Mater Ceremony: a special day for Woodlands’ sophomores

Parents and other guests joined the Woodlands Academy community on Oct. 19 for the Mater Liturgy, which celebrates the drawing of the sophomore class more deeply into the family of the Sacred Heart.

This Woodlands Academy tradition marks a student's transition from a time as a child to an emergence as a young woman who recognizes that receiving a Sacred Heart education is a blessing in her life to be treasured. During the ceremony, each sophomore receives a medal depicting the image of Mater (another name for Mary, Mother of God). It symbolizes the student's transformation and calls on her to be a resilient, innovative young woman who bases her life on the values of the Sacred Heart.

Hannah Burke '25 began relating the story behind the Mater ceremony, "According to a Sacred Heart legend, a young nun, Pauline Perdrau of the Trinita convent in Rome, asked her Reverend Mother for permission to paint a portrait of Our Lady on the convent's corridor wall. She created a picture of Mary seated with a Bible, a distaff and a lily with an open cloister in the background."

Yue Pan '25 continued, "However, when the fresco was finished, it was hideous and not fit to look at. The colors seemed harsh and jarring. All agreed that the painting should be hidden. They debated on how to proceed, and it was decided that a tapestry should be hung in front of the picture of Mary."

Hannah then returned to the podium to conclude the story, "Two years later, on Oct. 20, 1846, the pope visited the convent. He noticed the tapestry and asked to see the fresco. When the tapestry was removed, the pope exclaimed, 'Mater Admirabilis!' which means 'Mother Most Admirable'. The harsh colors had mellowed, transforming the fresco into a magnificent portrait of Our Lady."

Mary is portrayed wearing a pink gown rather than the traditional blue associated with her. All in attendance were encouraged to view the statue of Mater that graces the vestibule of Woodlands Academy's 400 wing. Its history in this country can be traced to Society of the Sacred Heart founder St. Madeline Sophie Barat.

The statue was sent to the United States from France in 1853 [as a gift from Barat] to the Sacred Heart school in St. Joseph, Missouri. When that school closed, the statue was sent to Woodlands Academy in 1960 for the opening of its building in 1961.

Mater also is the patroness of Woodlands (in the Sacred Heart tradition, all schools are dedicated to a holy person). Because Mater is so special to Woodlands, school officials chose the Oct. 20 Feast of Mater Admirabilis to bestow special recognition on its sophomores.

The program also featured some spoken and musical reflections from Woodlands Academy students. Among them were the powerful thoughts of Avery Drehkoff '25 about her Aunt Anna, whose husband lost his life following the second of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. "Life is not easy, and the strongest people are those who can adapt to the circumstances," Avery said. "I see this strength in Mary as well as Aunt Anna. To continue actively caring for her young children through the pain [Anna] experienced is honestly miraculous. Someday I hope to be as strong as she is. As strong women, we can trust ourselves, knowing that things will get easier and that we have the strength to make it until then."

A reception for members of the sophomore class and their parents was held following the ceremony.