Malise Lagarde, who was just named coordinator of Catholic Counseling Service of the Family Life Apostolate Office for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, brings to the job a missionary spirit and experience as a Catholic counselor and mentor.
Lagarde’s educational background includes attending a boarding school in the northeast and 13 years – from 1996 to 2009 – in mission work, including five years in Chile.
Her undergraduate degree in education was earned at Anahuac University in Mexico City, and she did student mentoring and was a youth group director before returning to New Orleans in December 2009. With a fluency in Spanish, Lagarde landed jobs teaching Spanish at St. Louis King of France School and Mount Carmel Academy.
Lagarde said her undergraduate degree and training in the mission field prepared her for evangelization and pastoral ministries in educational institutions and other ministries within the church. She found that mentoring students abroad called for constant referrals to mental health professionals, so the move into Catholic counseling was natural.
“With my background in Catholic education, I felt drawn to offering that kind of solution to mesh an interpretation of faith and what we know in psychology,” Lagarde said. “I felt it was really needed.”
Lagarde decided to pursue a master’s degree in counseling with a concentration in clinical mental health at Our Lady of Holy Cross College. There she gained strong clinical skills, working at the Thomas E. Chambers Counseling Center on campus and at Catholic Counseling Services.
Lagarde also did contract work at two private practices – Heritage Behavioral Health in Covington and Crescent City Counseling in Metairie. She is a nationally certified counselor on track to get her LPC license.
Why Catholic counseling?
Lagarde realized faith-based counseling could play a role for those who want to incorporate their spirituality into the therapeutic process.
“We respect clients and whether or not they want faith brought into the discussion,” Lagarde said, since not all clients are Catholic or desire faith in the conversations. “It’s not meant to be a proselytizing effort, but Catholic Counseling Service can be an evangelization tool. It is an opportunity for individuals to know that the church is a safe place that can help them through difficulties.”
Catholic Counseling Service concentrates on marriage and families, individual counseling, depression, anxiety, addiction, chronic illness support, sexual compulsions and pre-marital counseling. Cost is $30 a session, but no one is turned away due to lack of resources.
Counseling is currently offered at the Archdiocesan Northshore Pastoral Center, 69090 Hwy. 190 East Service Road, Covington; Immaculate Conception Parish, 4509 7th St., Marrero; and since April 2014 at the Archdiocese of New Orleans Retreat Center, 5500 St. Mary St., Metairie.
Just on the job for four weeks, Lagarde is thrilled to be part of the expansion of services. Catholic Counseling Service is already seeing more than 60 clients at existing locations and wants to branch out to other areas where needed. Currently, there is a team of seven graduate student interns from Loyola University, Our Lady of Holy Cross College and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Lagarde meets with her team twice monthly for group consultations and to explore ways to best train the next generation of Catholic therapists to serve their faith-based clients. Each intern also is assigned a licensed mental health professional to supervise the work they do.
She hopes her office is seen as a support to parish priests working with families and couples.
“It’s really accessible to people,” Lagarde said. “We offer high-quality, affordable services.”
Big shoes to fill
Having worked as an intern for two semesters with Catholic Counseling Service while at Our Lady of Holy Cross, Lagarde is familiar with the practice and said the transition as coordinator has been easy. She admits it will be a job filling the big shoes of former director Mario Sacasa, whom she considers a mentor, but she thinks she can grow into them. Sacasa was recently appointed assistant director of human formation at Notre Dame Seminary.
“I want to keep close to the path Mario was on,” Lagarde said. “I have a close insight to his vision and aspire to pick up where he left off. The program has grown tremendously in the last 1 1/2 years and now has three locations. Hopefully, we can expand that to areas that don’t have a location.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.