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From psychology to art

Last July, Panyard, a retired psychology professor, published her first book. But readers won't find it in the psychology section of the bookstore. Instead, "The Sistine Chapel: A Biblical Tour," is a guide that explores the connections between Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel paintings and the scriptural passages that they're based on.

Before her career change Panyard spent nearly 30 years writing and lecturing on abnormal psychology, adult development, aging and psychopathology, as well as working with patients struggling with substance abuse. In 2004, she went to Rome for the first time and became obsessed with Renaissance art and Scripture, she says. "The works of Michelangelo attracted me the most."

Serving public servants

Panyard began her academic life as a history major with the aim of teaching high school. But after a stint as a substitute teacher, she changed her mind and her major, switching to psychology. She eventually earned a PhD from Wayne State University and landed a job with the Detroit public health department, where she counseled patients — including police officers and firefighters — on substance abuse and stress. She left the health department in 1978 to start her own practice, working almost exclusively with police officers and firefighters. Both groups, she says, have a high rate of substance abuse and stress. Fourteen years later, she accepted a teaching position at the University of Detroit Mercy, where she stayed for 27 years.

Going to the chapel

“The Sistine Chapel: A Biblical Tour”Panyard's first visit to the Sistine Chapel lasted all of 20 minutes, but the experience affected her. She began reading more about Renaissance art, the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo. Despite all her research, she says, she couldn't find a book that tied the chapel's paintings to the Scriptures on which they are based.

"So, I decided to go ahead and write the book myself," she says. "I've always loved history."

Panyard has made six return trips to the Sistine Chapel over the past decade, and she's headed there again next year. She's writing another book, too, tentatively titled "Stalking Michelangelo: A Photo Memoir." "It's a book about this crazy journey I've been on," she says. "I've gone from pain and perversion to beauty and spirit."

Keeping a toe in psychology

In retirement, Panyard is devoting much of her time to her writing projects, as well as learning to speak Italian. But she hasn't left psychology behind entirely — she still consults with police and fire departments conducting pre-employment psychological screenings for new recruits.

— Robin Tricoles

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