“The first five words that come from my mouth when I talk about Mercy are ‘the best years of my life,’” said Megan O’Hara Hayes ’09. The Digital and National Sales Assistant in the Advertising and Sales Department at WOWT is grateful to Mercy for helping her find the best version of herself.
Ironically, she did not want to attend Mercy because both of her sisters and mother went to Marian. Her mother insisted that Mercy would be a better fit.
“After the first day I was content, and during my time there contentment turned into love,” she said.
Megan was also fortunate to able to talk with other relatives about the Mercy experience. Her aunt, Colleen O’Hara Allsion ’65, went to Mercy and played Catherine McAuley in the Mercy Day Play. Her grandmother, Patricia Murphy McGonigal ’56, also told her stories about helping to tile the hallways when the school was built.
While at Mercy, Megan played catcher and second base on the softball team for four years. She loved to sing and became a member of the Concert Choir and Mercy High Singers. She was also active in Campus Ministry, Theatre, and Speech. During her senior year she played Judas in a one-act of Godspell, which did well in competitions.
“When I was younger, I had trouble speaking in front of people. At Mercy I was able to excel on the Mercy Speech Team in Districts and State. Mercy turned a weakness into a strength,” Megan said.
Megan studied Theology and English at the College of St. Mary. She also played softball in college. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do following graduation but prayed for some sort of sign to lead her in the right direction.
“The word ‘advertising’ kept popping in my head, so I applied at a local promotional advertising company and eventually landed the job at WOWT, the third generation O’Hara to work there,” she added.
In her current position, Megan assists with both the analytical and creative processes of online and television ads.
“Because of Mercy, I’ve learned to push beyond my comfort zone, set goals, and reach higher and higher. Of course, I use my degree in my current position but because of the confidence I gained at Mercy. I can push beyond my comfort level,” she said.
Megan tries to give regularly to the school and is a proud ambassador for the education she received.
“It’s easy to teach things from a book at any school, but at Mercy I learned so many valuable things that weren’t on a study guide. There is no cookie cutter or mold of a typical Mercy Girl, but the two constant components are confidence and compassion,” she said.
A famous author once said, “The family is God’s greatest masterpiece.” Ann Bendon Wieberg ’57 has been working on that masterpiece all her life. Motivated by faith and devoting her time and energy to family, she has led a life as a Woman of Mercy. For Ann, that family has not only included her immediate family, but her Mercy family and her community. She has been named the 2019 Distinguished Woman of Mercy Alumna, an award given by the Mercy High School Alumnae Association.
The award recognizes an alumna for her outstanding achievements, service, and contributions, which promote the growth of faith, knowledge, and service in her career, community and/or society. As the recipient of this award, the honoree is someone who is respected by peers, outstanding in her field, and promotes society in a way that benefits many people.
Ann started high school at St. John’s and migrated to Mercy when the schools joined in 1955. Her parents wanted her to go to Catholic school and the logical choice was St. John’s as the family attended St. John’s Church.
When she was 15, her mother passed away. As the oldest of six, she stepped up and helped to care for her siblings, the youngest a 15-month old. This did not allow time for after school activities, but Ann loved her Latin and English classes and how the Mercy’s commitment to a faith education reinforced her values.
“At Mercy the teachers cared about you, modeled positive behavior, and instilled in us both academics and life lessons. Service was not an after-thought; it was part of everything we did. I also made life-long friends I still have today,” she said.
Because of family obligations, she could not afford to go on to college. She started working two weeks after graduation at AT&T. Ann married John Wieberg in 1963 and started her own family. She had five children, including four daughters who also attended Mercy.
( Angela Wieberg Maynard ’83 , Susan Wieberg Meschede ’84, Mary Ann Wieberg Tietjen ’90, and Theresa Wieberg Cook ’98)
“My husband John and I felt it was important for our girls to go to Mercy. The value of a same-sex education was undeniable, and it gave our girls leadership opportunities they would not have experienced anywhere else,” she said.
Over the years, in addition to providing support as a Mercy parent, she volunteered for Right to Life, delivered meals to families at shelters, and kept active in her church and community by serving on the Parish Council and School Board. She also tries to bring a feeling of family to her friends who are homebound by connecting with them on a regular basis.
Her love of Mercy runs deep. She has served on the school’s Alumnae Council for five years. The Golden Guild Tea, where alumnae who graduated 50 or more years ago come back to the school to be honored, was her brainchild.
“This celebration is a nice way for women of my age to connect with the school and their classmates,” she said.
Her family masterpiece continues to be created. Three sisters, two nieces and all three granddaughters have attended Mercy. The third, Kate Tietjen will graduate this May.
In nominating Ann for the award, the nominator said, “With great dedication and humility, she excels in all areas that make up the recipient of this award. She is truly the epitome of a Woman of Mercy. “
The announcement was made at the school’s annual FIESTA on February 16, but she will receive the award at the school’s 2019 All-School Reunion on Sunday, June 2 at Mercy.
Work is bringing Sarita Schroeder Hollander ’97 Visual Media Manager, HDR, back to Mercy High School in February. She will be coordinating photography for the firm, showcasing the recent renovations that have been made in the school’s science laboratories. HDR was the architectural designer on the project.
The wife and mother of two boys remembers fondly her time at Mercy from1993-1997. Her parents wanted her to go to a private school and Sarita wanted to go to an all-girls school. Several of her classmates from Our Lady of Lourdes grade school attended Mercy so she got on board. Antoinette Ferrara Schroeder '73, her mother, and eight of her mother’s sisters also attended Mercy.
Although she wasn’t the strongest student and she had to work during her high school years to help pay bills, she recalls fondly two teachers that showed her care, attention and encouragement.
“Teachers make all the difference in the world. They have an important and powerful impact on a student. Ms. Heather Newville took the time to explore nontraditional ways to test me, so my grades didn’t fail. And Ms. Sherri Hoffman’s teaching style and passion will always stand out to me,” she said.
According to Sarita, attending an all-girls school also allowed the atmosphere to be relaxed and the conversations to be deep with few judgements.
She attended the University of Nebraska Omaha and switched to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln her second year where she discovered that an Arts path was her destiny. Sarita also discovered she learned better through unconventional methods and not a traditional lecture, university style. She moved back to Omaha, attended a community college, and earned a degree in Graphic Communication Arts. She honed her artistic skills while at Borsheims for more than 10 years, launching the firm’s first website and being responsible for all photography.
She has been with HDR for 11 years and currently manages the company’s global photography and cinematography studio. She travels several times a month to capture the buildings and tell stories based on HDR architects’ work.
Dara Green ’94 described herself as a scared and fragile teen when she came to Mercy, who felt misunderstood, threatened, and often challenged authority. She left knowing who she was, confident, and ready for the journey ahead of her.
“Mercy, hands down, saved my life - from my mother’s decision to send me to Mercy, to the school tolerating me for my first two years, to embracing me my last two years,” she said.
Dara had gone to public school before attending Mercy. Her transition to Catholic school was rocky not only because of assimilation issues, but because she had a non-diagnosed anxiety disorder. Luckily in her final two years at school, she was able to receive outside medical help and the administration and faculty at Mercy worked with her on her anxiety.
After graduation, she attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) where she double majored in Ceramics and Art Education.
“Being an artist has been my calling for as long as I can remember. Being an educator was realized as a junior in high school because I wanted to become the type of teacher who strived to understand the misunderstood,” she added.
She taught in the Chicago public schools for seven years at the Vaughn Occupational High School, serving students with mild to severe cognitive delays. She started the art education program there.
“I believe that every student should have the highest quality of art education, despite available funding. I organized and hosted an annual silent auction of student work to fund the program,” she added.
While at Vaughn, Dara earned a National Board of Professional Teaching Certificate.
In December 2002 she moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where she taught at a couple of public schools before joining the faculty at Central Academy in 2006. The school provides additional programming for gifted and highly motivated high school students. Again, there was no art program prior to Dara’s arrival.
“Our mission at the Central Academy studio is to inspire passion in our high school students to observe, envision, engage, persist, and reflect on themselves as creators, innovators, and community members through the ceramic arts. In the studio, we use the ceramic arts to teach students the essential skills to be successful in life,” she said.
Her pottery program started with a handful of students and has grown to over 100. More students are trying to get in, so Dara is spearheading a fundraising effort that has raised more than $400,000 to build a larger studio.
As a teacher, Dara embraces differentiated learning styles. Her studio is a flipped classroom, where the instruction is recorded by the teacher and students can access lessons via YouTube.
“In a flipped classroom, instruction is switched. Students do their passive learning outside of the classroom and homework or active learning is done in concert with the teacher, allowing more time for me to work one-on-one to meet individual needs,” she explained.
She has presented at two national conferences about flipped classrooms and the way social media has supported her student’s learning experience through YouTube and celebrating student’s work on Instagram and Snapchat.
“My goal as an art educator is for the studio to be student-centered and student-run. Today and tomorrow’s students need to learn and be able to fail, persist, think outside the box, and triumph over questions we don’t even know exist yet,” she said.
Having lived her own experience of struggle and misunderstanding that was mitigated at Mercy, Dara tries to approach each student knowing they all wish to succeed, no matter how compliant they may appear.
“I strive to get to know the whole person, so I have a better understanding of how to be my best self for each one of them,” she said.
Photography by Jami Milne