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Mary Cattan ’60: A Mission to Write

Mary Turner Cattan ’60, a psychotherapist and spiritual director, published her first book, Pilgrimage of Awakening: The Extraordinary Lives of Murray and Mary Rogers, in June. The biography follows the lives of two missionaries and their transformation into proponents of interfaith dialogue. We asked Mary a few questions about her own journey . . .


How did you choose your career path?

Graduating from college in 1964, I was blissfully unliberated, too busy tending to my firstborn to delve into Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique (1963) or to consider I might have a career path beyond matrimony. Yet that first calling—raising four children—was challenging and deeply satisfying. By age 40, I had learned that human relationships are much more complicated (and fascinating!) than I had ever imagined. Experiences of loss and failure propelled me to wake up and to learn as much as I could about the intersection of human psychology and spirituality. It led to my second calling—chosen much more consciously—as a spiritual director and psychotherapist. Awareness and life-giving human connection—with oneself, with intimate others, and with the loving, life-giving energy of the universe (that some might call God) became my passion. It was that passion, driven by curiosity, that led to my writing Pilgrimage of Awakening.

Did you have any teachers at Walnut Hill who influenced your passion for writing?

Actually, my passion was for the story that cried out to be told. Writing, which I find incredibly hard work, was the necessary vehicle. Of all my teachers at Walnut Hill, Miss Clark challenged me the most to develop writing skills. She was a very quirky, old-fashioned teacher. She had us reading James Joyce, and her writing assignments were tough. As was her grading! No messing around in Miss Clark’s class!

What advice would you give to someone tackling a major project or writing a book?

What I needed most for my project was structure. For me, the saving grace was a doctoral program that required me to meet deadlines. Through Andover Newton Theological School, I was provided with a loving but strict advisor who said, “Just Velcro your bottom to that chair and WRITE!”

What is your favorite memory from your time at Walnut Hill?

My favorite memories involve relationships with friends. Fifty-six years later, Christie Coon, my roommate for three years at Walnut Hill, is still among my closest friends! Back then, we would gather, with three or four others, in someone’s room, door closed. Some of us were knitters, and we would talk, talk, talk about our lives and gossip. Exploits with boyfriends—actual or wished for—were of great interest. Friday evenings were special for me. At most meals in the Eliot dining room, our every move was scrutinized by a faculty member at the head of the table. But Fridays we were allowed to sit for supper without faculty supervision! There was always ice cream for dessert and no rush to go to evening study halls. Just time to connect. Very occasionally a weekend dinner would be spiced up by some guests—a busload of “boys” from a neighboring prep school. A joint glee club concert and perhaps a dance in the gym would follow. We were to “mix”—just not too much! Spotlights were turned up for the walk between Eliot and the gym to be sure the strict rule of not stepping off the sidewalk into the shadows was enforced. Since the blueberry pie we’d all enjoyed for dessert left our teeth and tongues stained purple, the temptation for stolen kisses was kept in check!

Pilgrimage of Awakening: The Extraordinary Lives of Murray and Mary Rogers is available on Amazon.

Catching Up with Melissa Reardon '96
Catching Up with Melissa Reardon '96

This month, we spoke with Melissa Reardon, a graduate of our Music Department who has been recently appointed the next Artistic Director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, a position currently held by Walnut Hill’s Director of Music Jennifer Elowitch. Melissa caught us up on her post–Walnut Hill career and shared some words of wisdom for our youngest alumni.

 

1. What brought you to Walnut Hill originally, and what was your experience like as a music student here? Do you have a favorite memory from those years?

I was studying music at the NEC Preparatory School on weekends when Walnut Hill was introduced to me by the conductor of the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, Ben Zander. He was instrumental in getting me to attend Walnut Hill. I was home-schooled before I started at the Hill, so going there for high school was a life-changing experience, to say the least! As a music student, I remember learning and performing the first movement of the Ravel Quartet from memory—that was a thrilling and terrifying undertaking. I recall that the group really bonded over the experience, and we were super proud of ourselves at the concert for getting through the piece without stopping!

 

2. Tell us about your current career and the steps you took after Walnut Hill to get to where you are now. How did you end up in this position with the Portland Chamber Music Festival?

For the last 12 years, I have been the violist in the Enso String Quartet. As a member of the quartet, I have performed and traveled all over the world. It has been an incredibly rewarding thing to do, and I feel very lucky that I have been able to do it. While I was studying at Walnut Hill, I had a serious group who rehearsed for hours a day and had multiple coaching sessions every week. It was a formative experience that cemented my dream of wanting to play quartets for a living. After graduating high school, I went to the Curtis Institute of Music and then returned to NEC for graduate study. During that time, I was always on the lookout for quartet-playing opportunities. I remember I had a gig playing quartets in a restaurant every weekend in Philadelphia. I don’t think anyone was really listening to us, but it was so educational because we went through tons of repertoire that way.

Those early years out of school were tough. I freelanced in NYC for several years and was just scraping by. It was so hard, I nearly left music altogether. It took me a good 10 years of searching and trying to start quartets after Walnut Hill before I joined the Enso Quartet.

Meanwhile, I had always wanted to start or run a music festival. When the search for a new Artistic Director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival was announced, I was excited to apply. I had known Jenny Elowitch since my early days at NEC Prep, but we did not reconnect until I came to do an alumni performance at Walnut Hill in April 2016. I then went to the festival for the first time in August 2017—and I loved it! I could not be more thrilled to be taking over from someone whom I admire and with whom I share so many common threads.

 

3. Do you have any lessons or advice for our recently graduated Walnuts who are entering the world?

I once read about a writer who aimed to have 100 rejections for every 1 acceptance: I think that is a healthy way of thinking about work and for dealing with failure. No matter what kind of success you have, there will be periods of failure. Lots of failure. But if you love what you do, and it inspires you, hold on to that kernel of hope and longing and dreaming—it can keep you striving for the thing you want. Also, don’t spend too much time on your phone . . . it’s bad for your brain!