Last year, Tricia Lujan, a former Army reservist, was researching master’s degrees. She wanted two: one in psychology and the other in theology.
“For me, those two degrees go hand in hand,” said the 39-year-old Fort Irwin, California resident. “Therapies I was going through at the time had no body-soul unity aspect. I had been suffering after a divorce and a miscarriage. Those experiences were bringing me back to my faith. I was a ‘fallen away cradle Catholic.’”
Lujan hoped that learning psychological principles supported by biblical teachings would boost her personal growth and lay the foundation for a new career.
She saw an advertisement for Divine Mercy University, an online school offering three degrees, a doctorate in clinical psychology, a master’s in counseling, and a master’s in psychology.
“Oh, that’s perfect!” said Lujan, remembering her reaction to the information about the master’s in psychology. “It teaches about suffering and body-soul unity. It was my prayers being answered.”
Michele Drennen, a former Divine Mercy admissions representative and now the university’s alumni relations coordinator, notes that military enlistees have long faced mental health struggles, whether related to post traumatic stress disorder or training and on-the-job demands.
“There was a time, especially with World War veterans and Vietnam veterans, that these issues were not treated as importantly as they are now,” Drennen said. “The interest in mental health is much more on the forefront.”
When she served, Lujan saw the need for prioritizing mental health. She recalls fellow soldiers defeated psychologically from past and current circumstances. Memories of their anguish drove her enrollment at Divine Mercy as much as her desire to develop herself. She began her studies in June 2020. Because her husband was in the Army at the time, she qualified for a 25% tuition discount.
The flexibility of online classes, which Lujan has taken advantage of before, is ideal. She’s a homeschooling mom, teaching her three children, three nephews, and a niece, so a traditional university, with the need to drive back and forth to classes, wouldn’t work. Lujan liked another feature of Divine Mercy even better, though: She can’t get overwhelmed studying several subjects at once, because the university paces her workload. Each term is eight weeks, one class only.
Lujan, who was a soldier for 12 years, shines when interacting with others. Divine Mercy feeds her extraversion. Classmates, described by Lujan as “so nice, so patient,” are connected on a WhatsApp group and hold out-of-class Zoom meetings. When a professor senses a student wrestling with a concept or an assignment, he or she suggests a Zoom call, too.
“Even though it’s an online program,” Lujan said, “you still have one-on-one capability with your professor.”
Including those who are currently enrolled, Divine Mercy has instructed more than 1,100 students. They range in age from 20- to 60-something and include housewives, church members, clergy, teachers, human resources executives, and current and retired military.
“We find that many of our students have been out in the world awhile,” said Drennen, “and are seeking fulfillment in their current career or changing careers completely.”
They also share a desire to be in a helping profession. Life coaches, medical personnel, and FBI employees all hold or are working on master’s degrees in psychology. An MBA-degreed writer from Louisiana enrolled after visiting Alaska and learning of high rates of alcoholism among the Alaska Native population. His wants to use his degree to assist them.
Lujan is thinking of a career with a Catholic diocese. That would be after continuing her studies further, earning a Spiritual Direction Certificate from Divine Mercy, in addition to her master’s degree.
An option she doesn’t mention, but her skills point to — being an admissions recruiter for Divine Mercy. Lujan told her best friend about the university, knowing she shares her faith journey. Eighteen years Lujan’s senior, she’s also planning her next steps in life. In spring 2022, she’ll be by Lujan’s side at graduation, as both her friend and her fellow graduate.