Faith & Service
Sr. Barbara Mullen Mission & Ministry Fund

How Mayfield Senior School has been “Inspiring” our adult faith community

The depth and richness of Holy Child spirituality is something that Mayfield Theology courses and Campus Ministry programs spend a lot of time developing in the four year curriculum for students. But how to share that spiritual richness with adults in our community—to parents, alums and faculty/staff—that was another question entirely. Director of Campus Ministry, Teri Gonzales, reflected on a topic which came up time and again for her: “Our parents kept saying that they were so inspired by their daughters and the ways they discuss their spirituality, and parents would say they wish they could be in our classes themselves!” So for the last few years, Ms. Gonzales has been exploring the best ways to serve this group. 
Inspire” is the result of that exploration, an inaugural program this year aimed at serving the spiritual needs of the adults inside Mayfield’s extended community. 

Ms. Gonzales credits a series of in-person Advent and Lenten Monday reflections that helped her conceptualize “Inspire.” The Monday Reflections started as a group of engaged alums and Holy Child associates who met in the Strub living room, a gathering founded by Sister Barbara Mullen SHJC, then Angela Howell ‘76, and passed it along to Ms. Gonzales in recent years. When COVID-19 hit, it opened the possibilities of hosting all this online and to a potentially wider audience. Ms. Gonzales saw she might be able to use this newfound limitation to a possible advantage: “Let's use the online format and see if adults are interested,” she recalled thinking. “Let’s see if parents and alums will be actually interested in exploring and nourishing their own spirituality.”

The “Inspire” program is a lecture series, led by four spiritual/community leaders, and the participants are given the opportunity to attend talks individually, or as a set, with each talk meant to illuminate aspects of the Holy Child spirituality in one way or another. Whereas the Monday reflection groups in the living room had no more than 12 people at any given time, online registration for these isolated sessions sometimes topped 80 participants! Although not everyone who registered attended the sessions, Ms. Gonzales was overjoyed to see the engagement and the community that was coming together for the purpose of spiritual renewal and deepening,

COVID-19 has not just been creating health and logistical challenges for our community members, all too often, it has also been fomenting spiritual challenges as well. So many of us are disconnected from our support groups, our churches and rituals of our spiritual nourishment. People are grappling with mental fatigue and grief in widespread ways, and Ms. Gonzales sees that kind of isolation as something the program has the potential to address, saying, “Inspire’ is really an opportunity for people thirsting and searching for a deeper relationship with God manifested in the world around us.”

Halfway through the programming at this point, the first speakers were both active religious members, Sister Eileen McDevitt, SHJC, Director of the Holy Child Network of Schools, and Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, internationally acclaimed author and death penalty activist. These speakers reflected on how “incarnational spirituality” shaped their mission and work, McDevitt focusing on education and formation in schools and Prejean through advocacy. “Inspire” participant Catherine Huston ‘73 reflects on these first two speakers. “What better way to…launch Mayfield’s Adult Spirituality Program” she says. “Illuminating stories of women of promise and hope, rising to love and serve, even in the face of obstacles and suffering.”

Although the topics of this year’s “Inspire” program was not set among all the speakers, Ms. Gonzales did have a very clear curatorial idea in mind. To continue celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Ms. Gonzales elected to carry on with its theme of “Love and Serve” inside the Inspire program.

Coming to appreciate the religious approaches inside the Society of the Holy Child Jesus— “incarnational spirituality” remains a cornerstone—it is the mystery of the humanity of God, and the human as the divine. We are asked to reflect on the way the magnificence of Almighty God on Earth was manifested in the most vulnerable of all vessels: a hapless infant. These paradoxical relationships remain a constant reminder to the faithful—both a blessing and obligation— to treat those around us as the miracle they truly are, because by their very being, they are reflecting God’s presence back at us.

Karen Swenson ‘64 explains the adult spirituality course is helping her tap into lessons she remembered from her times at Mayfield, saying that much of the messaging we encounter in our media diet these days are all “egocentric” ideas, championing the individual desires while ignoring the needs of others. Swenson finds that “the ‘Inspire’ program…assists the attendees to refocus and become theocentric where recognition of dependence on God is really the only feeling of true independence for the human spirit, since each individual was created in the image and likeness of God.” 

Some of the participants signed up for the program specifically because they followed the work of the unique and accomplished speakers. Others, like Missey Moe-Cook ‘71, enrolled with a curiosity of the program as a whole. “I signed up for all four sessions because inside this community of faith, I know that anything Mayfield puts in front of me will be something of value,” she says. Although Missey was vaguely familiar with the book (and later movie) “Dead Man Walking,” she admited she hadn’t made the connection that the speaker at the second session was the nun who chronicled her own work against the death penalty, until her lecture actually began. “It was one of the most inspiring and jaw-dropping presentations I’ve ever heard. If you hear Sister Prejean talk, you end up in tears. Her work is so awe-inspiring. This woman should receive a papal award for her humanitarian work!”

Missey Cook says this talk gave her newfound appreciation of the importance of incarnational spirituality, in realms she hadn’t thought about before. “It just made me so proud to be a Holy Child associate,” she says. “It motivated me to think about the many more ways I can participate.”

The two final speakers in the program promise to be as enlightening as the first. For the session that occurs on Valentine’s Day, Ms. Gonzales invited married couple and business partners, Sharon and David Hooper, founders of Inscape Ministries, who will be the first presenters in the series able to address adult spirituality from the viewpoint of parents. And finally, there will be alum Heidi McNiff Johnson ‘84 who has been using her non-profit and podcast “Charity Matters” platforms to elevate stories of strength and community, a testament to “Actions not Words.”

As Ms. Gonzales had hoped, many parents and alums have become part of the “Inspire” family. But she was pleasantly surprised that several faculty and staff members have been participating as well. Julie Sanchez-Brehove ‘11, both an alum and a current Freshman English teacher, has been thoroughly enjoying this Inspire program. “Since I was in high school, I've often felt like Mayfield was a spiritual home. As an adult, I miss that feeling of faith formation,” she explains. “When I heard that alums were welcome to join…I was really excited. It's been so interesting to hear the speakers' experiences and meditate on that among some familiar faces.” And Cassandra Gonzales, Mayfield’s Interim Director of Justice, Diversity Equity and Inclusion (JDEI), has found value in these sessions too, saying it has been allowing her to "engage with people who I might not have had a chance to engage with before.” 

As a vehicle for a faith journey, Catherine Huston expresses her gratitude for this Inspire program, as it continues to hone the attention of its participants towards “awakenings, revelations and sacred callings.” She shares a hope for herself and all those in the Mayfield community. “May our discovery of God’s presence in all things fill us with joy,” she says. “May our ‘Yes’ to God’s call and commitment to loving actions transform our hearts and truly bring joy to our world.”

Teri Gonzales is still exploring the best ways of fine-tuning this kind of programming for the future, but this much is sure: “Inspire” is living up to its name, and then some. And if you are interested in participating in the last two sessions, read more about the program here and you can still register online.

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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.