A love affair with God

First slide

"Do you have enough? Because I'm even boring myself."

She wasn't serious, of course - not really. Thérèse Bermpohl, the 48-year-old director of the Office for Family Life, was just doing what she does best: keeping it real.

It's her gift to point out the obvious, she said, only semi-laughing, as she reflected on her faith journey during our interview last week. And though it took her a while to identify how she wanted to best employ that gift - and her many others - Bermpohl has found her vocation in working for the Church and for God.

Foundation of faith

Brooklyn, N.Y.-born and Bowie, Md.-raised, Bermpohl credits both her Catholic schooling and her Catholic parents for her base in the Faith. Though a self-described "big partier" in high school, and though she fell away from the Church in her 20s, it was a foundation Bermpohl always retained.

For a while, however, it was buried deep. When Bermpohl was 21, she experienced a deep depression.

"I had a crisis in faith and I didn't know if I believed in God," she said. "The wind was just knocked out of me."

Following the example of her parents, Bermpohl instinctively turned to the Blessed Mother.

"I took the rosary and I sat in front of the statue of Our Lady and I said, 'I need to know that God exists so I can get though whatever I'm going through right now,'" she said.

She asked for one sign: a yellow rose. Moments later, after she turned on the TV, first a single yellow rose, then a bouquet, appeared on the screen.

"It was like the weight of the world was taken off my shoulders," she said. "Then I left it at that."

A 're-version'

Bermpohl snapped out of her depression, but continued living what she called a "secular lifestyle." She jumped from college to college, from job to job, lacking direction. She sold advertising, worked at a bar and for a telephone company. While working as the special events planner for the Spirit of Washington dinner cruise ship, she bonded, through discussions on religion and prayer, with the now Msgr. Rob Panke, director of priest vocations and faith formation for the Archdiocese of Washington, who was working on-board part-time.

"At 27 I said to myself, 'This is empty,'" she said. "I got serious about finding out about what was true about God."

Once again, she demanded proof of God's existence. In return, she received a "deluge" of examples of faith. It was after seeing a picture of an apparition of Mary in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, that she began to get serious.

"I casually call it a 're-version,'" she said. "I started to take time every day to spend in prayer, and I started really to understand the Eucharist. I thought, 'If this is true, I am going to radically live this truth.'"

She started praying; she went to confession. She read books, listened to music, attended the RCIA program at St. Timothy Parish in Chantilly, near where she then was living with her parents.

"It confirmed what I thought to be true," she said. "It sort of brought me back to my roots, if you will."

Bermpohl received her undergraduate degree in theology from Trinity College in Washington, then her master's in theology from the Dominican House of Studies. She taught for a year and a half at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, Md., and she worked for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Feeling a calling to work with college students, Bermpohl accepted a position as campus minister at Catholic University in Washington. She wanted to be someone to whom the students could relate, who could spread the message of Christ, but also keep things real. In essence, she wanted to be the role model she could have used growing up.

"I want to be a cheerleader for the Faith," she said. "I want to let people know what a great gift we've been left in the Eucharist and the sacraments."

Working for God

Bermpohl spent six years in campus ministry, three at Catholic U. and three at George Washington University, also in Washington. While at George Washington, she committed herself to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, eight months filled with regular prayer and spiritual direction.

"To me it was foundational," she said. "Through that experience I learned to pray about all my decisions, everything that's put in front of me."

That included her current position. In September 2005, she began working as assistant director for the Family Life office.

"I really came for Rachel," she said, referring to Project Rachel, the diocese's counseling program for post-abortive women. But God had a different plan, and Bermpohl was named acting director and then director of Family Life in February 2006.

She's never looked back.

"Part of my daily prayer is that God uses me to the fullest in this capacity and that I'm open to what He wants," Bermpohl said.

Msgr. Panke, who has remained friends with Bermpohl throughout the years, said she is filled with conviction and passion, especially where her ministry is concerned.

"When you've been able to receive something from the Holy Spirit fully and really have that passion and zeal for serving the Lord in whatever way, that's going to come through in how one serves," he said. "It's not just a job for her. She's got one life to live, she's going to live it for the Lord and she's going to give it her all."

Living a single life - a calling that she sees not necessarily as a permanent state, but rather as an openness to God's will in her life - Bermpohl's journey has been one of falling in love with Christ.

"My life is definitely marked by gratitude," she said. "'Thank You for finding me again, thank You for this Faith, this family that You gave me.' I don't want it to sound corny, but that's where I am. From gratitude flows my joy."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009