Students take pride in their sanctuary

THE CHAPELETEERS—La Reina students Brooke Fischer, 13; Suzy Shah, 12; Sophia Tejwani, 12; and Melissa Audish, 12, were inspired by Sister Regina Robbins (center) to form a club to clean the chapel at La Reina High School and Middle School.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, the saying goes, and nowhere is that on display more clearly than in the La Reina High School and Middle School chapel.

Mass is held in the gym, but the Catholic girls’ school on Janss Road also has a small sanctuary on campus where students can escape the rigors of academia and sit in the presence of God.

It’s a simple room with a crucifix hanging on a wood-paneled wall, a box-like tabernacle and some candles, both electric and traditional. There are also songbooks, pamphlets and chairs, all of which become disorganized throughout the week.

To make sure that “God’s house” is a house of order, a group of middle schoolers have formed a new club, known as the Chapeleteers, to clean and care for the chapel. They meet twice a week to dust, straighten, clean and rearrange the room so it is tidy and peaceful for their fellow students.

Sophia Tejwani, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at La Reina, said some tasks, like dusting the top of the tabernacle where the consecrated Eucharist is kept outside of Mass, are more sacred than others.

“Doing that is the most special to us,” Sophia’s friend, 12-year-old Simi Valley resident Melissa Audish, said. “This is a place for peace and quiet, and it makes it special to be alone but with God.”

Suzy Shah, a fellow seventh-grader, said she loves the two large candles that sit lit on the altar all day. The Newbury Park native and second-generation La Reina student started the chapel cleaning club in September, when she overheard Sister Regina Robbins mention that she needed help keeping the facility clean.

Suzy recruited her friends, and the newly minted Chapeleteers sprang into cleaning.

Twice weekly, the four-girl group meets to clean the chapel, and once every two weeks they get together at lunch for a discussion and planning meeting.

The girls’ dedication to the chapel is also about their dedication to Robbins, who worked as a young nun at La Reina when it opened in 1964. She returned last year to serve as the school’s dean of mission, which means it falls to her to make sure the school is following the guiding principles of the Sisters of Notre Dame, including teaching the goodness of a provident God and the dignity of each person as an image of God.

Principal Maggie Marschner said Robbins recently attained her chaplaincy, and her mentorship of students is an important part of the school’s focus on spiritual and emotional wellness.

But for the Chapeleteers, she’s just Sister Regina. Sophia, a Calabasas resident, said Robbins helped her adjust to a new school and open up to new people and experiences.

Melissa said she met Robbins on the first day of school and determined that she has a good spirit.

“She’s the light of the school,” Melissa said.

Robbins, who had been listening to the girls talk from behind a door, popped into view.

“Well, don’t stop,” she said, as the girls laughed in surprise.

Robbins said she was touched to see young women taking an active and reverent interest in the things of God.

“I am amazed. They are the future. I think they’re going to be incredible young women,” she said.

Watching his daughter laugh and interact with Robbins on a recent afternoon in the chapel, Sophia’s father, Gull Tejwani, said seeing his child form deep bonds with an older adult gave him “a feeling beyond words.”

For Sophia, who is not Catholic and described her faith background as being spiritual, said the chapel had become a home to her.

“Everyone in the school, no matter who they are, they walk into the chapel from different walks of life and various perspectives on the world,” she said, “and it’s a communal place where we can all pray together. I love that it’s a place we can all pray together.”

Article by Dawn Megli ( Photo Courtesy of  Michael Coons/Acorn Newspapers.