Brother Camillus Chavez: Saint Mary's College faculty bio
Psychologist of the
Alumni Awards bio
by J.A. Gray
"If you tell Brother Camillus that he's great," says Raquel Cagigas, "he shakes his head and says 'God is great.' His surrender to God is inspiring."
He especially reaches out to the Hispanic and other minority students as soon as they arrive at Saint Mary's. He really wants you to stick with it even when it's difficult." Raquel, a senior majoring in psychology and religious studies, plans to be a teacher and counselor.
psychology major, Gerardo Gomez,
credits Brother Camillus with
helping him succeed as a student. "Freshman
year was a struggle; I was so
stressed over papers, worried
about each deadline. Brother Camillus
said, 'Maybe you should take my
class in meditation.' I did, and
it changed my focus from 'when
the paper was due' to 'what I
wanted to say.' Now I never start
writing without meditating for
ten minutes. Being relaxed and
patient will be good for me in
my profession as a child psychologist." He
doesn't hurt in living with college
Brother Camillus Chavez, who has taught at Saint Mary's College since 1975, has nearly as many letters after his name as in it: F.S.C., B.A. (philosophy), M.A. (Spanish and Latin-American literature), M.A. (theology), Ph.D. (clinical and social psychology). He is also a certified hypnotherapist. "I got into psychology because I found philosophy was too abstract: I wanted to know experientially the workings of the human soul. I've taught clinical and social psychology, but in the past ten years or so I've moved into teaching courses that approach psychological material from a spiritual perspective, because I've found that psychological problems often indicate a need to move forward in one's spiritual development."
Brother Camillus offers courses on prayer and meditation, as well as open meditation sessions. He has a reputation for being gregarious ("He goes up to people, shakes their hands, learns their names, asks them to come and meditate; he's incredibly welcoming," says one student). But Brother Camillus is not just being sociable; he is consciously practicing the Lasallian teacher's virtues of Vigilance, Gentleness, and Prudence. "Students are stressed and confused," he says. "They're driven by our culture, by consumerism, by high-tech gizmos. They get drawn away from the Spirit and can get lost." It is Brother Camillus' purpose to introduce them to their own interior life. "Even just a five-minute meditation can recall us to the fact that we are in the presence of a God who loves us with an overwhelming love. This is the Christian and specifically Lasallian heritage - in the Rule of the Brothers the most important exercise of the day is interior prayer - but unless we connect the students to it, they won't know it's their heritage, too. I also think it's important now for the Brothers to reach out to the Partners, to share with them that wealth, that charism, of interior prayer."
James Alan Temple, Professor of Psychology, says Brother Camillus is "professionally, that rarest of people - an expert in psychology who is an applied humanistic psychologist. And personally he is a powerful presence in every way -- intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually." Father Sal Ragusa, the Director of Campus Ministry, calls Brother Camillus "a gift to the whole campus community, with his constant message that 'we can't limit God'". Maryanne Bisson, a senior with a double major in math and religious studies who is taking his class on prayer and meditation, describes him simply as "indescribable."
Brother Camillus confides that "my secret fantasy -- and put this in the article -- is that every Christian Brothers' high school will have courses in meditation so that students can learn the habit of going deep within themselves, where they will encounter a reflection of the image of God." He says, "A crucial part of Lasallian education is touching students' hearts."
When the list of the Twelve Virtues is read aloud to him, he emits a happy sigh at the mention of the one called Wisdom: "Ah, Wisdom. The greatest virtue. Not one attained, mind you, but one that I am working toward. Wisdom is the highest of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and my hope and desire is to plant within my students the seeds of Wisdom."
Brother Camillus received the Saint John Baptist de La Salle Award in 2000 from the Saint Mary's College Alumni Association, the highest award given by the Alumni/ae to a faculty member who has evidenced concern for students, availablity to them beyond the classroom, and commitment to professional excellence.