Sister Barbara Mullen, SHCJ, a life of love and service to God

Mayfield Senior School’s beloved Sr. Barbara Mullen, SHCJ was fond of telling her students that this world truly needs them—and as a Sister of the Society for the Holy Child Jesus, she devoted her life to bringing generations of young women closer to God, enabling them to do His work with grace.
“Allow your eyes, ears and hearts to see and bring the music of love, intellect, faith and experience to a needy world,” she told Mayfield graduates in 2009. “The world longs for the graces you can bring.”

Sr. Barbara Mullen, SHCJ, 87, passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12 at Huntington Memorial Hospital as the Gospel of the day was gently read to her.

For the past 25 years, Sr. Barbara shared her devotion to the values of a Holy Child education and her message of gratitude, joy and faith in God’s love with the Mayfield community.

“We have lost a beautiful and beloved friend who taught us all so much about the mighty love that God has for all of us,” said Head of School Kate Morin. “Her presence among us brought Holy Child spirituality to life every day, inspiring all around her to reach beyond themselves and use their gifts to serve others.”

She is honored and remembered by the Mayfield community for her genuine desire to get to know students, establishing relationships that went far beyond four years of high school. She was teacher, counselor and spiritual adviser, a Holy Child Sister who met “the wants of the age” by connecting with students and others with wisdom, intellect, wit, honest insights and, above all, devotion to our Lord.

Committed to the empowerment of the young women through the teachings of Society founder Cornelia Connelly, Sr. Barbara helped the Mayfield community discover how they were loved by God. An expert in feminist spirituality, she never missed an opportunity to impart practical lessons pertinent to current societal issues.

“Sr. Barbara had this incredible way of finding us where were were on our faith journey and then guiding us along the way,” said Sheila Roohan ’14, who is currently attending Notre Dame University. “She never put herself first. It was God first and then everyone else.”

Sister pushed her students to question class readings and she encouraged them to explore what was confusing them in their quest for knowledge. Many said that Sr. Barbara invested in them and was genuinely concerned about their lives and futures.

Miss Roohan said she keeps several voicemails of encouragement from Sr. Barbara on her phone. “Every time I need a little pick-me-up I still listen to her tell me that she is praying for me and that God is watching over me.”  

The daughter of Anthony and Marie Mullen, Sister was one of five children. Her parents, three brothers and her sister are deceased. She is survived by a brother-in-law  and sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews, and grand-nieces and grand-nephews.

Raised in Pennsylvania, Sr. Barbara attended the Academy of the Holy Child, a Holy Child high school in Sharon Hill. As a teenager, she became deeply aware of the notion that God loves each person and He needs people to spread that awareness.

She joined the Society of the Holy Child Jesus after high school, taking the religious name Sr. (Mother) Anthony Mary, for her father and mother. She immersed herself in the Society’s educational ministry in while completing her bachelor’s degree at Villanova and her master’s degree in Educational Psychology and Guidance at Fordham University.

“Sr. Barbara had great devotion to the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist, living Cornelia’s central mission that ‘God lives and acts in them and in our world,’” said Sr. Sheila McNiff ’56, SHCJ.

Sr. Barbara devoted her entire vocation to teaching and her legacy as an educator extends far beyond the gates of 500 Bellefontaine.

A classically trained pianist, she blossomed as a young classroom teacher, using her musical talents at the piano and organ. Eventually, she took on leadership roles and served as Principal at St. James Elementary School in Philadelphia, St. Elizabeth School in New York and at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Pasadena from 1967-70. She also served as Director of the Office of Education for the Society’s former New York Province.

While a lifelong educator, Sr. Barbara was also a lifelong learner. After 25 years of service with the Society, she took a year-long international research sabbatical in 1977. This would move her to pursue two more master's degrees through the years, one in Future Studies from California State University, Los Angeles and the other in Feminist Spirituality from Immaculate Heart College Center in Los Angeles.

She taught religion and served as a student advisor at Alverno High School in Sierra Madre and at Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank in the 1970s and 80s. She was also named a Visiting Scholar at the University of Washington.  

Sr. Barbara came to Mayfield in 1991 as Dean of Students and soon took on the role of Assistant Head of School. Later, she became Mayfield’s first Director of Women’s Research. In recent years she she served as Director of Formation to Mission, dedicating herself to imparting the teachings of Cornelia Connelly and the Society of the Holy Child Jesus to the lay leaders of the school, students and the broader Mayfield community.

“Because of Sr. Barbara’s unwavering and inspiring commitment, Mayfield’s Catholic tradition, informed by the Holy Child spirit, will continue to be our guiding compass for the education, faith and community life of our school for generations to come,” Mrs. Morin said.

The Mayfield community was blessed to celebrate Sr. Barbara’s 60th Jubilee as a Holy Child sister in 2010. Her anniversary gave all at Mayfield a joyous time to honor Sister, who through her interactions with others modeled Cornelia’s educational philosophy of focusing on the reverence and dignity of every person.

In her role as Director of Formation to Mission, Sr. Barbara acknowledged the evolving roles of lay leaders in Holy Child schools.

“To you lay men and women there is a clarion call for the future,” she said at the 2012 Mayfield benefit, where she was honored for lifelong service to the Holy Child mission. “The call asks your hearts, spirits and hands to continue this vision and bring it to the fulfillment in the ages to come.”

At Mayfield, Sr. Barbara was known for her expertise in women’s studies and women’s spirituality, holding popular seminars for seniors and leading prayer groups for women. She drew on Cornelia’s wish for her Sisters and students to be valued as individuals and challenged to grow into mature, independent and holy people.

“She was my toughest friend, but also my most honest and nurturing friend,” said Emily Balfour ’12. “Our friendship was one of equality; we strengthened each other where we lacked. She showed me patience and enlightened me with her knowledge and unique way of teaching, and I showed her how to work her iPhone and taught her how to text… She taught me to appreciate everyone and find their gifts.”  

In 2014, Mayfield’s new Library was officially dedicated and named the Sr. Barbara Mullen Library, honoring her commitment to the pursuit of continuing education and intellectual growth. She believed that the key to a Holy Child education is grounded in teaching students to use their God-given gifts in service to others.

Carrie Fogliani Richards ’93 said that Sr. Barbara deeply influenced her life and helped her and her classmates grow into “strong, independent and confident women. She inspired us to achieve much more than we had planned. We all have been blessed with her guidance.”

In her 2009 commencement address, Sr. Barbara imparted her brand of wisdom in a down-to-earth message that continues to resonate with the entire Mayfield community.

“Cornelia lived life in the reality of each moment,” Sr. Barbara said. “The word LIFE is key to her portrait. Four letters spell LIFE, each letter offers a clue to the gifts of Cornelia: L: Love; I: Intellect; F: Faith; E: Experience.”
In this speech she encouraged students to reflect on the “priority of love” in a fast-paced society and to “know, value and live the gifts of love” in our lives. She wanted students to value their intellect as Cornelia did because it is a “wondrous, blessed gift.”

Sr. Barbara’s wish was that others rejoice in God’s Divine Presence. In her commencement speech she told graduates to cherish their experiences, both “positive and negative,” because this “will forge and form you into valiant women.”

Years later, in a videotaped session with students of the Class of 2016, she continued to pass on her message of empowerment through God’s love to Mayfield students.

“I believe so much in the fact that women are so needed in our world today — so needed — and we need you to grow up and realize your value and your deep sense within for who you are,” Sister said. “Bless you to be really what we need you to be, today and tomorrow.”

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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.