Although she only went to Mercy High School for two years, that time had a profound effect on Adina Johnson ’74. The now Principal at Roberts Perryman, P.C., St. Louis, Missouri, treasures her experience at Mercy and recalls how self-affirming the community.
"I enrolled in Mercy my junior year as our family had moved from New Mexico. The transition in the middle of your high school years could have been rough, but Mercy welcomed me with open arms. I never felt like an outsider,” she said.
While she was at Mercy she was involved in theatre, Student Council and participated in short-hand competitions.
After graduation, she attended the University of Missouri majoring in English and earning her Secondary Education certification. Adina taught for 10 years. She chose teaching because through her Catholic education she learned the importance of doing what you can to make a difference. That same inspiration led her to a degree in law.
“When I decided to change careers, I wanted a profession again where I could make a difference. Through the law I believed there were many ways I could make a difference,” she said.
Adina went to school at night and earned her law degree from St. Louis University in 1998. She worked at various firms but joined Roberts Perryman, P.C. 15 years ago. In her current position she litigates cases where professionals get sued and also is involved in family law.
She travels for work and is a participates in the city’s Women’s Lawyer Group.
“One of my favorite activities is the annual Christmas program for children in foster care or who have parents in prison that is sponsored by the Bar Association of St. Louis."
She still has good friends from her days at Mercy although she rarely gets back for alumnae events. Adina keeps in touch through updates from her class group and enjoys receiving information from the school.
“I feel the all-girls environment at Mercy was very beneficial. There was no judgment, no competition. You got to be who you are, which was very self-affirming. And the Catholic education focused less on dogma and more on how you could impact the world,” she said.
Aida Johnson ’74, is doing that every day.
Her nonprofit may have been created by accident, but after six years that organization, Restoring Dignity, was recently given 501(c)3 status. Hannah Wyble ’05 is the company’s only full-time employee, but there are thousands of volunteers who support its mission to help refugees.
“Back in 2012, I was at the Salvation Army and working with some Sudanese girls. Their house was substandard; there were two towels for a household of five and deplorable conditions. I asked the question, 'Couldn’t we do something about this?' A cousin of the family and I started reaching out to people online and hundreds of donations and volunteers who wanted to help came pouring in. Our organization was born,” Hannah said.
“Mercy gave me the proper soil to grow my desire to help people,” she said.
Service is something that comes naturally to the alumna who attended Mercy from 2001 to 2005. She decided to go to the school after touring the school with a friend.
While at Mercy she was on the Student Council for four years, active in theatre, participated in Cross Country and debate. She helped start a science fiction and fantasy club and remembers dressing up as characters from "Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings.”
“Mercy had a great atmosphere. You could be who you wanted to be. There were many unique opportunities. I was even able to start my own club,” she said.
After her graduation from Mercy, Hannah went to Creighton University where she earned a degree in Social Work in 2009. She worked for Alegent Health for three years. She decided to go to the University of Nebraska Omaha, started studying for a medical degree, and was accepted to St. Louis Medical School.
“Pursuing a medical degree was not in the cards. My fulfilling experiences working with refugees were a signal that this type of work was meant for me,” she said.
As a volunteer, Hannah was putting in 70 plus hours at Restoring Dignity and last year became a permanent employee.
“Refugee families reach out to us with tragic stories of need and the need is growing. These refugees have fled to our country because of genocide or civil war in their homelands. But often when they get here, the substandard housing they are forced to live in is horrendous,” Hannah said.
Her organization has advocated for housing changes in Omaha and testified recently to get mandatory inspections for rental properties.
“Mercy opened my eyes to social justice and helping the poor. That theme of compassion and service is not witnessed often in other high schools, and I am glad that desire was nurtured in me at Mercy,” she said.
P. S. If you are interested in volunteering with local refugee families, Restoring Dignity is always looking for help! You can sign-up to help at: www.rdomaha.com
Working for social justice was always part of the plan according to Emily Staley ’14, who is a part of Mercy Volunteer Corps in Philadelphia. There she is assigned to Project Home, an outreach program for those who are street homeless. Emily is an advocate and helps individuals access services. She heard about the work of Mercy Volunteer Corps her freshman year at Mercy during Theology class and knew it was an experience she wanted.
Not bad for someone who describes herself as a class clown during her years at Mercy High School.
“I was not super involved at Mercy, but I loved the sense of community and the subjects of history, English and science.,” she said. Her sister Ashley ’07 went there and introduced Emily to the school where she really enjoyed going to all her sister’s activities. During high school, Emily also worked at Holy Cross School as an after-care worker.
After graduation, she attended the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Grace Abbott School of Social Work. Emily was a member of Phi Alpha Honor Society and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Social Work in 2018.
She finds her current work with Project Home very fulfilling and believes her days at Mercy High School helped her realize how compassionate service can make a difference in the world.
Emily has many stories of her work in Philadelphia and share done that made an impact on her.
“There was a veteran living on the streets who was very frustrated that he could not get access to services he knew he deserved. He described his journey as going in circles. I became his advocate, I was able to identify the information and contacts he needed, and to find him eligible services. I see him periodically and he greets me fondly every time I see him,” she said.
She also says her Mercy education provided a firm foundation for her life.
“I recall Mr. Humphreys, History Teacher, giving me some great advice about my passion and assertive behavior to get things done. He told me to pick my battles, to speak my mind, but still use discretion,” she said.
In interviewing Emily, it is obvious she is passionate about social work. She has signed up for another year with the Mercy Volunteer Corps and will be working in San Francisco. After that, she hopes to attend graduate school with an emphasis in alcohol and drug counseling or to go on to receive a law degree in conjunction with her Master's of Social Work pushing on the macro level for policy and systemic change.
Catherine McAuley once said, "We should be shining lamps, giving light to all around us." When Kimberly Bujarski Prenzlow ’98 was at Mercy she took those words to heart. As a student she was very involved in Campus Ministry, Operations Others, and other service projects eventually earning an Ignatian Scholarship to St. Louis University.
Not bad for someone who lacked confidence and was very introverted when she came to Mercy as a freshman.
“At Mercy I really came out of my shell. The smaller environment allowed me many opportunities and the ability to truly be myself,” she said.
During her high school years, she was a Student Ambassador, a class officer, and participated in numerous service projects. She was chosen as May Queen her senior year at May Crowning, an honor recognizing her as a student that exemplified the qualities of Mary our Mother.
“I have always tried to lead my life like Mary’s. Many of the teachers showed me by example those values. I also saw the power of teachers building relationships with students and how important that was,” she added.
Her connection to service led to her college scholarship. She was required to do 40 hours of service work each semester while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. After graduation, she worked at elementary schools in the St. Louis area, eventually moving back to the Omaha area teaching at several Catholic grade schools.
She got married in 2010 and moved with her husband to Norman, Oklahoma and taught junior high religion for four years. She moved back to Omaha again four years ago and currently teaches at Mary Our Queen in the 2nd grade.
“I am a product of Catholic education and believe that education can be a route for serving other people. I also try to emulate my former Mercy teachers by building relationships with my students,” she said.
She also feels Mercy was instrumental in preparing her for motherhood. She and her husband could not have children, so they decided to adopt.
“It was a roller coaster journey requiring a great deal of growth and trust,” she said.
The couple waited two years to adopt their first child James. He was born in Las Vegas, so we had to fly on short notice to meet him within 24 hours of his birth.
“It was a wild trip, but the precious gift was worth it,” she said
In a similar fashion, they waited two years for their second child, Veronica.
“We received a phone call that her birth mom was in labor in Iowa, so we drive through the night and made it there within minutes after she was born,” she added.
She tries to keep connected with classmates through social media, has dinner periodically with Mercy friends, and last year she helped plan the class reunion.
“Mercy is truly a special place, and we feel it gave us faith and confidence in our future,” she said.
She credits Mercy in helping her understand the importance of service that she practices as a teacher and a mother.
“Mercy sculpted me into the person I am today. The love and care the school taught me was God’s gift and gave me the strength to put my future in his hands. You become a Woman of Mercy for life and understand the importance of using your talents in service,” she said.