Dr. Christine Athans, BVM, (left) with School of Education faculty member Janis Fine, PhD, at the INSPIRE program’s “Pre Advent Day of Reflection.

Many times leaders of religious communities are so concerned with helping their parishioners with their own spirituality, they forget that their own physical and mental well-being needs nourishing. In order to care for parish pastors and their staff members, the INSPIRE program, a partnership initiative between Loyola and the Archdiocese of Chicago, hosted a “Pre Advent Day of Reflection”  in November at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus and the Archbishop Quigley Center.

The annual day of reflection is a great opportunity for pastors and staff members who are often challenged to find quiet time and space during the four weeks prior to Christmas, and the program has been held for the past eight years. The day gives those enrolled in the INSPIRE program the chance to continue building on the skills they need to develop mission-focused pastoral leadership teams. This year’s INSPIRE program was hosted by Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The program kicked off with principal speaker Dr. Christine Athans, BVM, a long-time scholar of Jewish-Christian studies and an adjunct faculty member in Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies, discussing “The Quest for the Jewish Mary.” Athans drew from her recently published book, In Quest of the Jewish Mary: The Mother of Jesus in History, Theology, and Spirituality, during the three-hour program, reading her work aloud alongside music that was provided by highly regarded Chicagoland Cantors Janis Fine, PhD, associate professor in Loyola’s School of Education, and her partner, National Louis Professor Dr. Jeff Winter.

The musical duet shared their expertise as Cantors, storytellers, and historians of the Jewish people and culture. The musical duet sang Jewish prayers that were infused throughout Athans’s readings, which recounted what a Jewish Mary would have thought about different events in her lifetime. For their part, Fine and Winter picked the particular Jewish prayers that Mary might have said to herself during these historical events.

“What it became was this beautiful story with this beautiful music. The audience was full of priests and nuns, the ones who care for others. Afterward, people were coming up and saying, ‘This is just what I needed. I was engaged and I learned things,'” Fine recounts. “It was a new way of thinking, and everyone I spoke to said this was so beautiful.”

Fine says INSPIRE is a great example of an interfaith program and it reinforces that Loyola is truly a home for all faiths.

The unique combination of having a Catholic nun present work with Jewish liturgical Cantors was indicative of Loyola’s commitment to be a home for all faiths. Donna Curin, assistant vice president to the president and chairman at Loyola, says the INSPIRE program was very moving.

“You had Dr. Athan reading out of Mary’s voice and her experiences and Janis and her partner Jeff would sing a Jewish prayer. Combining the Catholic perspective and Jewish perspective was inspiring and it felt like you were being brought to that place in time,” Curin says.

For more information on Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies and the INSPIRE program, click here.