The theme for Mental Health Awareness week in early October was all about connecting with nature, but one Hamilton Catholic is promoting another type of connection — that with Our Lady under the title “Our Lady of Mental Peace”.

Christine Mears helps run a mental health support group called “Stepping Out” at the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton.

Having first come across the devotion to Our Lady of Mental Peace in her native Scotland some years ago (as reported by NZ Catholic in 2001), she would like to see it take hold in New Zealand.

A medal and a prayer card are associated with the private devotion. The prayer reaches out to Our Lady for “what is essential in our weakness”. It asks that searching hearts be taught that God’s love is unchanging and that human love begins and ends by touching the divine love.

In 2000, a US hospital chaplain told Miss Mears that the devotion to Our Lady of Mental Peace had been blessed by St John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI and that it is a private devotion.

She also discovered that the late Richard Cardinal Cushing of Boston was a great supporter of the devotion. One quote from the cardinal really struck Miss Mears — “‘If Christ and his Blessed Mother were on earth today, he would spend much time among the mentally ill”.

In Scotland, Miss Mears worked in the Catholic Church and in the education system to have mental health issues more readily understood.

She led, established or contributed to mental health forums, mental health support groups, conferences, healing Masses and more.

In Miss Mears’ experience in Scotland, the devotion brought “an assurance that they, the mentally ill, were part of the Church and under Our Lady’s care”.

“It brings with it peace of mind.”

She believes the devotion is apt for our stressful age, as it can help many people.

“The founder [the late Msgr William Sullivan from Boston in the US, a chaplain to a psychiatric hospital for some 27 years] made it clear to me [in 2003] that the intention was not only to address the mentally ill, but also the emotionally distressed.”

The history of the devotion is “still in the making”.

“It is coming to fruition at a time when people are not so fearful, but understanding of the need to welcome our members into the Church and show them they belong to a faith-filled community.”

With the support of the Church, the devotion has the potential “to survive for many a year”.

Miss Mears, who teaches mathematics at Sacred Heart Girls’ College in Hamilton, started up Stepping Out in January, 2013. The group, which now has some 30 people on its books, offers “support and the opportunity to share, information giving and education . . . waylaying the fear and ignorance associated with mental health”.

“We invite speakers each month to an open forum, where the speaker delivers a talk and members can ask questions  from the floor.

“Among our esteemed speakers are psychiatrists, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers and various caring agencies.”

Miss Mears welcomes the support from Bishop Stephen Lowe and from the priests over the years at the cathedral for the group and its activities.

On October 9, Miss Mears addressed the congregation at the cathedral in Hamilton, giving them the background to the devotion and leaving people with prayer cards. Medals have been sourced and will be made available in the short term.

An information session was held the following weekend. Miss Mears believes that those with mental health issues are welcomed by the Church.

“On the whole, the Church welcomes the marginalised and gives them a deserved place in the Church community. They offer friendship, worship and support for living. The more mental health support groups that are encouraged in the Church, the more people with mental health needs will benefit.”

For more information or to receive the medal/prayer card, Miss Mears can be contacted through the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary, PO Box 4007, Hamilton East, Hamilton 3247 or by email office@cathedral.cdh.nz

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