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.
One voice or person taking action can make a difference. Just spend a few minutes talking to Caitlin Botsios ’08 and her energy and commitment to that premise comes through loud and clear. The educator, entrepreneur, and civic engager has put that commitment into action as Co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer for Helix Chicago. Located in Chicago, Helix’s mission is to reduce youth unemployment by opening businesses that provide jobs and skill development for 16-24-year olds.
Although her parents suggested other high schools, Caitlin was always fascinated by the all-girls high school across the street from her grade school, Holy Cross. The outgoing student wanted to be involved in theatre and wanted to leverage the many leadership opportunities available at a modestly sized all-girls high school. And involved she was.
At Mercy, she was a member of Student Council for three years including being Vice President her senior year, President of the Thespian Chapter, Co-Director of the Mercy Day play, a Student Ambassador, on the Speech Team, in the Mercy High Singers, Operation Others Core Team, and the Justice and Peace Club.
“I think I was in every play all four years except for one, and I even tried my hand at sports one year. However, perhaps my impact was being a co-founder of Mission Week,” she added.
Mission Week is a week-long schedule of activities held at Mercy to support the international educational goal set by the network of Mercy schools on an annual basis.
Caitlin appreciated the educational values taught at Mercy including the focus on social consciousness and forward thinking.
“I learned that through service and education a single person can make a difference,” she said.
She was determined to leave Nebraska after graduation and attend a college that matched her values. She decided on Loyola University of Chicago because of its Jesuit values. Caitlin earned a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Communication Studies at Loyola and went on to obtain a Master’s in Teaching from Dominican University. She taught middle school for several years. Her love of teaching came naturally. Her mother is a teacher at All Saints Elementary School.
In 2015, she joined WE (previously Free The Children), an international non-profit focused domestically on service-learning and civic engagement and internationally on holistic, sustainable development. After WE, she served on the national alumni team for Teach For America.
“My experiences in education and working in the nonprofit sector made me keenly aware of the systemic inequities and disparity of services based on zip codes. I believed change could occur if we partnered with communities and applied education and business acumen to the root causes of inequity like unemployment and disproportionate services in neighborhoods. That is how Helix was formed,” she said.
According to Caitlin, Helix collaborates across sectors and partners with community members to determine what neighborhood needs are not being addressed. They then open businesses that address those needs and employ primarily 16-24 year-olds within the business. The first endeavor of the group was opening Helix Café in May 2019 in the Edgewater community in Chicago. The full -service café employs 10 workers who receive on-the-job training and paid weekly personal and professional development. The organization is also developing a youth entrepreneurship summer camp and is working with local chambers, businesses, and colleges to create a pipeline to the next opportunity for employees.
“Mercy certainly highlighted for me how service and social enterprises can have measurable impact on people. It showed me the importance of community and how working together through a network can help you to build and organize,” she added.
Caitlin still keeps in touch with many of her classmates and lives a few blocks away from a Mercy classmate.
“At Mercy there is this wonderful community that is with you the rest of your life. Classmates are a diverse but like-minded group from all walks of life,” she said.
Her classmates would be proud. Caitlin’s voice and action has made a difference. Just ask those benefiting from Helix.
“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.