Loyola University Chicago

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Counseling over coffee

Counseling over coffee

Jerry Overbeck, S.J., chats with Weekend JD student Amina Jaffer-Mohsin.

Every weekday except Thursday, from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m., you can find Jerry Overbeck, S.J., sitting in the Starbucks at Pearson and State streets. Father Jerry, a chaplain on the Water Tower Campus team of Loyola’s Campus Ministry, knows people seeking counseling can be uncomfortable in formal situations. So “I go where the people are: food courts, lobbies—and Starbucks,” he says. “I see more students, faculty, staff, and alums over coffee than I ever see in my church or office.”

Father Jerry doesn’t limit the locations where he’ll help people who are hurting, anxious, or despondent—and he doesn’t draw lines around whom he serves, either. A Loyolan since 1976 and a fixture in WTC Campus Ministry since 2003, Father Jerry is officially charged with ministering to the School of Law and School of Social Work, but the Loyolans who come to him—and the non-Loyolans they refer to him—represent all schools and colleges, life situations, and faiths.

“I make it clear I’m not here only for Catholics, not only for Christians,” he says. “If you call God by another name, I believe I should be open to you.” One of Father Jerry’s favorite memories is of a Jewish student who told him, “Everything about you telegraphs you’re here for all of us.”

Besides creating a presence through his hours at Starbucks, in other common areas, and in WTC’s Baumhart Hall, where he lives among Loyola students and is known for sharing his gourmet cooking door to door, Father Jerry is responsible for a variety of programming. He’s actively involved with the law school’s orientation, Family Day, and baccalaureate Mass, and coordinates a diocesan Mass for young adults every Sunday at the Archbishop Quigley Center’s St. James Chapel just off campus. He’s officiated at the marriages of many of his former students, and attends as many graduation parties as his schedule allows.

That schedule would demolish a less energetic and engaged person. Father Jerry complements his ministry work by team-teaching couples counseling, family therapy, and migration studies at the School of Social Work. During summers, he fills in for the rector at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu. While on Oahu, “Pono,” as Father Jerry is called there, furthers his research and writing and indulges his love of surfing.

No matter how well he plans them, Father Jerry’s busy days are guided by the needs of Loyolans who are struggling. At four distinct times during the year—the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the time around Holy Week, and the beginning and end of the academic year—he knows he can expect a larger-than-usual number of visitors in crisis. Counseling is exhausting work, “but I love my work and it never feels stale,” he says.

And he knows that it has significance. One of Father Jerry’s prized quotes is from Alfred Delp, S.J., a member of the German Resistance during World War II: “When through one man a little more love and goodness, a little more light and truth, come into the world, then that man’s life has had meaning.”