October 27, 2016
Fr. Richard Berg, C.S.C., has the bearing of a man long accustomed to ministering to the spiritual and psychological needs of society’s most vulnerable members—he is calm, reasoned, cheerful, and deeply concerned with the effects of urban poverty, drug addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, and mental illness. A priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross for 53 years, Fr. Berg also earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Portland in 1969. He already had a full career serving as a psychology instructor, community-based care program director, author, and dean of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences when he was asked to serve as pastor at Portland’s Downtown Chapel (now St. Andre Bessette Catholic Church) in 1989.
It was while serving at the Downtown Chapel that Fr. Berg found his calling of urban outreach to the poor and mentally ill residents of Old Town. He was convinced that the social isolation he observed in downtown Portland was a cause of great suffering in the lives of many individuals. He soon had teams of UP and University of Notre Dame students and parishioners visiting homeless people and those living in residential hotels, a program that developed into the Macdonald Center visiting program. He was instrumental in building the Maybelle Clark Memorial Center and Residence (now titled the Maybelle Center for Community), believed to be the first Medicaid-only assisted living facility in the U.S., in 1999. He now serves as chaplain at Mary’s Woods, a large retirement community located at Marylhurst in Lake Oswego, Ore.
Several years ago Fr. Berg interviewed a group of nine active duty military veterans undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTS) following combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. His intention was to write about their personal suffering and the impact of PTS on their personal relationships, and ultimately to develop a program to help family members and the public understand what combat veterans were going through. “I gave these interviews a great deal of thought and research,” he says now. “Clearly, we are dealing with more than the wounds of war here. Wounds heal. Scars remain.” Using material from his interviews, Fr. Berg wrote a fictional story incorporating the soldiers’ stories and his own research. The resulting novel, Scars, published by Corby Books, Lakeville, Ind., was published in 2013.
Fr. Berg’s novel was well received and he was encouraged to take the story to a wider audience. Scars has now been converted to a stage play by scriptwriter Roccie Hill and producer John Beaulieu and will be premiered on January 24, 2017, at 7 p.m., during the Fertile Ground Festival, held January 19-29 at Lakewood Center for the Arts in Lake Oswego, Ore. It is hoped that Scars will be adapted for the silver screen as well.
Initial fundraising goals for the Scars production have been met through generous individual contributions, including a matching foundation gift from the Macdonald Fund. The next phase of the project will provide information and recommendations about the management of PTS to families, friends, and therapists through a DVD of the play and an accompanying resource booklet. This is where the generosity of UP alumni, faculty, staff, and friends comes in. By supporting the ongoing mission of Fr. Richard Berg and his Scars project, the University community can demonstrate its gratitude and appreciation for the sacrifices made every day by those who serve in the armed services and those who love them.
If you would like to make a gift to support this project, please go to giving.up.edu/pts.