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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.

Innovators & Creators: Brianna Zúñiga

By Evangeline Delgado '11, Alumni Association Chair

Arts education at Walnut Hill involves a lot of figuring out how we appreciate process and product. Before we can appreciate either, we have to do both and fail at both, multiple times. And once we think we've got it, well, we usually fail again. We fall, play the wrong note, tell instead of show, fire our piece for too long, or misunderstand a character. Brianna Zúñiga, a graduate of our Writing, Film & Media Arts Department, is rediscovering process, and what that means beyond Walnut Hill.

Whether at a college, conservatory, or company, artistic excellence is the product we expect of ourselves after graduating from Walnut Hill. After delighting in the pride of walking down Walnut Street in our caps and gowns, and singing our senior song at Candlelight, we quickly jump right back into the process of discovering our next steps.

At the end of Brianna's first year at Columbia University, she found herself in a creativity drought. "I was tired of all the analytical paper writing in college," she explains. "Not feeling artistically charged." It was a year of immersion, academic rigor, and the challenge of grappling with all that college has to offer, as well as the realization that postgraduate life is not all that we expect it to be. Working in New York City over the summer, Brianna went back to a familiar outlet, listening to some of her favorite podcasts: The Daily, Getting Curious, and Black Men Can't Jump [In Hollywood]. Hoping for inspiration, she realized that there were very few podcasts from people who were in the process mode and not sure of the answers. So she did what was natural: she filled the void and created her own podcast called What Does She Know? "I wanted to shed some light, tell my story in terms of what was lacking, in terms of being a college student and not having everything figured out yet."

In her first episode, "Being & Not Doing: Rest in a Productivity Craze," Brianna sets her scene: a young woman who is asking questions, adjusting expectations, and inviting a conversation with those around her. "I don't know anything, that's the answer to the podcast name," says Brianna, but she is in search of those answers.

Now with eight episodes published, Brianna is well into her process. With topics ranging from "The Undoing of Columbia's Mental Health & Isolation" to "Talking Creativity & True Passions," she demonstrates publicly what we learn over and over at Walnut Hill, discovering our voice and honing our craft.

 

Support your fellow Walnut! Listen to the podcast and join the conversation.