After earning a business degree from Elms in 1992, Peggy Constant worked her way up the corporate ladder as an accountant. At 68 years old, she returned to Elms to pursue her MAAT degree, a move that situates her at the forefront of new-age Catholicism.
Hitting the Books
Peggy Constant ’92 never planned to return to college at 68 years old. After graduating from high school, she started a family with her husband, Ron, and focused on raising their four children. When she was in her 40s, she took an entry-level job at a bank and, as fate would have it, that job changed the course of her life from that moment forward.
“I said to myself, ‘I really like this,’ ” said the Chicopee, MA, local. “I really enjoyed business and accounting.”
Peggy’s ambition led her to Springfield Technical Community College, where, in 1989, she earned an associate’s degree in finance. When a coworker at Park West Bank noticed Peggy’s motivation, she recommended that she apply to Elms for her bachelor’s degree (BA).
“I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’m 40 odd years old,’” Peggy said. “But I made an appointment, and the next thing you know, I was in school.”
The Northampton Merger
Working full-time as a bank auditor didn’t deter Peggy from pursuing her BA at the same time. She graduated with a degree in business management and accounting in 1992, and began her ascent up the corporate ladder.
Peggy’s financial prowess caught the eye of her pastor, who invited her to work as the auditor and controller for the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in 2008. This was no small undertaking: today, the diocese includes 80 parishes and more than 177,269 parishioners.
In 2010, Peggy spearheaded a major event in the history of Western Massachusetts Catholicism: the merging of five parishes in Northampton. Even though she orchestrated the financial consolidation of the parishes in a year and a half, her work wasn’t done — she succeeded the director of finances for the parishes, adding human resources, office management, and maintenance supervision to her accounting responsibilities.
“I was forecasting, budgeting — I was doing my thing,” she said.
Master of Arts in Applied Theology (MAAT)
Having attended Catholic schools her entire life, Peggy considers spirituality an essential part of her identity. When her husband passed away after a long bout with congestive heart failure, she searched her soul for ways to process the grief.
“When my husband died, I knew I needed to do something or I would be the most miserable person on earth,” she said. “I was married to him for 46 years, and we were together for 49 years.
“I kept thinking, ‘Maybe I can help people who have lost a loved one, because I’ve experienced it.’ ”
In the wake of losing her husband, Peggy drew strength and a sense of purpose from her faith. One of the reasons she decided to pursue her MAAT was to gain the credentials needed to provide grief counseling to fellow parishioners.
“It was a bit scary,” she said, referring to her decision to return to Elms. “But it was exhilarating, too. I was so involved in my classes, wanting to do well, that it just gave me that ‘oomph’ to go on after what happened.”
Having been raised to accept the Roman Catholic Church’s dogma without question, Peggy discovered that her classes prompted her to engage with Catholicism in new ways.
“Before, I was following the Catholic church because those were the rules. I didn’t question it because we were taught in school: ‘Don’t question,’ ” she said. “But having taken these courses, I understand the reasons why now, which puts everything together.”
Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA)
Before she graduates in spring 2019, Peggy is working toward completing her MAAT capstone project. Her goal is to bring the RCIA program at St. Rose de Lima parish into the “new age,” revamping the curriculum to help people renew their faith in God.
“Instead of just focusing on ‘This is what you need to know to be a Catholic,’ we also address the transition of feeling your faith,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to feel like God is your friend. Talk to him as a friend.”
Among the lessons she has learned in life, believing in God’s presence has been central for Peggy.
“Anything I’ve done because of my spirituality, I feel at peace with,” she said. “I think that’s the important part in today’s world: feeling at peace with yourself.”
“I could give you instance upon instance where I feel like I’ve seen miracles in my life,” she added.
For those thinking about attending graduate school for theology, Peggy recommends Elms for its distinct campus culture.
“No matter who you are, no matter how old you are, they make you feel at home. And that’s the important thing,” she said.