Editor’s Note: Divine Word Father Martin Padovani is marking his 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination this year. Father Padovani was inadvertently omitted in the special Lives of Faith section of the October Monitor Magazine.

Ask Father Martin H. Padovani about the “one-eighty” he made early in his priesthood when he went from wanting to do missionary work in China to becoming a psychotherapist, and he simply says: “Man plans and God laughs.”

“God obviously had another idea in mind for me,” he said.

As Father Padovani reflects on his vocation to the priesthood and all that has taken place since he was ordained 60 years ago, he readily admits there’s been quite a difference from what he originally envisioned about the priesthood as a grammar school student in St. Ignatius School, Cleveland, Ohio, to the direction his life ultimately took.

Father Padovani recalled it was in St. Ignatius School where he first learned about the Divine Word Missionaries and their work in serving the poor, neglected and disadvantaged in some 70 countries around the world. A Divine Word priest had visited his class and showed a film on the community’s work in China. It was then, the young Martin said, “that I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Following  grammar school, Father Padovani attended a preparatory high school headed by the Divine Word Missionaries in Girard, Pa., followed by studies for the priesthood in Conesus, N.Y., to Epworth, Iowa, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and then the Divine Word Missionaries headquarters in Techny, Ill., where he was awarded a master’s degree in theology.

Soon after his April 2, 1960, ordination, Father Padovani had a change of heart in how he felt called to live his missionary life. Instead of serving overseas, he would remain in the United States. His first 10 years of priesthood were spent serving in Divine Word Missionary sites in Chicago, Ohio and Bordentown as the order’s director of vocations. In this position, he realized he had a gift for counseling and listening to people. This was further fostered when celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and realizing that many times what the penitents were confessing were not sins.

“They thought they were confessing sins,” he said, but what they were actually confessing were the human emotions and feelings they were experiencing in response to the circumstances taking place in their lives. While guilt, shame, anger and pride were among the “sins” he would often hear in the confessional, Father Padovani emphasized that these emotions are not sins. “Emotions and feelings are not sins,” he said. What is sinful is “how we act on our emotions,” especially if the actions are carried out in a hurtful or hateful manner.

With the support and encouragement of Father Raymond Lennon, the community’s provincial at the time, Father Padovani began graduate studies at Iona Institute of Pastoral Counseling, New Rochelle, N.Y.

Once he received his master’s degree, Father Padovani, who was living in Bordentown, began working as a full-time therapist specializing in individual, marriage and family therapy. He said he was pleased that his brother priests recognized that he was doing missionary work “in terms of a psychological and spiritual sense.”

Meanwhile, his reputation as a counselor was evolving, and scores of people were seeking his guidance. At first, the majority were parishioners who had heard his homilies during the Masses he celebrated in both the Trenton and Metuchen Dioceses, where he served as a weekend assistant. But the clientele expanded as he acquired more speaking engagements and through referrals from physicians and other psychologists and psychiatrists. He was most effective when the issues involved religion.

“Through my work, I had noticed that I was addressing the psychology and the understanding of the human and emotional element and blending it with the religious element. I found that in almost every person’s problems there was also a spiritual dimension that needed to be addressed,” he said.

“So much human and spiritual suffering exists because we fear or fail to deal with our emotions, and they are the emotions that God gave us,” he added, emphasizing that the “only teaching” anyone receives on their emotions – how to feel, how to communicate and how to relate with others – would be “from our families of origin, and no one had a perfect family background.”

After a number of years in the counseling field, Father Padovani, in the mid-1980s, published his renowned “Healing Wounded Emotions.” In the book, he provided positive, comforting and encouraging guidance to help people lead happier lives and enjoy more satisfying relationships with others and God.

Nearly 20 years later, in 2006, he published “Healing Wounded Relationships,” which expounded on the concepts presented in his first book, discussing pertinent aspects of relationships including communication, listening, handling conflicts, forgiving and reconciling, divorce and remarriage and grieving over the losses of life. He said that through both books, he hopes people can look at their lives and problems in a more enlightened way – from both human and spiritual standpoints.

“There is an absolute positive relationship between psychology, religion and spirituality,” he said. “We are all in need of emotional intimacy in our lives no matter who we are, but we cannot attain spiritual intimacy with others and, above all, with God, without emotional intimacy.

“We often are rightly confused when we hear of someone who is identified as having a genuine Christian spirituality but are lacking in an emotional maturity. This is a common misunderstanding because mature spirituality is also rooted in emotional maturity. In these areas, we find today extensive misunderstandings about the aspect of intimacy. The genuine Christian spirituality must always be rooted in a sound emotional spirituality, and genuine sexual maturity must also be rooted in spiritual maturity.”

Father Padovani further emphasized his point by reflecting on how the relationship between psychology and religion is found in many of the Gospel stories.

“Jesus is not only the greatest theologian, he is also the greatest psychologist,” he said, citing several examples of when Jesus showed his emotions, such as weeping when his friend, Lazarus, had died.

“Jesus was not only in touch with his own feelings, he was also emotionally in touch with other people,” he said, “and that is what he wants from us. The Gospel calls all of us to have a sense of self-worth, a sense of personal responsibility and to be more than who we are and to enter into relationships with others.”