Sr. Corrine Connelly ’58, RSM, has been part of the fabric of Mercy High School throughout her life. From being a student, an active alumna, an educator, a mentor, a principal, a Board Member and a volunteer, Sr. Corrine’s commitment to Mercy holds a special place in her heart. In recognition of her dedication to the school, Sr. Corrine will receive the highest award Mercy bestows, the Cor Misericordiae Award, at FIESTA 2021.
As a student at St. Mary’s High School, the school that eventually merged with St. John’s to form Mercy, Sr. Corrine helped move boxes to the school’s current location at 48th and Woolworth. Her four sisters also went to Mercy. They are Mary Jean Connelly Harrington ’57, Marcy Connelly Peterson ’64, Tish Connelly ’65 and Priscilla Connelly Quinn ’68.
Sr. Corrine was active in speech, drama and choir. The school did not have sanctioned sports during Sr. Corrine’s high school years, but she especially enjoyed dancing to the jukebox in the gym (now Franey Hall) at lunch time with her classmates where she “perfected her moves.” She formed lifelong relationships with classmates and still gets together with them socially. Although she enjoyed math and Latin, Sr. Corrine was put in the business class rotation where she learned typing, finance and more.
“Mercy gave me a group of friends, lifelong friends, that still get together. These friendships are one of the greatest gifts in my life, besides my vocation, which was fostered during my years at Mercy High School,” she said.
In September of 1958, she joined the Sisters of Mercy community at College of Saint Mary (CSM). Sr. Corrine entered with 30 young women, including 14 classmates from Mercy. During the next five years she received her religious training and took college courses. She earned her degree in English in 1963 with a minor in French. She embarked on a lifelong career in education that next fall.
Sr. Corrine taught sixth and eighth grades at St. Bernard’s Catholic School in Omaha for five years from 1963-1968. She then moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and became a high school teacher at Cardinal Glennon High School, an all-girls school, where she taught French and English for three years. Sr. Corrine’s next assignment was at St. Mary’s High School in Independence, Missouri, where she was a French teacher and vice principal for five years from 1971-1976. She also found time to complete her Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1972.
Sr. Corrine moved back to the Omaha area in 1976. She taught French and was vice principal at St. Albert High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She became the principal of Mercy High School in 1978 and held that position for 10 years.
“I think my biggest contribution at Mercy was instilling more pride in the school and bringing an elevated school spirit back. I appreciated our sports programs and attended every game and match. We won the state championship in volleyball my first year at Mercy, coached by Holly McCoy, the first-year coach,” she said.
Speaking of sports, Sr. Corrine credits her classmate and friend Carol Neill Casey ’58 with starting the soccer program, serving as its first coach, and beginning Twelfth Night, which eventually became FIESTA.
Student enrollment at Mercy was low when Sr. Corrine arrived as principal. She invested in building renovations, new parking on Woolworth St. and the east side of the building, other school improvements and began a student recruitment program. By the time she left, Mercy’s enrollment had almost doubled. She recognized the value of telling Mercy’s story and created publications to make the community aware of Mercy.
“I could not have achieved what I did at Mercy without the support of many people. For example, former principal Carolyn Jaworski ’64 served as my vice principal and helped me accomplish many things at the school. Other alumnae and friends came forward and added their talents to the journey we were taking to make this school grow,” she said
Reflecting on her years at Mercy, Sr. Corrine said, “Wherever I go I tout Mercy, telling them how wonderful Mercy High School is. The students, faculty and staff are amazing.”
After her time as Mercy’s principal, Sr. Corrine served as principal at Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph, Missouri from 1989-2003. During her tenure construction on a football field, gymnasium, a new chapel, office space and commons area began. Following that assignment, she returned to Omaha where she ministered for 10 years at College of Saint Mary (CSM).
“I was an administrative assistant for Athletics at CSM and thoroughly enjoyed that job. I think sports has a way of bringing people together and instilling spirit,” she said.
Sr. Corrine retired in 2014. She, along with Sr. Johneen Owens, is also helping a family in the local area with groceries, utility bills, car repairs and “anything else they need.” This project of love came about when Sr. Kathleen Erickson, who was visiting undocumented women in county jail, was looking for help with families of these women during Christmas. This effort is now going on its third year.
“The family means the world to me and the kids call us grandma, and we love it when we go to visit,” Sr. Corrine said.
She also currently volunteers for the Sisters of Mercy West, West Midwest, at Mercy High School in the Advancement Department and as a Mercy Mentor. She is starting her 20th year as a member of the Board of Directors for Mercy High School and has been on several different search committees for leadership at Mercy over the years.
“Mercy is a tremendous, wonderful school. I encourage people to visit and see for themselves, especially prospective parents and students as well as donors, what a great place it is. Once you are exposed to it, there is a spirit that envelopes you. Mercy is the best,” she said.
The new fashion statement for students at Mercy High School just might be a blue and gold tutu. That is the top prize for raising $400 or more in this fall’s Mercy Monarch 5k to raise money for the school’s negotiated tuition assistance program.
This new, socially distant fundraiser gives students the chance to safely participate from their own neighborhoods, running trails, parks or treadmills. Students will walk or run 5K (3.12 miles) any time during the month of October. Alumnae are also invited to join the fun to help raise money. Participants will have the chance to unlock a variety of prizes based on the amount of money they raise.
Participants can complete the 5K any time between October 1 and October 31 and donations are due at the end of October.
How to Donate:
Family, friends, neighbors, alumnae and others can donate under a specific student’s name or on their own on the Mercy website at https://www.mercyhigh.org/happenings/mercy-monarch-5k.cfm.
Every student is expected to raise $200 profit through the Mercy Monarch 5K or the spring plant sale or through personal donations. This is one of two student fundraisers sponsored annually to help students participate in funding Mercy High School’s educational programs.
Raise $200 in donations to receive a Mercy High scrunchie
Raise $300 in donations to receive a 5K t-shirt
Raise $400 in donations and receive a blue and gold tutu
Traditions are continuing at Mercy High School although they may have a virtual twist because of COVID-19. One of the most beloved traditions is Mercy Day, the day which celebrates the life of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, and the 1827 opening of the House of Mercy in Dublin. This year, September 24, the senior play for the student body depicting Catherine’s life was shared via a taped video with the Mercy community. A highlight of the play was the unveiling of the seniors who portray McAuley. This is considered one of the biggest honors students can receive and is voted on by the senior class. Alumnae from across the country were sent a link to the video so they could celebrate this tradition with others.
This year’s two Catherine McAuleys were Anou Akot who served as the narrator of the play and Kateri Pantoja who portrayed the younger Catherine dressed in a habit.
Anou is Senior Class President and is a member of Operation Others and Yearbook Club. The student athlete has run Cross Country, is a triple jumper in Track & Field and played Basketball all four years. A member of St. Mary’s Church in Bellevue, she also has served as a Student Ambassador for four years. She plans to major in Chemistry and Pre-Med in college.
“This is a tremendous honor and I take it very seriously. I cherish every moment I have had with this senior class,” she said.
Kateri has participated in Theatre, Mercy High Singers, Show Choir and Divina Club all four years. She will play the role of Widder Matilda “Mattie” Sparks in the fall play, “The Wishin’ Tree.” She is a member of the National Honor Society and St. Columbkille Church.
“I remember as a freshman watching the Mercy Day play. Now to be honored to play the role of Catherine is unbelievable and wonderful. I am truly blessed because I love Mercy.”
After graduation, she plans to go to college and study Elementary Education.
A playlist of Mercy videos is available here.
“Hold fast to what endures” is one of Hughleen (Hughie) Thorsen’s ’68 favorite sayings from an Advent Holy Communion prayer. It also applies to how she feels about Mercy High School. She is immensely grateful for the education she received at Mercy. Hughie has many fond memories of her high school years, stays connected with the school by volunteering, and shares insights on the impact Mercy has had on her life.
Hughie chose to attend Mercy High before her parents bought a house near the school. She enrolled in 1964 after graduating from St. John’s Grade School. Although she describes herself as a shy teenager, she was involved in Mercy Martha’s Service organization, the Red Cross, Junior Achievement, Advent Angels, and Big Sister, Little Sisters. On St. Patrick's Day, Hughie sold shamrocks to raise money for Mercy with her two best friends, Kathi Barrett ’68 and Kathie Bushman Standeven ’68. She also volunteered as a timekeeper for the speech and debate competitions held at Mercy and took on small parts in school plays and assemblies.
“To this very day I am friends with many of the women I went to grade school and high school with during those years. Prior to the pandemic, my 1964 Advent Angel, Linda Barry Stoesz ’68 and I became reacquainted over lunch, which was great fun. At the Class of 1968 50th reunion in 2018, I was so happy to see my Big Sister, Patricia O’Neill Sauerman ’65, who was receiving the Distinguished Woman of Mercy Alumna Award. I re-introduced myself to her in the chapel before Mass and gave her copies of pictures at a picnic she organized for my homeroom class in the fall of 1964. She was a great Big Sister, and I have always remembered her kindness to me.”
Hughie also recalls how valuable her school days were. “I remember classes that taught me the various levels of responsibility one has in life, starting with the ‘responsibility to know’ as the first step in becoming a responsible person and citizen.”
Other wonderful memories Hughie has from her time at Mercy include:
- An Introduction to Sociology class that became her minor as part of her studies at Creighton University.
- Sock Hops at Creighton Prep and Mercy.
- Prom Announcement and Junior Prom on a “Monday” evening in April of 1967.
- Mercy Day and May Crowning during senior year in 1968 as the class stood in their graduation caps and gowns in Mercy’s beautiful courtyard.
- Mercy girls being named Homecoming Queen at Prep as so beautifully illustrated by the forever iconic photo of Ingrid Kalinowski Borghoff ’65.
- The smell of freshly baked peanut butter cookies made by the always-generous lunch ladies floating through the corridors.
- The memorable assembly when Pam Morello ’65 played her drums to the tune of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” to loud and continuous applause.
- The fantastic yearbook the Class of 1965 created that became the Class of 1968’s only yearbook.
- Two Mercy retreats with the unforgettable Fr. William Ryan, S.J.
After graduation, Hughie attended Creighton University before accepting a job with the City of Omaha. She worked in several departments and was one of the first women hired as a 9-1-1 telephone, police radio, and fire and rescue dispatcher. She eventually became a rotating shift supervisor. “One of the main reasons I was able to succeed at that job was because of a Music Appreciation class I took at Mercy. Sister Maria Therese taught us how to listen to a symphony orchestra and locate different instruments while tuning out the entire orchestra...This skill was essential for a 9-1-1 operator as you often had to listen in rapid succession and sometimes all at once to fellow employees, citizens, police, fire and rescue personnel.”
Hughie worked for the Omaha City Council and eventually as a member of the Mayor’s staff. “The analytical skills and lessons in responsibility that I learned at home and at Mercy I taught to trainees at 9-1-1 and when I trained local and international student interns at the Mayor’s Office. I also stressed that we had the responsibility to help citizens at all times in emergency and non-emergency situations and solve their problems.”
Hughie went back to Creighton to earn a degree in History in 1996. She began graduate school at the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 1997 where she concentrated on United States 20th century military history. She conducted an oral history project recording the memoirs of United States Marines from WWII through the First Gulf War. Hughie also volunteered with the head of the oral history unit at the Marine Corps History and Museum Division in Washington, D.C. as Nebraska’s only contact for the archives. For her work, Hughie was inducted into the Marine Corps League as an honorary member after the completion of the oral history project.
Hughie’s volunteer life is quite full. She is a member of Mercy’s Alumnae Council, has worked to archive documents for the school, assisted with Phonathon and FIESTA, and attends many alumnae events. As a contact for the Class of 1968, Hughie keeps in touch with her classmates via email and organizes social events. She has also volunteered at Mercy Villa, the Sisters of Mercy retirement community, visiting the Sisters and attending their events.
One of the projects she organized for the Sisters was with her St. John’s Class of 1964 for a Christmas project in 2016. The class purchased and wrapped gifts for the Sisters living at Mercy Villa. “It was a wonderful project for all involved and so very much fun to Christmas shop for the Sisters.” The Class of 1964 also celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Sisters of Mercy’s arrival in Omaha by taking them a cake, playing Scrabble, and visiting with the Sisters.
“Being associated with the Sisters of Mercy at St. John’s Grade School, Mercy High School, and Mercy Villa over the course of my life has been a gift of immense value for me. I am so very grateful to have been a part of their storied history, for the education they provided me, and the valuable relationships I have from those times until today. I encourage the generations of Mercy graduates to volunteer or give financially to our school, especially to the Negotiated Tuition Program in support of Mercy's mission to educate young women of Mercy. So fellow alumnae, let us ‘hold fast to what endures,’ Mercy High School, and support her in any way that we can.”
The “show must go on” is a familiar phrase to theatre goers and Mercy High School will do just that in their approach to the school’s traditional fall play. The hybrid schedule of the school, and the need to minimize large groups in proximity, resulted in producing two one-act plays back-to-back, with each performed by groups who attend school on the same days. The cast was announced on September 11.
“If Sherlock Holmes Were a Woman” is a hilarious take on the great sleuth’s clever skills of deduction that his overzealous admirer, Shirley Holmes, employs to attempt to solve a mystery in her college housing. “The Wishin’ Tree” is a comedy set in the living room of a widow and her mother in the small Wild West town of Tarnation, Nebraska in 1873. When a strange, voiceless neighbor gifts them with a seed for a tree that grants wishes, it causes trouble among the women of the town.
“Not only does this approach meet the challenges presented by COVID-19, it opened the door to shorter comedies that will provide a much-needed laugh and escape,” said Joshua von Kampen, Theatre Director.
The plays are set for October 23 and 24 at 7:00 p.m. and October 25 at 2:00 p.m. in Franey Hall. Because of audience size limitations, attendees will have to register online ahead of time. That link will be available soon. Costs for tickets are $10 for adult, $7 for students and $5 for Mercy students. The school is seeking permission from rights-holders to see if the performances can also be videotaped and will let people know if that is an option.