Born into a Catholic family in the city of Madras on the southeastern coast of India, Dr. Robert Berchmans, Professor of Theology and Ministry at Silver Lake College, was exposed to a variety of religions as he was growing up.
His life’s experiences help bring a first-hand perspective to his teaching, said Berchmans, who has been a faculty member at Silver Lake College for the past 20 years.
“The vast majority of people in India are Hindus. There are also Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. I was brought up to respect all these religions — not merely tolerate them but to accept them,” said Berchmans, who lives in Green Bay.
It was unusual, but not unheard of, to be Catholic in India, said Berchmans, who comes from a long line of Catholics.
“The Catholic tradition in India goes back the 16th Century, when the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier visited the east coast of India, where my family comes from,” he said.
“In India, I had friends who were of all different religions. Religion was not in any way a stumbling block in relationships. As children we played together and then went to our separate churches. Other families were very understanding of the way we lived and we were understanding of the way they lived.”
Berchmans said he believes that God’s hand guided him to Silver Lake College because all of his life has been a preparation for teaching such classes as World Religions.
“I teach the major religious traditions of the world: monotheistic religions and religions of the Far East, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Shintoism,” Berchmans said.
“My whole approach is to make the students appreciate each religion for what it offers and to not superimpose my Catholic faith on these religions. I ask my students to have an imaginative participation in these religions. Not to subscribe, but to put themselves in their place and to a large extent, I think, I have succeeded. My students say they are not judgmental. They are appreciative of all these religions."
Understanding of other religions is important in a world where religion often is at the center of strife, such as in the Middle East and even his homeland of India today, where Christians are being persecuted by the Hindus for their beliefs.
“My students have a tolerance for others views," he said. "Questions come up repeatedly regarding not only religion but such topics as morality and sexual orientation. Today’s students seem to be a lot more open and accepting of other people. They’re not condemnatory, although they may have their own beliefs.”
Berchmans also teaches classes including Key Concepts in Catholicism, Christian Living, Being a Catholic Today, Christian Discipleship, Catholic Moral Theology, Church History, Sacramental Theology, Prophetic Literature, Synoptic Gospels and Islam.
Berchmans, who moved to the United States in 1987, became an adjunct professor at Silver Lake College in 1995 and received a Doctorate in Theology in 1999 from Marquette University.
He was Director for Religious Education at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Pulaski for five years before joining Silver Lake College full time. He was Chairman of the Silver Lake College Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy from 1996 to 2002.
Berchmans is author of “A Study of Lonergan’s Self-Transcending Subject and Kegan's Evolving Self.” In addition, he served as the Academic Coordinator for the Commissioned Ministry Leadership Program for the Diocese of Green Bay for 19 years.
He and his wife, Charmaine, have two children, Danielle and Everette.