use,” she says. “While obesity rates are skyrocketing, this study suggests we need to incorporate alternative methods into current weight loss strategies and find a new way of thinking about an old problem.”

She recommends starting with children, who can be taught healthy behaviors like the importance of brushing teeth. Mindfulness intervention would teach them to think about what they choose to eat and why. What are the triggers? Feeling sad or happy, depressed or anxious?

“It’s about the difference between eating the way we’ve always done it and changing that behavior. It’s about eating with purpose and intention, and thoughtful decisions that become engrained as mindful behaviors.”

The article drew a lot of attention from health professionals and is the journal’s eighth-most downloaded piece this year. “The paper draws attention to the fact there is a gaping hole to the way we approach the problem of obesity. It needs to be included in our national dialogue.”

It’s one that can also be applied to Godsey’s home in McCreary County. “It’s why I became a nurse,” she says, “to use what I’ve learned to help the people of my beloved Kentucky.” 

Xavier Magazine

Presidential Task Force Taps Beacham

Love it or hate it, the Affordable Care Act is creating the most dramatic change in the health care industry since, well, the invention of the Band Aid.

All areas of health care are being impacted, including psychology. That’s why the American Psychological Association is tapping Abbie Beacham for help.

The associate professor of psychology and director of clinical training in Xavier’s PsyD program was asked to be one of eight members on a Presidential Task Force that examines how integrating psychologists into primary care clinics could enhance patient health outcomes and reduce overall costs.

The concept of bringing psychologists into primary care clinics—known officially as patient-centered medical homes—is a key component of the ACA. Rather than psychologists working separately from physicians, the plan is to bring the two together in a single clinical setting so patients receive care for both body and mind at the same time—and only get one bill.

“It’s a totally different way of thinking,” Beacham says. “It’s whole-person care, not fragmented care. We’re taking care of all of you.”

Part of Beacham’s task is to help determine how to train psychologists—both those currently in practice as well as those being educated in the field—on the new approach. It’s a paradigm shift, she says, and could be a challenge for some to accept.

“We’re becoming health services providers,” she says, “and not all psychologists see themselves that way.”

The yearlong task force is presenting its findings through a series of articles in both professional journals and mainstream media.

Xavier Magazine

The Office: Karl Stukenberg

A psychoanalyst and his couch.

Perhaps, next to a barber and his chair, no other object is more connected to a profession.

In the case of Karl Stukenberg, chair and associate professor for the Department of Psychology—and practicing psychoanalyst—the couch in his Elet Hall office may also be the hardest working piece of furniture on campus.

“It’s the couch on which we also meet when I’m talking to faculty, or to students in my role as head of the department.” In other words, the chair sees a lot people on his couch.

“The pillow is pretty worn out. In fact, I probably should replace the entire couch, which is getting a little threadbare.” But, in truth, the professor confesses to being rather attached to his faithful leather companion.

For the size of the office, the couch is surprisingly large. The furniture arrangement also follows classic Freudian guidelines—the analyst (the person preforming analysis) should be able to sit at the head, and out of the vision range, of the analysand (the person undergoing analysis).

True aficionados will also recognize that the embroidered throw pillow and blanket are standard issues based on Sigmund Freud’s original couch, now on display in a London museum.

As far as how many hours the couch has clocked psychoanalytical sessions? “Probably a couple of thousand hours. One hour at a time, four days a week, for a few years.”

And still going strong, as is its pilot. “I’m the department chair and a faculty member—that’s my job. I also need to keep my chops up in order to teach what we do. This is an art as well as a science.”