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Alumni Spotlight


Ceni De La Torre, CTH Alumna 

Azucena “Ceni” De La Torre graduated from DePaul in 2014. She’s been busy since then. She’s received two advanced degrees—one in theology and another in mortuary science. Now she serves as a ministry coordinator for Catholic Campus Ministry, working on retreats and faith formation. She can easily pull the thread tracing her trajectory from her undergraduate studies to her current work: an attention to the turns of the heart.

During her mortuary program for example, Ceni embalmed bodies of persons who were unclaimed. “They must have had stories. It’s no one’s goal to end up on a table for students to practice.” For her, this was the corporal work of mercy in burying the dead. Embalming helped her understand her own faith better. She cites Psalm 139: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you who knit me together in my mother’s womb.” As she studied people from the inside out, she came to see us as very much knit together.

Ceni reappeared on the radar of Catholic Studies for more than one reason. She has returned to  to work in campus ministry. She is also one of the intended celebrated speakers for TEDx DePaul University 2020. The event was scheduled for late April 2020 and has been cancelled to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In her talk, she planned to discuss the burning question, “How’s Your Heart?” She hoped to draw others to Cardinal John Henry Newman’s conviction that heart speaks to heart, cor ad cor loquitur. This was Newman’s motto that he chose upon his appointment as Cardinal, adapted from a latter in the 17th century by Francis de Sales. Ceni’s own work has borne out this fundamental principle of the faith in attending to the ways that love and loss help overcome barriers despite differences.

Ceni grew up in Logan Square, watching its gentrification through the lens of her family’s funeral home. From the well of her experience, she regrets our society’s struggle with death. “We need to normalize death.” She cites the change of language from ‘funeral’ to ‘celebration of life.’ It’s an understandable attempt to sanitize the experience of loss, she admits, but has long-term effects in circumventing the natural process of grief. In helping walk mourners through tragedy, she became convinced of the worth of studying something that matters. For her, that was theology.

She chose Duke Divinity School, which was once nicknamed “Mother Duke,” due to its vibrant Catholic connections among the theological faculty, students, and intellectual tradition. Yet she also embraced the aspects of her minority identity, seeking out Duke as a new challenge. She was the only Catholic woman in her Master of Theological Studies cohort.

One of the key features in her return to DePaul is her understanding and appreciation of these markers of difference. She has learned that she doesn’t need to reserve any part of herself when she steps into a space. This includes the fullness of who she is—her education, her life experience, and her faith. She cites Duke professor emeritus Stanley Hauerwas, who critiques modernity in stating:, ‘We live at a time when we believe we should have no story, except the story we chose when we had no story.’ Ceni knows differently: “God doesn’t waste anything.”

College is often a time when students are trying to shed their stories. Ceni’s work in CCM is an opportunity to encourage students to embrace those different aspects of their identity, of themselves, helping them integrate the different aspects of their experience as they find their way in the world. Today’s undergrads at DePaul are “struggling with issues of identity that may have not been  in previous years the central focus,” she remarks, “now, there is a space for it in our faith communities.” They struggle with the harm and great sin of sexual abuse in the Church, the MeToo movement, the intense political climate that brings immigration and marriage to the fore. There are “timely ways that {these have} unearthed a whole world of pain. Now we’re coming into naming it and healing it.”

Anna Wolfe

Anna Wolfe, CTH Alumna

Anna Wolfe is from New Albany, Ohio. She graduated from DePaul in 2018 with a double major in Catholic Studies and Psychology.

What drew you to Catholic Studies?
Thought raised receiving the sacraments, I was never a consistently practicing Catholic as a teenager. As a college freshman, I had an experience that ignited my faith. Inclined to learn more about the Church, I took a course or two in CTH to grow my knowledge while filling some requirements for my DPR. I was struck by the interdisciplinary nature of the department and ended up sticking around to feed my love for the liberal arts while simultaneously gaining an intellectual understanding of my newfound faith.

What did you most enjoy about the department?
There are two elements of the department that I most enjoy. First, I'll continue to sing the praises of how interdisciplinary CTH is. You don't become a CTH major or minor expecting a degree in theology, rather you expect to gain an understanding of the way in which Catholicism has shaped and been influenced by culture, art, morality and philosophy over the past 2000 years. Naturally, my other favorite element of the department is the faculty. I respect and enjoy every single professor I studied with from the department, not only as teachers, but as cheerful, thoughtful and dedicated people. I found that in addition to providing quality resources and class discussion, CTH professors were truly Catholic in their effort to care about their students' as whole persons.

What is your most memorable experience in the department?
It's difficult to nail down my "most memorable experience" because my entire undergraduate career was more or less shaped by the CTH department, or the influence it had on me. That said, my first study abroad trip to Rome is certainly something that sticks out. More specifically, my first trip to Assisi. I still remember standing at the edge of the hilltop-town and staring out over the quiet yet vivid environment for the first time. I felt extraordinarily at peace.

What advice would you give people considering majoring or minoring in CTH?
For those considering majoring or minoring in Catholic Studies, my recommendation is to just go for it. If you're worried about tacking it on, know that you'll look back and be grateful you said yes. Studying in the CTH department provides more than an intellectual education. It is a nourishing experience for the mind and spirit...a place to wrestle with the thoughts and doubts we hold in our hearts. The stress that comes from an extra book to read or paper to write is fleeting, while the relationships you build and the conversations you share in the CTH department will add lasting joy and purpose to your overall college experience.

What do you do now that you've graduated from DePaul? How do you think CTH has helped prepare you for that?
I am currently working as a Religion teacher at a Catholic school. My experience with Catholic Studies has not only assured my confidence in my knowledge of the faith so that I may share it with my students, but also in my approach of actually living the mission as a part of my curriculum. I can always add to my intellectual repertoire, but showing love and care for my students is something I only gained after experiencing the benefits of that myself. You can't teach Catholicism without living it.

Ilana Blattner

Griffin Hardy, CTH Alumnus

Griffin Hardy began an internship his junior year with DePaul’s Office of Mission and Values, which works closely with Sr. Helen Prejean. Prejean's work against capital punishment was made famous by the 1996 Academy Award-winning film “Dead Man Walking,” based on her eponymous book. Upon graduation, Catholic Studies major Griffin Hardy will continue to work with Sr. Helen Prejean's organization Ministry Against the Death Penalty as well as DePaul University's Office of Mission and Values. Hardy also hopes to go to law school to become a public defender. Read more about Griffin here.


Emily Lahood

Emily Lahood, CTH Alumna

After graduating from DePaul, Emily moved to Seattle, WA to pursue a job at the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, a Catholic, justice-based non-profit. There, she worked as a Justice Education Coordinator, researching and educating the community on human trafficking and modern day slavery, as well as developing faith sharing curriculum and prayer services around various social justice issues. Emily also spent time working as a Youth and Young Adult Minister at Sacred Heart Parish in Bellevue, WA. Currently, Emily is back at DePaul working as the Ministry Coordinator for Service Immersions in the Vincentian Community Service Office. Feel free to stop by the office to share a cup of tea, chat about theology, and to sign up for a service immersion!


Dominika Kolpack

Dominika Kolpack, CTH Alumna

I have been working at Cometa Formazione for almost 10 months now, and I can safely say that it has been one of the most important and enriching experiences in my life. Cometa is a vocational school in Como Italy, a city with one of the highest dropout rates in Italy. I teach English in the carpentry sector of the school, where students learn what it really means to become an artisan and a craftsman when working with wood. Many of students have a background of hardships in school, and some come from difficult families; therefore, it is easy to imagine that teaching English to them has been a challenge. The students need constant motivation and encouragement to understand that learning a foreign language is not only useful for their future work, but that it can be exciting and beautiful. One of the most amazing experiences here has been to see how the students learn to trust and follow you as the months of the school year pass by. As a first time teacher, I was unaware of just how strong the bond with students can become so that offering up afternoons for individual study with them becomes something completely natural and enjoyable! As a teacher here in Cometa, I am learning what teaching really means and just how important the role of the educator is for society in general. It gives a possibility to change lives, touch hearts, and grow enormously!