Stephanie Mirza
Stephanie Mirza

STEPHANIE MIRZA

“Everything before prepared me for this.”

            Stephanie observes she has had a “very unique life.” Her leadership today has been and continues to be influenced by the various twists and turns she has experienced in thi­­s very unique life.

She summarizes her life as being the “daughter of a Lutheran minister, the youngest of five. I grew up in a very Christian household.” When she went to college, she wanted to go someplace far away. Her parents gave her two options: “either stay local and go to the University of Washington or go to a Lutheran college.” Stephanie chose the latter so she could go out of state and came to Valparaiso University, which shifted her life trajectory. She met her husband there. “He was an international student from Pakistan, and he’s Muslim.” Stephanie notes that “of all the places in the world, my parents probably never ever expected me to go to a Lutheran school and find a Muslim husband.”  This “fairytale” meeting, however, set the course for Stephanie’s life today. They met at a poetry reading in the woods, modeled after Dead Poets’ Society. By “the third week he wrote me a poem, and that was the start.”

They married three years later in 1995 at which time Stephanie also became a Muslim, “I saw it more as a continuation of the Christian tradition rather than a rejection of it.  I’ve never looked back and never regretted it.” At this same time, she also “chose to wear full burqa as a feminist act.” She continued to wear it until after the attacks of 9/11 when, for reasons of safety and fear of being attacked, she switched to wearing hijab.

During the early years of their marriage, they traveled and lived in various places, including Portland, Oregon; Burma; Washington, D.C.; Pakistan; New Haven, Connecticut; and Chico, California. They ended up in Mishawaka when her husband was offered an opportunity to teach at the University of Notre Dame in the Classics Department. During this time, Stephanie observed that “the Imam tapped me” to help with children’s programming at Islamic Society of Michiana. She taught Sunday school and “worked to establish a lending library at the mosque.” She sought donations  for resources “to help kids understand that their Muslim identity is not something to be ashamed of.” This stay in Michiana, however, was only temporary. Stephanie and her family ended up in Berkley, California and then Germany, before finally landing again in South Bend.

While looking for a place to live here, they found Innisfree Bed and Breakfast and thought, “Not only will we get a house, but we’ll get a business.” Today Stephanie runs the Inn, hosting guests from all over the world so that “no two days are the same.” Again the Imam tapped her to help establish a preschool at the Islamic Society of Michiana. This early work in establishing the preschool turned into her being the Director of the Noor Program, which helps prepare children for kindergarten and also strengthens and enhances their Islamic identity.

Stephanie continues to live by her advice to “trust yourself.” She recently put this advice into practice while organizing and hosting an International Tea Fundraiser for the preschool. Their goal was to raise $10,000, but they actually raised nearly double that. Stephanie continues to share the results of her “different life experiences” with the Michiana area and plans on offering new and exciting options for others to gain different experiences through Innisfree.

Information compiled from oral history collected by Michiana Women Leaders, Inc.

Stephanie was a 2019 Celebrating Michiana Women Leaders honoree.