The “Devotees Helping Devotees — and Others Too!” series continues with the story of Brenna Charlebois, a devotee from the Lake Shrine Temple who discovered Master when she read Autobiography of a Yogi at age 14.
Five years ago, when Brenna was visiting her sister in Portland, Oregon, she received a call from a Corvallis, Oregon, devotee, Lynn Walker, who Brenna had met 10 years earlier. Lynn invited Brenna to join her to film a video about Mary Peck Stockton, the now-95-year-old devotee who met Paramahansa Yogananda at a lecture he gave at a San Diego hotel in the early 1930s, when she was eight years old. Mary is perhaps one of the oldest living disciples to have spent time with Master when he was in the physical body.
Auspiciously, Brenna’s sister lived only a mile away from Mary’s home. Following the filming, Mary and Brenna stayed in touch and became very close. “I love her so much,” Brenna says. And Mary, who I interviewed for this story, adds joyfully: “She is my adopted daughter.”
Earlier this year, Brenna was staying with her sister when the corona virus broke out and she immediately thought about what she could do to help Mary and her husband of 47 years, David Stockton, 96. Brenna began by calling Mary and David on a daily basis to check on them. And when it became safe to visit them in their independent living facility near Portland (in the Pacific Northwest), she began visiting regularly. “I stop in with their favorite treat, lemon pie, flowers for Mary, and other things they may need,” Brenna says. “They sit out on their little porch chairs and I put a blanket on the grass and we talk about life and Master. More recently, I have been going inside wearing a mask. We pray for others and laugh a lot too!” Brenna also brings Mary and David her homemade banana bread, which Mary deeply appreciates almost as much as the love and attention of Brenna.
Brenna also was on call to take Mary and David to medical appointments or to get supplies. “I think it gives them a sense of security to know they have someone else to call on in addition to their daughter,” Brenna says. “It’s a huge relief for them.”
For those who may not be familiar with the history of Mary’s relationship with her Guru, which Mary shared during our interview, she said that from the day she first met Master, she felt his loving presence. She, her mother, and brother also spent a great deal of time in the Guru’s physical presence as the group weekly attended Master’s Sunday Services in San Diego, and later at the Golden Lotus Temple on the Encinitas Ashram Grounds. In fact, Mary can be seen standing with her mother and brother in a photo at the Easter Morning Service at the Golden Lotus Temple in 1938, when she was 14 years old. (See photo below.)
Mary had many meetings with Paramahansa Yogananda as well, and considered him to be like a father. She said she received Kriya from Master five or six times, the first time when she was only 12 years old. She subsequently had a long history of correspondence with her Guru and with his then-secretary, Faye Wright (later to become Sri Daya Mata), who Mary met when she was 14. Mary considered Faye, who was 10 years older, to be like an older sister.
Throughout all of her life, Mary said she received rigorous training—and loving support—from her Guru, continuing to this very day. At one Sunday morning service in San Diego, when she was 12 years old and an aspiring opera singer, Master gave Mary permission to sing when famed opera singer Amelita Galli-Curci was in attendance. Hoping to impress Madame Galli-Curci, Mary boldly strode up to the front of the room. But when she opened her mouth, only the sound of a frog came out. “Master did that to stop me from going the Hollywood route,” Mary cheerfully says now, 83 years later. “He taught me a lesson about ego right there.”
In all, Mary Augustine Peck Stockton, who will be 96 on August 1, 2020, has been a devotee of Paramahansa Yogananda for more than 87 years. You can read Mary’s article, “Never-ending Blessings—My Memories of Paramahansa Yogananda,” which appeared in the summer 1997 issue of Self-Realization magazine.
Like all devotees who shared their stories about serving others during the world health crisis, such as Brenna did for Mary and David, Brenna reported receiving more joy and blessings in return for her actions than she felt she had given—even though receiving something was not her motivation. “They are surely helping me more than I am helping them,” Brenna lovingly says. “But it is with a mutual love of Master being our focus.”