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Founding Members and Early Trailblazers of the Department

Adrian van Kaam, C.S.Sp., Ph.D.

Dr. van Kaam was born in 1920, a native of The Hague, Holland. After his ordination as a Catholic priest of the Dutch Province of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, he was assigned to teach philosophical anthropology at the Congregation's Senior Seminary in Holland. At this period, he taught courses in formative spirituality to young adult workers in the Dutch "Life Schools." In 1950, he began graduate studies in pedagogy at the Hoogveld Institute of the University of Nijmegen. His studies were interrupted in 1951 when he was invited by the General Superior of his Congregation to spend a year in Paris researching the writings of Francis Libermann, Founder of the Congregation. The results of that research became van Kaam's first book, A light to the Gentiles (1959). Returning to Holland in 1952, to resume his studies, he wrote a thesis on the integrational spiritual formation of young adults and was awarded the M.O. degree. From 1952-1954, he served as a spiritual formation counselor in the Dutch Observation Center for Juvenile Delinquents.

After a personal meeting in Holland with the President of Duquesne University, van Kaam was invited to come to the States to join Duquesne's department ofpsychology. He arrived in Pittsburgh in 1954 and while teaching at Duquesne, completed his doctorate in psychology at Western Reserve University in 1956. He then enrolled at the University of Chicago to be trained in psychology under Carl Rogers, and at the Alfred Adler Institute under Rudolph Dreikurs. The next year, van Kaam undertook advanced coursework in personality theory under Abraham Maslow, Kurt Goldstein, and Andreas Angyal at Brandeis University. Upon completion of his dissertation, The Experience of Really Feeling Understood by a Person, he was awarded the Ph.D. in 1958 and began teaching full-time at Duquesne. Van Kaam's vision, inspiration and organizational skills set the direction for the graduate program inaugurated at Duquesne in 1959. He remained within the department of psychology, devoting much of his time to the Institute of Religion and Personality. When the Institute separated from the department in 1965 and became an autonomous unit, The Institute of Man, van Kaam became its first Director. In 1979 the Institute of Man became the Institute of Formative Spirituality, where van Kaam realized his life's dream. In 1980, he resigned as the Director of the Institute for health reasons, but continued to teach, write, and lecture worldwide.

Over the years, van Kaam initiated and edited the Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry (with Rollo May), Humanistas, Envoy, and Studies in Formative Spirituality. He published more than 30 books, including The Emergent Self (1968), The Art of Existential Counseling (1966) and Existential Foundations in Psychology (1969), and mostly recently published after his death, Envy and Originality (2012). He died in 2007 (a beautiful obituary from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette can be found here).