A new type of Campus Ministry helps students build the "habit of virtue"

It’s 8:30 a.m. in front of Pike Auditorium, and it’s already uncomfortably hot , although you wouldn’t know it by watching how effortlessly the masked Campus Ministry team seems to accomplish their work. They are set up under pop-up tents arranged on the driveway and the front lawn. Armed with a clipboard and a smile, Theology teacher and Assistant Director of Campus Ministry Carol Fitzsimmons stands next to a sign marked “Loaves and Fishes,” fielding donations of homemade lunches from Mayfield families for Union Station Homeless Services.
Mayfield Senior School has long found its strength as a community of faith. Campus Ministry, theology, volunteerism, and service learning are some of the many ways we’ve expressed and explored our Holy Child mission. But much of that changed when students left campus in March, and a new approach to ministry did not come easily. “When school went remote...we lost our bearings for a bit,” admits Director of Campus Ministry Teri Gonzales. She knew that any new venture “needed to ground itself again to purpose and meaning.” And, she says, “The greatest challenge was to reimagine what a beloved faith community can look like and be during these challenging times.”

Amidst a landscape of anxiety and widespread suffering, Campus Ministry has been exploring unique ways to nurture the spiritual life of the Mayfield community and beyond. Their student retreats went remote, they designed a “virtual chapel” to conduct prayer services online, they started employing apps like “Magnify Your Voice” to approach service and civic engagement digitally, and the “Loaves and Fishes” service initiative was born of an entirely new approach to volunteering. 

Union Station has been a longstanding Mayfield community service partner and, before the pandemic, a regular group of student volunteers would do a breakfast shift before their classes. The small working kitchen makes safe social distancing impossible, so when Union Station advised that they were accepting bagged lunches, the Campus Ministry Council (CMC) jumped at the chance to help. CMC Service Coordinators Gabrielle Owen ’21 and Mia Maalouf ’22 both took on active planning roles. Gabrielle explains, “Since Mayfield has been consistent throughout the years with student and faculty volunteers, we wanted to continue helping [Union Station] in any way possible.” 

The first week of “Loaves and Fishes” brought in 207 lunches, week two: 252, week three: 368 and week four: an astounding 527 lunches. This dramatic leap may have been partially linked to a well-timed lesson in Michelle Gergen’s Theology class. She was teaching the story of the “Good Samaritan” to Sophomores and asked the class in what ways that story had played out in their own lives. Kara Garikian ’23 didn’t analyze the parable with a past experience, but with an upcoming activity. Sophomores had been asked to go on campus to pick up their Retreat supplies, coincidentally, at the same time as the Loaves and Fishes drop off. Kara drew a direct comparison to the biblical story. If a student picked up a bag themselves but didn’t donate for others at the same time, wouldn’t they be ignoring the needs of those at Union Station, like those who ignored the needs of the wounded person in the parable? Ms. Gergen said the comment sparked a lively class discussion, which energized a lot of students.
This new service initiative is also getting students’ families involved—a new and very welcome reinforcement. "It's taking service home—families doing service together,” says Ms. Fitzsimmons. “The habit of service, the habit of virtue, doesn't come naturally,” but the very routine of service is transformative because—at some point—it becomes natural, and it encourages “the spiritual balance that comes when we live the Christian call to love our neighbor." 
Although this spiritual dimension was never explicitly outlined in the suggestions for lunch preparation guidelines, it seems it was inspiring for many families. Mayfield dad and Board of Trustees member Richard Vargas shares why his family comes back week after week: “With the pandemic and the economic downturn, we know many people are hurting...we enjoy helping our neighbors in this era of physical distancing.” And Mr. Vargas  explains how interactive service happens in their home. “I will set out the bags on Saturday and then Sunday we start to fill them with bottled water, chips, cookies. On Tuesday the fruit gets added, and on Wednesday morning my daughter [Emily Vargas ’22] makes the sandwiches and they are added to the bags, and we deliver them to Mayfield.”
Mia Maalouf ’22 is both amazed how this program has grown in the short span of a month, but can easily imagine the ways it can continue to involve more people. “We also want to invite certain groups to participate. For example, one week can be a sport, like volleyball or softball, and the next we can focus on a Conservatory.” Considering its success, Mia hopes the Loaves and Fishes program doesn’t remain a COVID-specific activity, adding. “We are hoping to implement this initiative year around once we eventually return to normalcy.“

As we celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, the Mayfield community has been proving the ways our Holy Child values continue to enrich our lives in profound and lasting ways, on and off campus. “In a very deep sense that is what faith is all about,” says Ms. Gonzales. “It is not just personal but relational.” However physically far we may be from each other, we also remain deeply connected to our school motto, and remain driven by its mission: “Actions Not Words.”
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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 21 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.