Consultation Center
History of the Consultation Center

On June 5, 1969, the Sisters' Council, under the leadership of Sister Mary Kevin Ford, CSJ, proposed to Bishop Edwin B. Broderick that the Albany Diocese establish "A Professional Counseling Service for Sisters."  Bishop Broderick endorsed this visionary idea, and thus came into being the Consultation Center for Clergy and Religious of the Diocese of Albany.

The Consultation Center, sponsored by the Council of Sisters, the Priests' Senate, the Council of Brothers, and the Diocese, inaugurated its services on December 6, 1969, with a day-long Institute, "The Growth of a Healthy Personality."  One thousand Diocesan religious and priests gathered at Cardinal McCloskey High School for lectures on the topics of counseling and personal growth by nationally recognized psychologists Sister Susanne Breckel, RSM, PhD; Brother Thomas Patterson, CFC, PhD; and Sister Anne Harvey, SND, PhD

On December 8, 1969, the Consultation Center opened for individual counseling services at its new offices on the third floor of the former Brady Hospital building, 40 North Main Avenue.  Father John Malecki, recently returned from doctoral studies in counseling psychology at the University of Oregon, was appointed the Center's first director, assisted by seven part-time professional staffers. 

From its inception the Center has combined individual counseling services for church personnel with educational programs for clergy, religious and laity, all on an ecumenical basis and at affordable rates.  What has particularly distinguished the Center's services is the integration of psychology and religion, combining the best of the social sciences and counseling techniques within a context that respects the role that religious values, prayer, and the Holy Spirit play in human growth.

Reflecting this philosophy, the first two years of programming included both individual counseling of more than 250 clergy and religious annually, and workshops on personal growth, communication skills, values formation, and pastoral counseling for lay persons, religious, and clergy of every background.

This positive response to the Center soon led to expansion of full-time staff and facilities.  In 1972, Sister Susanne Breckel, PhD, a Sister of Mercy from Rhode Island and a graduate of Boston College who had served the Center as a part-time staff member, agreed to become full-time co-director with Father Malecki.  In addition, eight professional counselors formed an expert team of part-time staff members and consultants.

That same year the Center staff relocated to a white colonial frame house at the corner of Lancaster and North Main, a facility devoted entirely to Center services, now offered from 9:00 a.m. through 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays.

Thus, the Center staff were among the first in the Albany area to offer both Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) and Teacher Effectiveness Training (TET).  Values Clarification workshops (including one that John and Susanne gave to Air Force Chaplains in Thailand) first came to this locale through the Center's programming.  Also, innovative methods and workshops in psycho-sexual development were offered regularly.

When Transactional Analysis training was offered for the first time at the APA meeting in 1975, Susanne Breckel and John Malecki recognized its importance and began the first series of workshops in TA in this area.  Likewise, the value of Assertiveness Training workshops for the Center's clientele was recognized early on by Susanne and John, who brought this personal development opportunity to the Albany area in 1976.

Other successful workshops offered during the first decade of the Center's history covered such varied topics as team ministry, adult learning, staff training in listening skills for public servants, mid-career counseling, counseling for pre-retirement and retirement, yoga, divorce, mid-life crisis, single parenting, celibate sexuality, and chemical dependency.

An important service of the Center has been its participation in the training of the clergy, religious, and lay leadership of the Diocese of Albany.  Beginning in 1974, for example, and continuing for three years, the Center sponsored five-day workshops by Father Charles A. Curran, PhD.  This "Counseling Learning Institute" was attended by over 250 clergy and religious who received training in listening and communication skills, thus enhancing their diocesan ministry.

Likewise, the Center staff both researched and wrote the Manual for Pastoral Planning for the Diocese.  Staff persons also conducted training sessions for clergy and lay members of parishes involved in the Pastoral Planning Process.

The Center staff, at the request of the Diocese, prepared a day-long workshop training clergy and laity in communication skills needed for conducting Marriage Preparation sessions for those under 21 years of age.

In addition, over the years both Susanne and John, as well as others staffing the Center, have traveled to more than thirty-five different dioceses throughout the country, presenting workshops for clergy and religious on mental health issues such as wellness and stress, death and dying, and human sexuality.  They offered similar programs at retreat centers in the Albany Diocese similar programs, attended by priests and religious from all areas of the country.

Supporting these individual and group services offered by the Center were lectures and workshops by nationally recognized experts, offered to the general public.  Thus, the Center recognized early the valuable contribution that Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was making in the area of death and dying, and brought her to Albany for a public lecture in 1974.  Dr. Kubler-Ross returned to Albany several times to speak on the topics of living and dying.

In 1975, when Dr. Albert Ellis began his important work in rational emotive therapy, it was the Center which asked him to lecture in Albany on the topic, "A Guide to Rational Living."  Other major figures in the field of counseling brought to Albany in the nineteen seventies included Dr. Eugene Kennedy, who lectured on the topic of "Pastoral Counseling for the Laity," and Rev. John Powell, SJ, STD, who spoke on "Relationships."

In 1977, requests from lay persons for Diocesan sponsored psychological counseling services led to the addition of four full-time staff persons: Clement J. Handron, DMin, Rev. Kenneth J. Tunny, DMin, Sister Anne Bryan Smollin, CSJ, PhD, and Sister Miriam D. Ukeritis, CSJ, PhD.  So rapidly did their work grow that after one year this office separated from the Consultation Center, functioning thereafter under its own administration.

On December 7, 1979, the Center celebrated its tenth anniversary with a lecture by Dr. Kubler-Ross entitled "To Live Until We Say Goodbye."

In 1978 Sister Catherine Casey, OP, PhD, was added to the staff in preparation for establishment of a counseling center in Texas.  In the following year, Sister Mary Frances Beck, SNJM, became Administrative Director of the Consultation Center and Sister Susanne Breckel, RSM, Director.  During the next few years Father Anthony Chiaramonte completed his doctorate in counseling psychology at Boston College and joined Susanne and John as a full-time staff person.  In 1987 Sister Lynn Levo, CSJ, PhD, joined the staff as a therapist.

The Consultation Center was one of the first in the country to become a part of the International Conference of Consulting and Residential Centers, a group of centers and facilities  focused primarily on the psychological needs of priests and religious.  In 1982 the center hosted the Conference’s tenth annual meeting.  The speakers included Sister Susanne Breckel,RSM, Father John Malecki, Dr. N. Michael Murphy and Sister Kieran Flynn, RSM.  The Center again hosted the conference in 2008 at the Carondelet Hospitality Center, with Bishop Howard Hubbard and several Consultation Center staff members as presenters.

In addition, always on the cutting edge in offering new techniques and addressing current issues, the Center staff offered programs on such varied issues as wellness, stress and burnout; self-concept; victimhood; the "Intensive Journal;" images of God; creativity; power of the imagination; healing; meditation; fears, phobias and anxieties; adult transitions; love, laughter and healing; Jungian psychology and spirituality; adolescent suicide; anger; psychosynthesis; time management; eating disorders; nonviolence; Adult Children of Addictions; AIDS; and dreams.

Still on the cutting edge of new areas of expertise in psychological healing, Father John Malecki studied addictions -- sexual, alcoholic, relational, and co-dependence.  After completing the requirements, John received his credential as an alcoholism counselor (CAC) from the State of New York in January 1988.

Highlighting the new services during this time period was the development of a therapy group for terminally ill persons, inspired by Sister Susanne's own eight-year experience with cancer in which she exemplified an attitude of wellness in the face of a life-threatening illness.

Sister Susanne Breckel, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 1977, died on March 30, 1985.  Her co-workers, friends, family and community celebrated her funeral liturgy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  A few days later, Dr. Kubler-Ross lectured on "Life and Living" at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.

Following Sister Susanne’s death, Father Malecki again assumed directorshop of the Center.

In 1986, the Center offered the first annual Susanne Breckel Lecture, a presentation by Dr. Bernard Siegel on "Love, Medicine, and Miracles."  Subsequent lecturers speaking in memory of Sister Susanne were Dr. Stephen Patterson and Judith Giardino, RSM, "Growing Through Transitions," (1987), Virginia Satir, family therapist, "Creating a Climate of Motivation and Trust . . . within the self and within the family" (1988), Dr. Joan Borysenko, expert on mind-body research, "Minding the Body, Mending the Mind" (1989), William Glasser, MD, “New Directions in Reality Therapy and Control Theory” (1990), James J. Gill, SJ, “Stress, Health and Spirituality” (1991), Diane Fassel, PhD, organizational consultant, mediator and author, “Working Ourselves to Death” (1992), Manisha Roy, PhD, Jungian analyst, “The Spirituality of Sexuality” (1993), Thomas Moore, PhD, “Dove Descending: The Soulful Practice of Religion and Spirituality” (1994), Paula Ripple, “Brokenness: Places of Pain, Sources of Hope” (1995), Patrick J. Carnes, PhD, writer and researcher on sexual addiction, “Out of the Shadows . . . Into the Light: Developing a Healthy Spiritual and Sexual Balance” (1996), Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, “Dancing Backward in High Heels” (1997), Barbara Coloroso, “Kids Are Worth It” (1998), Robert J. Ackerman, PhD, “Reclaiming Joy in Your Life” 1999, Rabbi Harold Kushner, “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough” 2000, and Sister Maureen McCann, RSM, “Energy for Life” 2001.

In 1992 Father John Makecki stepped down as Director of the Center and was succeeded by Father Anthony Chiaramonte, PhD;  Father Malecki continued his service at the Center until his death in 2013.  Father Chiaramonte retired as director in 2011. and also continued working at the Center.  He was replaced as director by Father Thomas Konopka, LCSW, in 2011.

With the encouragement of Ann Marie Truppi, PhD, a counselor and creative arts therapist on the staff of the Consultation Center, a new project, a Creative Arts Therapies Conference, was launched in 2000 and continued each Spring until 2014.  During the conference, therapists from throughout northeastern New York and western Massachusetts presented various methods of using dance, music, journaling, drama, poetry, art and other creative arts to help clients overcome their difficulties.

Although spiritual direction had always been an integral part of the Center’s care of its clients, Father Chiaramonte formalized it into a separate program which could be accessed by anyone who wanted to develop a closer relationship with God.  Its offerings included individual spiritual direction and also the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, in which participants meet weekly for about eight months with a spiritual director trained in the Exercises to explore their unique approach to prayer.

Soon after Father Konopka became director, he initiated an education program focused on anger management.  This program has been utilized both by persons who wish to learn ways to deal with and manage their anger and by those referred by the courts as part of their rehabilitation,.

Father Konopka also saw the importance of helping parishes and others to become welcoming places for those in their parishes who were dealing with mental health issues.  For that reason he invited a group at the Pastoral Center which focused on mental health awareness to become a part of the Consultation Center.  This committee offers programs to bring the needs of those in their midst suffering from mental health problems to the attention of the broader community.

When Sister Katherine Hanley, CSJ, retired as director of St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in 2015, she offered to begin a program for the training of spiritual directors as part of the Consultation Center’s offerings.  “Holy Ground” is a two-year program designed for those who may be called to the ministry of companioning others on their faith journeys.

Through the initiative of the Board of Directors, the Consultation Center began a series of Pastorally Sesitive Conversations, designed to give parish leaders the opportunity to meet in small groups to address issues of concern in parishes, such as sexual abuse, dealing with anger, and communication among staff members.

As the Consultation Center begins its fifty-first year of service to the Diocese of Albany and beyond, it remains true to its mission to “provide therapeutic services within a Christian environment, respecting the unity of body, mind and spirit.”

                                                                                    Updated October 31, 2019

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