In Memory and Thanksgiving for Sr. Mary Ann Scofield

Mary Ann Scofield (1926-2012) is in many ways the 'mother of spiritual direction' as it developed in the Central Valley of California and well beyond. She helped Sandra Lommasson begin the spiritual direction internship program at Bread of Life which is now in its 5th cycle. It was her insight in 1989 that 'spiritual directors need a way to come together' that Spiritual Directors International, the worldwide learning community for spiritual directors was born.  Mary Ann was a steadfast friend and supporter of Bread of Life and mentor for over 20 years to Sandra who writes the following:

The world is smaller today with the death of Sr. Mary Ann Scofield, R.S.M. yesterday morning, June 3, 2012.

She was a large-souled woman who significantly touched my life as my first spiritual director, and then later as teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. In many ways she was mother to my soul, as well as to countless others here and around the world.

She spoke often of the unfolding life in God that begins with “becoming friends with God” and moves to “seeing as God sees” and then to “living out the social consequences of that conversion” through willing action in the world. One of her many gifts as a spiritual director was a developed capacity to see with the eyes of God what was not yet evident to the person with whom she sat. She never forced awareness like a hothouse bulb, but neither did she shrink from asking eye-opening questions. Her sparkling blue eyes radiated both compassion and grounded integrity. She was “poised toward the holy” in radical trust of the One who comes as Love.  

I met Mary Ann at Mercy Burlingame in 1989, the year she served as my first spiritual director. It was the same year I entered the spiritual direction program with high hopes, a vague sense of calling, and complete unawareness that my life was about to unravel. Sitting with a spiritual director to pursue a noble spiritual calling was one thing; sitting revealed as a complete mess was another. I was frankly unsure of having a Catholic nun accompany me given fears about the way she would likely judge my chaos and seek to proscribe what I should and should not do in response.

This was the year I learned what spiritual direction is. She was the steady friend of my soul, trusting the living Spirit to be somehow present in the pain and mess to bring something new out. Soul friendship goes well beyond the unqualified support of friends or family who rally in defense of who we already are. It befriends the ‘something more’ that God is inviting in the human soul beyond our hurt defenses and perceived needs. It means careful discernment of the movements of heart, spirit and life as some impulses come from what is most deeply true in us and some do not. I remember both her compassion and her direct, clear questions that wouldn’t let me retreat to well-honed patterns that no longer served my soul. Always, she brought me back to the primary relationship that I needed to cultivate – my relationship with God to which she was midwife but not architect.

That hard, perilous year became the new beginning. Our formal relationship ended as she headed off to Asia and Africa that next year to bring the art of training spiritual directors to places with few resources. She always had a passion for the edge. I would see her in years to come around Mercy Center on my frequent visits there to complete my own training program. Several years later during a chance encounter in the hall, she asked whether anyone was seeing me as a spiritual director. “Yes,” I responded, “eight people right now.” “Well, then, maybe you ARE a spiritual director!” she replied and I had to laugh. It was discerning Mary Ann, who never took something at face value, but waited for the confirmation of the Spirit. The desire to serve as a spiritual director is not sufficient; it has to be confirmed by the community who seeks one out.

Not long after came her invitation to serve as a small group leader in the third year of the Mercy training program. It was the start of a long mentoring process that would extend over years and a wide variety of experiences as I was introduced step by step into the forming and mentoring of spiritual directors. It would eventually lead – again with her active encouragement - into leadership in Spiritual Directors International, the organization she had been so instrumental in beginning. Her efforts to draw people like me out was never about drumming up support for her own passions, but about freeing us to express our own unique gift. Her commitment was to the active fostering of the creative life of the Spirit in the world, helping potential emerge into active contribution.  

When Bread of Life was born in 1997, one of my dreams was offering formation for spiritual directors in the Sacramento Valley, and Mary Ann was the person I turned to for assistance. She was then in her early 70’s and came willingly alongside for the next four years from 1998-2002, driving from Burlingame to Davis each month as my primary faculty partner in giving birth to this new initiative. She gave the depth of her experience and heart as well as her considerable reputation and helped create the solid foundation for the program that continues to this day.

Even more, when the time came for Bread of Life to stand aside from the model we had inherited and to enter discernment about next steps for formation, she welcomed this as a movement of Spirit. A passionately interested observer who insisted on clear thinking combined with a hearing heart, she never confused “the way we’ve always done it” with the invitation of God. More than once she signaled her delight with what she called “one of the best formation programs in the country” taking shape. She was a handmaid to the Spirit, able to move unafraid into welcoming and celebrating the new thing.

Mary Ann was a deeply human woman which made me love her all the more. There was nothing plastic about her. We had our disagreements over the years and yet fought well and with mutual respect. It didn’t break relationship, but deepened it. She was a stylish dresser and consummate performer who didn’t mind the spotlight. I well remember how with great dignity she would gather all eyes to her in the closing ceremonies of an internship program and then break into a finger snapping, foot tapping rap:

You gotta pray, pray, pray, pray.

You gotta pray just to make it today!

She was a theologian who weighed words carefully and who wanted others to be concrete in their thinking. Her ‘school principal gaze’ could be positively unnerving. She struggled as most of us do with simply allowing herself to be loved. She once told me that the hardest thing of all is to truly take in how deeply, fully, unreservedly loved we are by God because it changes everything. I trust that she now soaks in that Love as a fully alive, liberated spirit dancing with her God.

“You did not choose me, I chose you,” said Jesus in the Gospel of John, “and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” Sr. Mary Ann Scofield lived a chosen life. She allowed herself to be chosen by Christ and she repeatedly said ‘Yes’ in choosing the Way of Love in response to his claim on her life. The seeds of what she has born in our world are now planted worldwide. Sr. Mary Ann, bride of Christ, mother of souls, spiritual director, teacher, mentor, colleague, friend -- I join in celebrating the gift of God you have been to me and to this world of God’s heart.

6/4/2012  Sandra Lommasson