The Upper School sacred space was officially dedicated as the “Eliza Nesbit Contemplative Center” on January 30. Father Lalo Jara, OFM, Program Director of the Archdiocese of Washington Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, presided over the blessing. “This space is the fruit of many years of dreaming, planning, and waiting,” said Head of School, Catherine Ronan Karrels ’86, opening the ceremony. With a generous $50,000 donation from the Stone Ridge Parent Association (SRPA) to cover construction and decoration, the space fulfills a commitment made in the last Sacred Heart Commission on Goals (SHCOG) process to create more quiet, sacred spaces for a range of prayer and contemplation as an extension of the School’s chapel. Former Director of Institutional Advancement, Melissa Prather; Head of Upper School, Malcolm McCluskey; Director of Formation to Mission, Kathryn Heetderks; former Director of Facilities, Andrew Harrington, and campus ministers Meg Russell and Jean Plummer offered valuable leadership and vision to make this interfaith contemplative space a reality.
The space is filled with books, icons, and other religious devotionals representing various faiths, such as Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Bahai, to support students on their spiritual journeys. The decor is simple, warm, and inviting, inspiring “an attitude of contemplation and transcendent prayer,” said Mr. McCluskey during the ceremony. The focal point of the room is a large metal Tree of Life with a heart at its center created by Cake’s Metal Whimsies, a Jewish-owned metalworks company in St. Louis, Missouri. An archetype connected to many faiths, the Tree of Life is a welcoming symbol and is a reminder of the importance of spiritual connection in daily life.
Rustic benches, comfortable chairs, and pillows offer different seating options for students to unwind from their daily routines and focus on their interiority. Ms. Heetderks hopes the space “reminds students that their faith is at the core of who they are, and they can connect to that at all times.”
Eliza Nesbit was born in Kentucky and was enslaved for all of her life, most of it with the Society of the Sacred Heart. Eliza’s story has become better known in the last several years as the Society of the Sacred Heart has been researching their own history of enslavement as part of the work of the Slavery, Accountability, and Reconciliation Committee. Eliza was a woman of deep faith and longed to become a member of the Society, but was not allowed to do so. This new space honors her and her spirit. She was a person of great faith, generosity, and tenacity. She understood that God was with her at all times and in all spaces and that any place could be considered sacred and worthy of prayer. According to the Society, “At the end of her life, she dedicated herself each Pentecost Sunday by a vow of charity as a Sister of Charity of the Sacred Heart. The public ceremony, with the vow made to serve the sick and needy, took place in front of the assembled community and concluded with the singing of the Magnificat.” She had a strong desire to be buried with the sisters, and the local superior granted this request. The accounts of her death indicated that the RSCJ at the time “considered her holy and held her in great reverence.”