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"Actions not Words" and a justice-oriented approach to service

Someone exploring the recently renovated 3rd floor of Strub Hall might have a double-take when passing the Campus Ministry office for the first time. Not only has the location changed slightly, the staff inside has changed as well. When Carol Fitzsimmons retired from Mayfield last year, there was an opportunity to explore the ways this office would be able to better serve the needs of our community. And once Kristina Ortega was hired as Service Coordinator—working with Campus Ministry Director Teri Gonzales— in addition to being Coordinator of Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (JDEI)—working with JDEI Director Amber Gravely—Ms. Gonzales felt her prayers were being answered. Ms. Gonzales often reflects on how justice work is intrinsically part of faith and service, and seeks to always highlight “Catholic social teaching and the scriptural life of Jesus” in the work of Campus Ministry. So any opportunities to make those connections more explicit at Mayfield was a great thing for her. Ms. Gonzales loved the idea of working with someone who had a foot in both departments, and sharing an office with them was a total perk because she firmly believes that, “JDEI needs to inform Campus Ministry and our faith also grounds our JDEI.”
”Yes!” Ms. Ortega enthusiastically agrees with Ms. Gonzales ”The work we do is grounded in our faith. We do this work because we are a Catholic school, not in spite of it.” And both of them say that their faith informs and sustains their justice work. “A higher power,” says Ms. Gonzales. “Because without that, you’d burn out.”

Over the last few weeks, Ms. Ortega and Ms. Gonzales have come to know some of their shared interests, and chief among those interests is a mutual devotion for Pope Francis. It’s visible in their shared office. A large portrait of the Pope hangs on the wall, Ms. Gonzales has stickers with the Holy Father featured on them, and Ms. Ortega has an entire countertop populated by papal bobble heads, coffee mugs, large cut-outs and even a book of Pope Francis paper dolls. The levity and playfulness underlines a seriousness though. Above everything else, they appreciate the Pope’s “theology of encounter,” which asks people to go out and encounter those with backgrounds different from their own, fostering a deep sense of inclusion in the process. As Ms. Ortega believes this approach ultimately changes one’s sense of perspective and vantage point, explaining, “We stop seeing ‘others,’ and we just start being ‘us.’’’

Still early in the school year Ms. Ortega and Ms. Gonzales recently had an opportunity to explore their new collaboration at the “Freshman Service Day,” the first service opportunity of the year. Seven members of the Campus Ministry Council (CMC) participated in a morning of environmental service at Hahamongna Watershed Park with the Class of 2026. Afterwards, one of the members of CMC would join one of seven groups of freshmen, to help facilitate their reflections on that service. Brianna Choi ’24 says she “enjoyed meeting the Freshmen class,” noting they had been “bonding together,” and explains it “was a great start to the school year by doing service and giving back to the community.” Fellow CMC Co-Head Sophia Barriga ’23 had a similarly positive experience, and it helped her set intentions for this newest group of Cubs: “I hope that the freshman class found a new passion for service, and are excited to participate in the service opportunities that the Campus Ministry Council is offering this year!”

In addition to this environmental service, Ms. Ortega will be focusing on urgent human needs as well. She will be relaunching Loaves and Fishes next Friday Sept. 9, resuming tutoring at Rosebud Academy soon, and is in talks to restart preparing breakfasts at Union Station as well. Ms. Ortega received her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Loyola Marymount University and was a religion teacher for two decades after that. She connects strongly with incarnational spirituality, an ethos that both shapes the Ignatian ideology and that of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus as well. ”Service for me is the ‘J’ in JDEI,” says Ms. Ortega. “The theory is important, giving our students the vocabulary, how to talk about different identities and other people's identities, and then go out into the world and do something about all of the unjust things they learned about…go do the service that will address the sort of global systemic social problems of our day.”

Ms. Gonzales is looking for ways to include JDEI awareness into liturgical life at school, and last year CMC partnered with groups/clubs on campus to enrich the Earth Day, Reconciliation, All Souls/Dias de los Muertos and Interfaith prayer services. She believes working with Ms. Ortega and Ms. Gravely more closely will only enrich this process. And Ms. Ortega is looking forward to making connections like these too, be it teaching Formation of Self classes, helping moderate the Student Diversity Council, or visiting Theology classrooms. “I want to be able to give the entire community language— to give the justice language to the Catholic side of things—but then to give the Catholic language to the justice side of things, and to show they're one and the same.”

When it comes to a justice-oriented service approach, this introduction to the themes of connection and compassion cannot come soon enough, and the members of the Campus Ministry Council are eager to be part of sharing that message as well. After engaging the Class of 2026 on their first service venture recently, Brianna Choi was excited to see the energy the newest Cubs will bring to our community: “I hope that the incoming Freshmen class will understand the large emphasis Mayfield has regarding service as we live up to Cornelia Connelly's saying ‘Actions, not Words.” 

If there is one thing that Ms. Ortega and Ms. Gonzales would most like to convey to the student body, it is the way they can connect to the powers of their faith as a motivation to do good in the world. Because when Ms. Ortega thinks about the church, she thinks less of the rules and regulations, and more of what it asks us to provide to each other. For her, a person of faith means, “getting our hands and feet dirty in repairing the brokenness around us.” And this is a call that Mayfield students are eager to answer.
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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.