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June 10, 2016

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Waterloo Lutheran Seminary congratulates Professor Emeritus Thomas St. James O’Connor on his Distinguished Career Research Award from the Society for Pastoral Counselling Research (SPCR).

“The award reflects the passion and dedication that Tom has demonstrated during his service as a professor and as the previous director of the pastoral counselling program at the seminary for many years,” said Mark W. Harris, the seminary’s principal-dean.

“Our students and colleagues have greatly benefited from Tom’s dedication to the integration of spirituality and psychotherapy,” said Harris. “Passion and original thinking has been the hallmark of his career, and we’re grateful for his past work, continued service with us, and ongoing contribution to this field of practice and research.”

Although he retired in 2014, O’Connor continues to teach and supervise students at a reduced pace.

O’Connor, who started studying at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary in the late 1980s, said he is honoured to be recognized for a vocation which came to him later in life.

A former Roman Catholic priest, O’Connor said he decided to pursue studies in pastoral counselling after realizing that he wasn’t equipped to serve parishioners who were suffering trauma or seeking help with their marriages.

“People from the parish came to me for help and I didn't know what to do except pray for them,” said O’Connor. “I knew that was not enough.”

He credits former professors Delton Glebe, Claude Guldner and Peter VanKatwyk (a fellow professor emeritus) for helping him develop his love for research.

O’Connor graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in 1989 with a master’s degree in theology. In 1995 he received a doctorate in theology, pastoral care and counselling, from the University of Toronto, and started his teaching career at the seminary. Shortly after, in 1999, the SPCR honoured O’Connor with its Young Researcher Award.

He has authored two books, edited four others, written 14 book chapters and more than 50 articles that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. O’Connor co-authored many of them with his spouse, and sometimes co-teacher, Elizabeth Meakes.

In presenting the award to O’Connor during the annual SPCR meeting in March, Patricia Berendsen, the society’s president, said the award is given to someone who has exemplified ongoing research and made significant changes to pastoral counselling, now known as spiritually integrated therapy.

“Tom is also generous with his time, his compassion and his wisdom,” said Berendsen. “He is always wanting to cheer others on to publishing success.”

It’s not the first lifetime professional achievement award for O’Connor. Last year the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC) honoured O’Connor with the Verda Rochon Award for a lifetime of consistently promoting the highest standards of professionalism and service in the field of spiritual care, counselling and education.


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