Q&A: Scholar in residence prepares future Catholic leaders to serve people from all backgrounds

dr derrick crim saint paul seminary
Dr. Derrick Crim, scholar in residence at The Saint Paul Seminary, leads his Crisis and Accompaniment class in prayer.

By Sara Fritz
The Saint Paul Seminary

Dr. Derrick Crim recently completed a year as scholar in residence at The Saint Paul Seminary. A longtime adjunct professor at the seminary, Crim has spent the 2023-24 academic year spearheading efforts around cultural empathy and preparing future priests, deacons and lay leaders to minister to those facing traumatic situations.

Originally from Chicago, Crim lives in the Twin Cities with his wife Ruthann — to whom he’s been married 28 years — and their 21-year-old daughter, Katayiah, who’s a junior at Minnesota State University (Mankato) majoring in psychology and minoring in sociology. Full-time, he’d served as an associate professor in the Metropolitan State University human services department; when he returns from the seminary, he’ll become department chair.

The Metro State human services department provides degrees in violence prevention, family studies, counseling, disability studies and aging. It also offers courses for administrative positions in public and private nonprofit human service organizations.

Dr. Derrick Crim

Crim received his Bachelor’s in Human Services from Metropolitan State University, a Master’s in Addiction Studies and Counseling from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies, a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of St. Thomas, and a Master’s in Pastoral Ministry from The Saint Paul Seminary.

Crim, who plans to continue as an adjunct professor at The Saint Paul Seminary, reflects on his year of residence there in the following conversation (edited for brevity).

First, let’s talk about your full-time job. What do you enjoy most about your role at Metro State?

“What I like most about my role at Metro State is seeing our students reach their goals: not only graduating from college, but also completing the state process of becoming licensed counselors. For many of my students, their commitment to counseling stems from recovering from their own battles with addiction, experiencing addiction in their families, or wanting to be part of the overall solution. I see these students working in critical roles after graduation. That makes me proud.”

You were a scholar in residence at The Saint Paul Seminary this academic year. Would you give us insight into what that’s meant for you on a broad scale and in the day-to-day?

“In the summer of 2022, I asked [Saint Paul Seminary Academic Dean Dr. Christopher Thompson] if I could spend time at the seminary during my 2023-2024 sabbatical. A little history: back in 2011, I applied for the (seminary’s Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry degree program. Not coming from the Catholic tradition, I was nervous about the seminary’s decision. But, thanks be to God, I was accepted. Further context: I grew up in a Protestant home; my parents were significantly involved in our church and modeled the importance of having a relationship with Jesus. My wife was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and, too, was given a foundation of relationship with Jesus by her mother.

“We cannot love those we do not know; therefore, we must have the capacity to enter the experiences of others.” — Dr. Derrick Crim

“So back to the question: that title, scholar in residence, was given to me. It sounds important, but I just wanted to be in the seminary environment, where the bottom line is Jesus. That said, some of my responsibilities this year have included serving on the seminary’s cultural empathy committee, evaluating future steps for an ongoing cultural empathy audit, attending faculty workshops and professional development events, leading human and intellectual formation sessions with lay graduate students, guest lecturing, developing and teaching a new course titled Crisis and Accompaniment, and volunteering for bingo nights at the Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center.”

What has it been like for you to be part of the seminary community in this unique capacity?

“When I arrived in late August 2023, I was treated like a new employee, overwhelmed with gratitude and a bit embarrassed. … I was part of the community.

“My daily activities are varied and based on the tasks enumerated in my last response. Last fall, a fair amount of work went into leading formation sessions with the lay graduate students. The formation focused on connecting and being familiar with social services and engaging students in ‘hands-on’ learning about issues seen in their parishes. This spring, my focus has been on developing the Crisis and Accompaniment course, and co-teaching with [fellow adjunct professor and manager of organization effectiveness for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis] Amy Tadlock, who is terrific.”

You have been part of the cultural empathy committee for a few years now. Tell us about that committee and your work there.

“This is another area of humility for me. I believe the cultural empathy committee parallels how our world has changed. But it does so with only one purpose, and that is Jesus. Dr. Thompson explained a few years ago that empathy is the first condition of evangelization and the first touch point in transformation. We cannot love those we do not know; therefore, we must have the capacity to enter the experiences of others. The committee creates and honors opportunities to grow in this capacity. We host seminars on various ethnic and marginalized communities, pray the rosary for communities such as the indigenous and black populations, monitor and advance the work of the cultural empathy audit, and look within for our own transformation as we mutually discover the newness of the Gospel, as Dr. Thompson has articulated.”

crisis and accompaniment class at the saint paul seminary
Seminarian Mónico Heredia gives his final presentation during The Saint Paul Seminary’s Crisis and Accompaniment class.

Would you also share more about the Crisis and Accompaniment course you are co-teaching this semester?

“The course focuses on opportunities for accompanying parishioners dealing with crisis or trauma. To do this, we’ve explored the human condition by way of Catholic social teaching, the theology of grace, and the understanding of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. Examples of crisis and trauma addressed in the course include substance abuse; mental illness; income, food, and housing insecurities; conflicts in marriage; divorce; and domestic violence. Amy and I have learned so much from the students in the course as they have leaned into collaboration, compassion, and cultural empathy.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

“On September 20, 2023, my wife, Ruthann, was diagnosed with a treatable type of breast cancer. After sharing about the diagnosis at the seminary, many [faculty, staff, seminarians and lay students] stopped by my office to share that [they] are praying for me and my family, and I am very grateful for this. I want to express specific gratitude for Fr. Michael Monshau (professor of homiletics and spiritual theology). After learning about the diagnosis, Fr. Monshau visited my office twice a week, introduced me to the Catholic devotion of holy cards, and made Ruthann a card with her favorite scripture passage. As Ruthann continues her oral chemotherapy, she keeps Fr. Monshau’s card on her nightstand. She told me that receiving the card was inspiring, and that she could not believe a person she had never met would do something like that for her.

“The purpose of my sabbatical was professional development, community service, and personal renewal. I have received all of these and much, much more.

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