As three Women of Mercy, they learned empowerment, the importance of team work, and the value of collaboration. At the same time, they discovered that if you have a great idea, you can make it happen. Shayne Kennedy, playwright, Amy Harmon Lane ’86, Creighton Coordinator of Theatre & Dance and Viv Parr ’16, Creighton drama student, will see the fruits of their efforts appear on stage during the play, “Handled,” from October 31 - November 4 at Creighton University’s Lied Education Center for the Arts. Tickets are available here.
How the three came together on this production is an interesting story of Mercy connections.
Shayne Kennedy is a Mother McAuley of Chicago graduate and Mercy associate. She had an idea for a play dealing with mother-daughter relationships, depression, and the pressure of social media.
“I am a mother and know first-hand the stigma of mental illness and the inclination of a parent to try to take matters in their own hands,” she said.
The play tells the story of a mother who tries to create a social media profile for her daughter after her daughter’s stint at a rehab center. The play includes six strong women characters.
During the development process of the play, Shayne reached out to her Creighton classmate Amy Harmon Lane ’86, also a Mercy graduate, to see if the university could host a workshop on the play. That took place in 2017 and the production was enhanced to make it ready for public consumption.
“I thought the strong female characters and the relevance of social media and mental health issues made it a perfect option for this year’s fall production. We were also able to get a grant to have Shayne as an advisor during the run of the play,” said Amy.
Amy’s love of theatre was cultivated at Mercy High School where she was active in drama, music, speech and band. She also felt that the all-girls community made her a confident person.
“At Mercy, you learned it was about letting everyone be great. It wasn’t competitive; It was about everyone succeeding,” she added.
Amy received her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts (BFA) in Theatre from Creighton, a Master’s in Fine Arts in Directing from the University of Memphis, and a Ph. D. from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
Her days at Mercy also gave her a unique perspective towards the play.
“At Mercy, we were women working together and talking about current issues. The women in this play are doing the same thing, dealing with important issues of mental illness and social media, “she said.
The final Mercy connection is Creighton student and 2016 Mercy graduate Viv Parr. She is student director and Dramaturg for “Handled,” which entails providing research on the many issues surrounding the play. She created a Twitter dictionary of terms to help actors and audience members with common phrases and acronyms that may be unfamiliar. Viv is currently working toward her BFA in theater performance and a Bachelor’s in Music with a minor in Women and Gender Studies.
She is inspired by Amy and Shayne because they approach their art with “sensitivity and wisdom.”
Viv also sees her Mercy years have added perspective in her approach to directing.
“It is always important to approach themes of plays from an honest place. The issues of mental illness and the negative impacts that social media will be very real to most of our audience. Mercy taught me to always have empathy for other people. I try to look at this play through an empathetic lens and remember that the story onstage is a truth for many people,” she said.
Viv was also active in theatre and music at Mercy. She was the secretary of Student Council and President of Mercy’s Theatre Troupe.
“I graduated from Mercy confident in my ability to be a leader. In college, I now feel prepared to hold a leadership role and do so in an effective and positive way. I use the leadership skills Mercy cultivated in me every time I am given an opportunity to work in groups of people,” she said.
A play brought them all together. All these women symbolize what being a Woman of Mercy truly means.
The play also received help from another department at Creighton. Brian Kokensparger, professor in Journalism, Media & Computing, had attended a presentation where computer science students were supporting a theatre production. He went to Amy and they discussed how his Software Engineering students could help with “Handled,” especially since it deals with social media issues.
“It was decided near the end of the summer that my students would be enhancing the world of the play, working to help engage the audience before and after the play. We hope to add to the audience members' overall experiences of the play itself by providing apps, games and other programs,” he said.
Perseverance and a thirst for knowledge are two traits that have been a consistent part of Sarah Ruff’s ‘15 young life. Despite severe epilepsy that started in the 8th grade, she graduated from Mercy and is finishing her degree in Journalism/Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
While attending Mercy she was part of the Golden Girls, spirit club, and worked at a local grocery store. Her younger sister, Therese Ruff now attends the school.
“At Mercy they not only helped with my studies; students and faculty and staff were always there to help you along the way. They helped me believe I could do anything, and I made friends for life,” she said.
That belief has come in handy because of health obstacles that have tried to get in the way. She has always been intrigued by the political process and hopes to work on a newspaper writing about politics.
She has had two major brain surgeries to implant electrical devices designed to counter the onset of her com-plex partial seizures and short-circuit them. She has undergone observation and induced seizures at UNMC and at Mayo Clinic in Rochester before placement of these devices to help guide the surgeons to the right spot of the brain.
With her condition she cannot drive, but she is hoping to move to Minneapolis, which has a very good public transportation system.
Unfortunately, she tends to wander during a seizure, unaware of her surroundings and sometimes crossing busy streets, walking through parking lots, leaving class and walking through campus, even dialing friends’ numbers and talking, but not realizing what she is doing.
Her family is currently raising money for a service dog (at a $28,000 price tag) to help her keep safe and cope with these challenges.
Although life has put obstacles in her way. Sarah’s spirit and tenacity will serve her well as she journeys forward as a Woman of Mercy.
As a Public Diplomacy Foreign Service Officer, she works with embassies in the Middle East and North Africa to ensure that U. S. policy, programs, and values are shared with people in those countries. Mary Lou Johnson-Pizarro ’74 has traveled extensively throughout her career and feels Mercy was very influential in shaping who she is and the career path she chose.
Mary Lou was a member of St. Thomas More parish and joined one of her best friends (Laurie Kowal Straw ‘74) in attending Mercy High School. She remembers the teachers being passionate about modeling behavior and teaching students how to be intelligent and capable Catholic women.
“My classmates were fun and at times even a bit mischievous, but smart, curious and good-hearted. I particularly enjoyed debate club and our ability to talk with teachers about the issues of the day. I made lifetime friends and just this past week spent time with Robin Allen, another Mercy ’74 graduate,” she said.
During her high school years, she also developed an interest in social justice and in fact is chairperson of her local parish’s social action committee that rewards funds to organizations in need.
“At Mercy, I had many long conversations with fellow classmate Kate Dodson Sommers, and later Kate would be instrumental in founding the Komen Race for the Cure in Omaha. I credit Kate with helping me find my passion in this topic,” she added.
After she graduated from the University of Nebraska at Kearney August 1978 with a Bachelor’s in Arts with double-majors in history and sociology, she joined the Peace Corps and was assigned to Jamaica for two years. She eventually moved to Washington, D. C. where she worked for a few years, mostly with non-profits. She went to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, graduated in 1988, and stayed in the Boston area where she worked in international development, specializing in education issues. She first joined the U. S. Agency of International Development and then moved to the U. S. Department of State in 1999, where she continues to work today. Along the way, she married and had one daughter, who recently graduated from the College of William and Mary and now works in Washington, D.C.
“As a Foreign Service Officer, I have traveled extensively and have represented the U.S. in long-term tours in South Africa, Nigeria, and Venezuela. I have chosen to work primary in the Americas and Africa, because these are nations that always fascinated me. All these journeys have provided me and my family rich and memorable experiences I treasure,” she said.
Mary Lou is currently posted to Washington, D. C. where she supports U. S. embassies in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and the Libya External Office, which is in Tunis, Tunisia on public diplomacy issues.
“Being so far away it’s hard to be involved with Mercy, but I try to support the school. I believe in Mercy’s mission to educate young women to contribute to Omaha and beyond, as it was the key in helping me find my spiritual pathway, but also fundamental in spurring an intellectual curiosity that allowed me to succeed in my professional career,” she added.
There is a famous quote about nurses that describes alumna Ann M. Franco Laughlin ’ 72:
"The character of the nurse is as important as the knowledge she possesses." —Carolyn Jarvis.
Ann, a Professor at Creighton University’s College of Nursing, learned the value of using her skills for the good of others while attending Mercy.
Ann is a legacy student. Going to Mercy was a family tradition and Ann’s older sisters, Mary Franco Levy ’70 and Chris Franco Zadina ’71 had gone there. Eventually her two other sisters, Theresa Franco ’74 and Catherine Franco Van Haute ’81, also attended.
Ann’s time at Mercy was spent learning and being involved in debate, theatre and Student Council. She was very shy in grade school but blossomed in high school.
“I went to debate tournaments twice a month. I learned to present both sides of an argument and speak much more eloquently. It was a real self-confidence booster, and I also think, being at a single-sex school, there were less distractions and more opportunities to participate in leadership activities,” she said.
During high school, she also worked at a local nursing home and grew passionate about health care for the elderly.
“I saw firsthand older people as not only a vulnerable population but, sometimes in nursing homes, forgotten. From my years at Mercy, I knew I wanted to use my gifts and talents in compassionate care for people, especially the elderly,” Ann said.
She decided nursing was her calling, and she enrolled at Creighton University after graduating from Mercy. Ann earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1976. She was a staff nurse at several hospitals in Wisconsin as well as in Omaha. She also became involved in Hospice, geriatric rehabilitation and more. She went back to Creighton as a part-time teaching assistant while getting her Master of Science in Nursing. Starting in 1994, Ann became an adjunct professor and moved up the academic ladder in the College of Nursing where she is now a tenured professor.
In 2005, she received her Ph. D. from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in Gerontology. She has taught all level of students from undergraduates to graduates and has supervised students in clinic settings from nursing homes to hospitals. Gerontology and medical surgical nursing are her fields of interest. She has published numerous papers and articles on these topics and has done focused research on health promotion in vulnerable populations.
Ann’s awards and honors are numerous and include membership in Alpha Signa Nu, the Mary Lucretia and Sarah Emily Creighton Award, Heart Ministry Center Volunteer of the Year, Dean’s Award for Faculty Excellence and more. She serves on the Parish Council at Holy Cross Church and as the chair of the Porto Clinic Advisory Board.
Ann also supports Mercy, having served on the Alumnae Council for three years. She also attends FIESTA annually. Both of her daughters, Rose Laughlin’ 08, an immigration attorney and Mary Laughlin’ 14, a recent graduate of Creighton, attended Mercy.
When asked about Mercy, Ann is quick to point out what she sees as the Mercy difference.
“What I love about Mercy is they walk the walk. They embrace diversity at all socioeconomic and ethnicity levels. All students are welcomed there, and you don’t see that at all high schools. It is important that students get exposed to different perspectives because that is what they will encounter in the real world,” she added.