University is a wonderful place, but at the same time, it can also be a very stressful balancing act for students. Maintaining a social life, joining extracurriculars and completing coursework can be incredibly damaging for students’ mental health. That’s where Denise McHugh, student affairs professional and Firesoul who maintains the Garden of Reflection and Remembrance at the University of Maryland, comes in.
Since 2011, Denise has worked as an engagement coordinator for the Memorial Church. Denise sees her job as a Firesoul as an “advocate for the care, preservation, proper use, and promotion of the Garden.”
Located on a small hill next to the UMD Memorial Chapel, an interfaith edifice, the Garden provides an beautiful outdoor setting which allows those who visit it to continue their spiritual journey that they began indoors at the adjoining church.
The Garden of Reflection and Remembrance can be used for a myriad of activities, but its main purpose is to enable inward reflection and meditation for people remembering a lost loved one, or searching for answers to issues that are troubling to them. The Garden’s circular center, with spiraling interwoven bricks, allows visitors to slowly stroll around the circle to its center. Often, guests will place items in the labyrinth center: a flower, a sculpture of river stones, origami cranes.
The Garden also serves as an important community landmark. It is used for various community events, such as the Walk for Remembrance on 9/11, and during school pride days, the Garden hosts musical performances as well as leisurely activities.
According to Denise, the Garden has even been home to a few wedding proposals.
The Garden has become a favorite gathering place amongst students on campus. It is one of Denise’s biggest joys to see UMD students enjoying and finding their own purpose in a space dedicated for them to do so.
“It is wonderful to participate and attend events across campus and run across students and staff who love the Garden. Sometimes, they say the Garden is one of their favorite places at the University.”
The Reflection and Remembrance Garden is an imperative space for meditation and self reflection in a location where those peaceful activities are much needed. Through her work, Denise is able to provide that space, which immensely improves the mental health of the campus community.
“Promoting the Garden and Labyrinth, especially specific programs, can take much effort — but it’s worth it!”
Photo credit: Maureen Porto.