Sr. Dee Leaving at the End of the School Year
On Wednesday, September 7th, Sr. Delores Hannon announced her resignation as president of Mercy High School to the Board of Directors effective June 30th, 2023. She has served as president since 2009, having served for 14 years.
Sr. Dee, as she is affectionately known to students, faculty and parents, has overseen many changes at the school. The school facilities have experienced improvements with The Hannon Center for Academic Success, heating and cooling systems, new lockers, bathrooms, a dramatic facelift to the front offices and entryway, to name a few. By the time Sr. steps down, most of the school will have gone through some sort of renovation. Mercy High School has also experienced growth in their academic reputation. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the expectation that our students will be readily prepared for college” Sr. Delores explains. “We’ve expanded our counseling and SAT/ACT preparation, while faculty and staff have increased the expectations of what our students are capable of accomplishing. I have a very strong faith that the Mercy spirit continues to thrive through our students as they serve in their respective communities.”
Sr. Delores has been an educator for more than 40 years. She grew up in North English, Iowa on a mixed livestock farm, the only child of William and Mary Hannon. She joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1969 and quickly was tapped for leadership in schools. She became a principal at St. Matthew’s Grade School in Kalispell, Montana, in 1978 followed by a short stint at Our Lady of Grace School in Edina, Minnesota, from 1981-1983. From 1983-1995 Sr. Dee was the principal at several grade schools in Iowa. She moved on to serve as the Vice President of the Sisters of Mercy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the President of St. Edmond Catholic School in Fort Dodge, Iowa before ultimately coming to Mercy High School in 2009.
The Board of Directors will form a search committee to begin the search process in the near
Mercy Welcomes Two New Faculty
Jim Mayberger is our new business and technology teacher. He comes to us from OPS where he was a curriculum specialist.
He managed the Business Marketing and Information Technology, Family and Consumer Science, Skilled and Technical Science, and Robotics departments.
“I am excited to teach in a faith-based school. I really enjoy being in the classroom and I look forward to being part of the Mercy community.”
Jenna Saraka joins our math department. She comes to us from Omaha Central, where she taught for five years.
“I am most excited about joining a staff and community that offers strong educational opportunities and many extracurricular activities for students that are centered around faith.
I am also excited to work with students who are eager to learn in and out of the classroom!”
Two New Hires for the Advancement Team
Sammie Emsick Becker ’05 has accepted the Director of Events position at Mercy High School and began her new role on June 13, 2022.
Since graduating from Mercy, Sammie earned a bachelor in elementary education, a certificate in Catholic School leadership, and most recently, a Master of Science in educational leadership. Outside classroom teaching, she has served as the athletic director for St. James for the past three years where, in conjunction with supervising all things athletics, annually planned the “Spring Fling” fundraiser where dollars raised went straight to the athletic program. Her most recent “Spring Fling” event set a record for money raised for St. James. She further has event planning experience by way of her time at Dundee Bank, where she was the community involvement coordinator and worked closely with various Omaha businesses to promote and grow relationships with key stakeholders of the bank via special events.
She’s married to Tyler Becker and has two boys Ty (12) and Drew (10).
Welcome back to Mercy Sammie!
Brian Altenhofen began his new position as Director of Marketing and Communications on July 5th.
He comes to Mercy with a wealth of knowledge having earned a doctorate degree in communication and technology studies from Texas A&M University and teaching at Truman State University for the past five years. He also served as the Director of the Truman Leadership Scholars, mentoring and programming leadership experiences for Truman Scholars. Prior to his academic career he spent five years as a Jesuit Scholastic.
He is married to Michaela Cullan Altenhofen who will return to Mary Our Queen Catholic School teaching 3rd grade. They have four children Dylan (16), Lily (9), Dominic (7), and Clara (3).
Hanna Stec '19 has been named a Brooke Owens Fellow for the Class of 2022. This fellowship is a highly competitive program recognizing exceptional women in the aerospace field with space and aviation internships, executive mentorship, and access to a very wide-reaching network of women. Hanna was one of 51 fellows chosen out of an application pool of over 1,000.
In this fellowship, Hanna will be matched with an executive-level mentor in the aerospace industry to help her launch her career. Now a junior studying aerospace engineering at Iowa State, Hanna will work at Iriduim in Leesburg, VA, for her fellowship.
To read Hanna's official Brooke Owens Fellowship bio, click here: http://www.brookeowensfellowship.org/hanna-stec
For our fourth installment of Kaleidoscope 2022, the freshmen learned about their Gallup Strengths; alumnae and businesswomen joined us for Career Day for our sophomores; the juniors continued their ACT prep; and the seniors learned all about financial literacy from Dundee Bank.
The freshmen talked about their strengths with Dawn Nizzi, Manager of Business, Development, Training and Outreach for Metropolitan Community College's Workforce Innovation Division. She helped them understand how to harness their strengths and better utilize them.
For Career Day, Caitlin Feldmann, Business Career Advisor at Creighton's John P. Fahey Career Center, kickstarted the conversations by explaining the importance of career discernment. Then, the sophomores had the chance to talk with the following women about their careers:
Karin Campbell, Curator at the Joslyn Art Museum
Dafnis Delgado '13, Communications Coordinator
Kaylea Dunn '96, Senior Performance Consultant
Maureen Backa Falcon '85, Senior Communications Manager
Nicole Hahn Jesse '80, Co-Owner of La Casa Pizzaria
Diane Hope Kean '69, Nurse
Nicole Lenczowski '06, Engineer
Caity Wessling Milone '08, Psychiatrist
Emily Moody, Physical Therapist
Kelly Nystrom '85, Pharmacist
Kimberlyn Ware Oliver '98, Assistant Principal
Leanne Prewitt '97, President and Chief Creative Officer of Ervin & Smith
Cynthia Russell '76, Dentist
Francie Riedmann Weis '81, Judge
The seniors had the chance to ask questions about finance with representatives from Dundee Bank. They talked about everything from how to best use a credit card to paying student loans.
Mercy has been an integral part of David and Mary Levy’s ’70 family for over 70 years. The spirit of Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, has served as a guiding beacon of light for this special family. They have been a part of St. Mary’s High School (St. Mary’s and St. John’s merged in 1955 to form present-day Mercy), Mercy High School on 48th and Woolworth, and the board of the national Mercy Education office located in Silver Springs, Maryland.
In the words of Catherine McAuley, “Our charity is to be cordial. Now cordial signifies something that renews, invigorates, and warms. Such should be the effect of our love for each other.”
Mary and David have led a life of invigoration, renewal, and warmth toward others, which is why they will receive the Cor Misericordiae Award, Mercy’s high honor, during the February 19, 2022, FIESTA celebration.
Mary Franco Levy ’70 has deep Mercy roots. One of her aunts, Virginia M. Battaglia Veleba, graduated from St. Mary’s in 1949 while the rest graduated from Mercy: Rose Marie Battaglia King ’60, Jean Battaglia Osborn ’62, and Joan T. Battaglia Foreman-Mertz ’62.
Mary’s mother, Louise Bataglia Franco, followed her older sister to St. Mary’s and graduated one year later in 1950. Louise and her late husband, Phillip, have one son and five daughters. All of their girls graduated from Mercy: Mary Franco Levy ’70, Christine A. Franco Zadina ’71, Ann Franco Laughlin ’72, Theresa J. Franco ’74, and Catherine L. Franco Van Haute ’81.
After graduating from Mercy, Mary attended Creighton for her undergraduate degree and later received her master’s degree in speech pathology from Purdue University. She met David during this time as he served as a residence hall counselor in the residence hall where she lived. Mary has always been quick to point out that her mother Louise “met that nice young man behind the desk first” and that “he would be a ‘nice catch’ for her daughter!” The couple wed in 1978 and have one daughter Theresa K. Levy Meehan who graduated from Mercy in 1997, as well as two sons, John and Dave.
Throughout Theresa’s high school experience, Mary and David became heavily involved with Mercy. Sr. Johanna Burnell, then president of the school, told the couple during their initial tuition meeting that “Mercy is a lifelong commitment.” Little did they know this commitment was for both students AND parents alike!
David served as a Mercy High School board member for seven years and board chair for three years. Mary stayed involved by volunteering for FIESTA, Plant Sale, and Food Sale committees. She also provided pro-bono speech pathology sessions for Mercy students who would benefit from those services. It was important to Mary that she assisted the Mercy teachers in addressing the communication needs of those students in the classroom.
Along their daughter’s journey, it became evident to David that service was a fundamental part of the entire Mercy experience. The couple enjoyed watching their daughter participate and organize various service trips in high school and during college. They were also very proud that their two younger sons absorbed the Mercy spirit of service from afar; they have always gone above and beyond when it comes to helping those who are most in need of assistance, both personally and professionally.
“The entire extended Franco family gives their time and energy in different ways, and none of them do it for the recognition,” says David. “I give my wife most of the credit. And obviously much of it was due to the foundation she developed during her time at Mercy. It’s instilled most of what we saw in all of our children.”
The couple continues to be impressed with the entire Mercy system, both locally and nationally. They have seen what it can do for an entire family in terms of not only an academic standpoint, but also in terms of service, faith and overall development.
Mary, when not helping as a full-time grandmother, stays involved by constantly giving back. She uses her extensive social network to identify families in need of assistance with items such as rent, food, and tuition aid at various schools. She especially enjoys searching year-round for bargain sales of clothing and toys in support of area shelters and pantries, including Heart Ministry Center where their son John once served as director. On account of the many bargains she finds, she is sometimes referred to as a “Shopper extraordinaire” by many who know her well or have benefited from her amazing purchases. Because of her generosity and connections, several store owners have even donated items for Mary to take to the shelters and pantries.
David was selected to serve on the inaugural Mercy Education Board beginning in 2017. He is now in his fifth year (second term) and credits his time with his Mercy family and previous board experience with providing a solid foundation to mold and shape policy that will affect the entire Mercy Education system. A Waco, Texas transplant, and an alumnus of Purdue University’s graduate School of Engineering where he earned his Ph.D., David retired from Union Pacific in 2001 and immediately transitioned to Bellevue University where he directs the MBA program and is a professor of supply chain management and decision sciences.
“We are beyond humbled by this honor and cannot thank the Sisters of Mercy enough for making such a positive impact on the lives of our family,” says Mary. “God bless those Mercy nuns!”
To write a congratulatory note to the Levy’s, click HERE.
Finding Home: Amy Keller
In the midst of the pandemic, Amy Keller ’07 found herself considering the importance of her home. As we all were confined to our houses during quarantine, she began wondering “What is home and how do we get there?” This simple question led her to research the refugee experience.
Years before anyone had even heard of COVID-19, Amy was a model Mercy Monarch. She got involved in an array of activities from theater to pep club. “You try new things, and you can do that in an environment where you’re allowed to fail,” Amy said of her time at Mercy.
Amy also developed a passion for social justice thanks to the influence of Sr. Jeanne O’Rourke. “My locker was right by her office,” Amy said, “and our friendship just grew from there.” Between Sr. Jeanne and Mercy’s Theology classes, Amy began learning all about the ways we can make the world a better, more just place for all. She carried this focus on justice with her through college.
“Because of my Mercy education, I was always thinking about Mercy,” Amy remembered. “I kept thinking, ‘How can I use that information I gathered for another year?’” In an effort to stay connected to the Mercy community after she graduated, Amy signed up for every Mercy-related email list she could think of. She joined Mercy Volunteer Corps in 2011, and by 2013 joined Mercy Association.
In January of 2019, Amy saw an email in her inbox from Mercy International Association, an organization inspired by the Sisters of Mercy to foster the mission of Catherine McAuley in the modern day. The email mentioned that the Association was forming the Mercy Global Action Emerging Leaders Fellowship (MELF) to create a space for women who were interested in addressing social concerns on a global scale. Amy was intrigued by the opportunity and applied. After rounds of interviews, she was selected as part of the first cohort.
Amy found herself grouped with women from around the globe including Papua New Guinea, Australia, Ireland, and Peru. The group communicated every month about different topics related to social justice and the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concerns. Additionally, she was assigned a Mercy mentor, Sr. Marie Micheletto ’57, who Amy describes as “a dear, close friend.” Throughout these conversations, Amy found herself becoming more concerned with the situation of refugees in the United States.
In an effort to learn more about refugees living in Omaha, Amy began volunteering with Restoring Dignity. This nonprofit was founded by another Mercy alumna, Hannah Wyble ’05, with the goal of advocating for the refugee population.
In August of 2019, Amy and the rest of her volunteer cohort went to Cambodia to meet as a group and continue discussing the ways that the lay community could further the social justice causes of the Sisters of Mercy. In March of 2020, they were set to meet again in New York City to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. As the pandemic became increasingly prevalent, this trip was shortened to allow for everyone’s safety.
Stuck at home, Amy began musing on the idea of “home” and how it relates to the refugee experience. This became the basis of her Fellowship research project. Amy began by asking her friends and the refugees she met to complete the sentence “Home is…” Based on their responses, she noticed that the answers fell within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Amy began researching how to address those lower-level needs. She put together a set of resources that include opportunities for employment and local organizations that will provide refugees with the assistance they need to begin to establish their own homes in the United States.
In February of 2021, Amy presented her final research project, “What Is Home and How Do We Get There?” to members of the Mercy community throughout the world. As a ‘graduate’ of the first cohort of the Mercy Emerging Leaders Fellowship, Amy is now working with the 9 other graduates to determine next steps. “We want to keep that spirit alive,” Amy said.
To learn more about Restoring Dignity’s Mission and to volunteer with our newest neighbors, please check them out at https://rdomaha.org/
To see all the research collected by the fellows, including Amy’s work, click here.
Laurie Brown States '91 was featured on The Rachael Ray Show for sharing birthday cheer with her students at the Omaha Street School.
Whenever it is one of her students' birthdays, Laurie bakes them a cake to make sure that they feel loved and celebrated. As she explained to Rachael Ray, Laurie asks each student what kind of cake they would like and then makes their special birthday treat.
Watch Laurie's interview here.
Even though she knew transferring in the middle of her sophomore year to Mercy might be stressful, Olivia Greene ’14 believes it is one of the best decisions she ever made. According to Olivia,” Mercy allowed me to be myself, to take my studies seriously while enjoying the process along the way.”
Olivia met Calla Kessler ’14 through Saint Margaret Mary’s track team when they were in 8th grade.
“Calla would talk about the enriching teacher-student experience and how at home she felt at Mercy. I shadowed Calla in the beginning of sophomore year and felt welcomed by teachers, staff and fellow students. I transferred and was immediately brought into the community. Hannah Vankat '14 specifically reached out and offered her friendship and guidance in acclimating to Mercy.“
While at Mercy, Olivia was active in Show Choir and found it was one of the most fun and rewarding experiences she ever had. She also made many life-long friends.
“The Show Choir team and Mrs. Pat Yunker, our teacher, were dedicated to understanding music theory, performance logistics and creativity. Today I continue to sing and immerse myself in the creative arts, always harking back to those times.”
The singer also loved her English classes and credits Ms. Mandi Marcuccio and Mrs. Cathy Kessler with having a lasting impact on her writing journey.
“They taught students to be analytical, open-minded and creative in the way you analyze literature.”
There were other Mercy teachers that affected the way she thinks and her perception of the world.
“I am grateful to Mrs. Vankat for highlighting the beauty of all types of religion in the World Religion class and the challenging, yet approachable way Ms. Newville and Ms. Walsh taught Biology and Chemistry.”
After graduating from Mercy, Olivia attended Saint Louis University and earned a degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing and Gender Studies. She stayed in Saint Louis and became a Sustainability Manager at a small business.
“My high school and college education reinforced how important it is to have conversations. My understanding of environmentalism and animal rights grew at this time and I began to write about the way those topics intertwine and are a crucial part of the conversation.”
Currently, living in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Mercy grad is a Lead Generation Specialist for a medical device company that specializes in insulin management. She also writes for the “Salt Lake City Underground ” magazine (SLUG) for the Arts and Lifestyle section.
“This role is particular exciting to me because it reinforces the importance of understanding the diversity and beauty in the human experience and how that diversity gets people to where they are today. Writing about people’s small businesses, art shows and creative endeavors is linked to the way I was able to express my creativity at Mercy and appreciate it in others.”
One of the biggest impacts Mercy High School had on graduate Bridget Blessie ’13 is her profound appreciation for the relationships that molded her into the person she is today. As the current Mercy Business teacher, she attempts to be a role model for her students, being available to them for advice and counsel much like other teachers were to her.
Ironically, Blessie did not want to attend Mercy. All her friends from St. Columbkille were going to another high school. However, her mom Diane Gunia Blessie ’84 went to Mercy along with several of her aunts. Her younger sister, Ava ’17, also graduated from Mercy.
“If it was not for the shadow experience at Mercy, I don’t know if I would of wanted to get out of the car for the first day of school.”
Bridget was a student athlete, playing three years as a starter on varsity soccer and varsity basketball. She blew out her knee and could not play sports her senior year. She also was a Student Council representative and Student Ambassador as well as a member of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). She is now the advisor for that program.
“Initially, I was recruited by several D1 schools to play soccer after graduation. However, my knee surgery disrupted that path. I continued to play club soccer and was recruited by a D2 college.”
After graduating from Mercy, she attended The College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York where she had been recruited for soccer. Unfortunately, her grandfather got sick, and she decided to transfer to a college closer to home after the first year.
She went to Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri, where she majored in Business with an emphasis in Marketing and Finance and excelled as a student athlete.
“Another lesson Mercy taught me is you get what you put in. At Missouri Western, I really focused and put everything into my college experience.”
At the university she was named first team all-conference, first team academic, first team all-region and was the student athlete of the year her senior year in soccer. She also received the student community service award her junior and senior year while maintaining a 4.0 in her studies during her entire time at college.
After graduation, she went to work for the Kiewit Company but did not like her job.
“I quit that job and worked in a special needs classroom. I had avoided this profession because my mom was a teacher and I wanted to do something different. But upon reflection, I realized I loved it, and it was my true vocation.”
In 2018, she attended the College of St. Mary and earned her teaching certification. Three years ago, she was offered a faculty position at Mercy.
“Being back I am so privileged to witness the amazing teacher role models here. I remember how they made me feel as a student and I want to emulate them. The size of the school is perfect and makes it easy to have meaningful relationships with your students, too.”
Many of those same teachers provide her practical and emotional advice. Others inspire her through their teaching.
As an educator, Bridget has a robust schedule and teaches a variety of courses including Introduction to 21st Century Technology, to Digital Design Foundations and Personal Finance.
She is still active in sports and has been the Assistant Coach for Varsity Soccer since arriving and coaches Freshman Basketball when the school has enough players to field a team.
“I credit Mercy in helping me grow into a Woman of Mercy. The school took away my selfishness and made me realize that we need to care for and put others first.“
Bridget feels she has found her true vocation and hopes she can inspire her current students.
“Mercy teachers always helped me strive to do my very best. I hope I have those same type of relationships that help my students do well.”
She is the voice that greets you and usually the first face you see when you come to Mercy High School. And thanks to Sr. Johanna Burnell, RSM, Ruth Gross Harre ’76 has been a mainstay at the front office of Mercy High School for more than 30 years.
Ruth lived near Hanscom Park, so attending Mercy was the natural thing to do. Her two older sisters, Diane Gross Harre ’69 (deceased) and Sue Gross ’71, also attended the school.
While at Mercy she helped with the tech crew for Theatre, participated in Concert Choir and formed lasting friendships she still has today. She did not care for Math or Science but liked English and Home Economics.
“Mercy is like a small family. It is a welcoming community where everyone is treated as important.”
Following graduation, she attended the Omaha College of Health Careers and became a dental assistant. She worked for several years, got married and began raising her family of four. However, Ruth remained active at Mercy by volunteering on the Alumnae Council.
“Ingrid Kalinowski Borghoff ’65 was the Development Director and offered me a job working in her office.”
She did that for two years when Sr. Johanna made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“Sr. Johanna took a chance on me to staff the front office. I found my home. Here I get to know all the girls, their parents, teachers and staff, and it’s like one big family.”
As Office Manager, her duties range from taking daily attendance, to answering phones, managing assigned work-study students, coordinating mailings and postage accounts, supporting sports programs and much more. She also has been fortunate to serve as a chaperone on several student international trips.
“Mercy has taught me balance and positivity. I think I learned to go with the flow here. Whatever happens, happens. I know I need to keep an upbeat attitude for everyone’s sake. This has been very helpful during the pandemic. We have had to adapt, but we are still here fulfilling a vital mission.”
Ruth’s daughter Jennifer Harre O’Neill ‘98 graduated from Mercy in 1998 and her granddaughters plan to attend the school. In fact, at Christmas, her granddaughters dressed in their Mercy spirit wear to celebrate the holiday.
“I love my job because Mercy is my family.”
Sr. Judy Pat Healy, ‘60, RSM, started her journey to becoming a Woman of Mercy during her high school years. But this Sister of Mercy, who has been an educator, librarian, bookkeeper and volunteer freely admits she is still becoming a Woman of Mercy.
“I keep trying to embrace new opportunities and challenges with joy and compassion.”
To say that Sr. Judy Pat has been active would be an understatement.
She moved to Holy Cross Parish just before eighth grade and so it was natural for her to attend the school across the street. Her parents wanted her to receive a Catholic education.
“The wonderful thing for me was my Mercy classmates were from all over the city. I was reunited with friends from Holy Name and Cathedral and made new friends who introduced to me to new cultures and customs. Among my closest friends to this day are girls from my class, all of whom came from different Omaha parishes.”
Two of her favorite subjects at Mercy were History and Geometry. With a background in ballet, she often had roles in theatre that involved dancing. Sr. Judy Pat participated in dancing of a different sort when she spent her lunch hours with classmates listening and dancing to the juke box.
During her Mercy days, she belonged to Safe Teens, a club for Mercy girls who had a driver’s license. Sr. Judy Pat was the only one among her close friends that could drive. In fact, one Mercy Day they made a side trip to Nebraska City along with the other festivities of the day. It was finally six years after graduating from high school that her dad laughingly asked how she put 200 miles on the car on that day.
“Mercy Day Mass, the play, lunch, the evening dance and our side trip to Nebraska City helped our class strengthen our bonds with one another.”
She graduated with one of the largest classes in the school’s history, 148 students. The graduation was at Holy Cross Church and students processed from Mercy to Holy Cross across the street.
“We were an impressive sight wearing our academic regalia and each of us carrying a dozen log-stemmed crimson roses. Before exiting Mercy’s front door, we walked through the chapel and placed the thirteenth rose in a vase by the statue of Mary.”
In September 1960 she joined the Sisters of Mercy community at the College of St. Mary and also started taking classes. Judy Pat double majored in Sociology and Elementary Education and began a teaching career of 23 years that spanned educating first to fifth graders in North Dakota and Colorado. She has also worked in medical records, and as a high school bookkeeper, and volunteered at several libraries. Other activities have included positions on parish council committees, as well as on Sisters Councils and National Assemblies of Sisters at diocesan, state and regional levels. She also enjoyed dance and art lessons, camping, reading, knitting and lace making.
“One of the biggest weekends and my most fun seasonal challenge was teaching downhill skiing to the disabled at Winter Park, Colorado for 12 years.”
For the past 28 years Sr. Judy Pat has been on the library staff at the College of St. Mary. She earned her Master of Library Science at Emporia State University, Kansas, which involved putting 36,000 miles on her car over the course of six years.
A member of the Mercy Alumnae Council for 10 years, she is an active participant in the Catherine McAuley Prayer Circle, which is a once-a-month gathering to pray the rosary in Mercy’s chapel. This Mercy graduate is also part of the Sisters of Mercy Mentoring program for juniors.
“Mercy has always been a home to me, figuratively and literally. After I moved to Omaha to be part of the College of St. Mary community, I lived in the Mercy High convent for three years. My dad would often go to morning Mass at the chapel there and have breakfast with us. My mother’s vigil and funeral Mass were also held at Mercy’s chapel.”
For Sr. Judy Pat once a Mercy Girl, you are always a Mercy Girl.
“Whether you know it or not, whether it seems like it is happening or not, you are always being led by God’s Spirit as you continue evolving quietly more and more each day into a Woman of Mercy.”
William Butler Yeats once said about teachers, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” The importance of not extinguishing that fire has proven more important than ever, especially during the challenging times of the pandemic. Teachers have had to pivot, be innovative, teach virtually, keep students engaged and manage their own pandemic-associated concerns. An educator is truly priceless. One such teacher is Mary McGuire ’88.
For more than a quarter of a century, Mary has taught at elementary schools in the Omaha area. She was at St. Pius/St. Leo for 24 years teaching pre-kindergarten to fifth graders and most recently at Columbian Elementary teaching first-graders.
“I love being a teacher. It is no exaggeration to say that teaching during a pandemic has been a challenge, but we are making it. Each day is different, there are always challenges, and I laugh about a million times a day.”
Mary remembers with fondness her years at Mercy. She attended the school from 1984 to 1988 following her older sister, Catherine McGuire, ’86. While there, she was involved with Campus Ministry, Student Council, was a class officer, helped with the prom committee and kept stats for the volleyball team one year.
“I had the chance to lead, make mistakes, learn from my experiences and knew I had support from the faculty and staff to find my way. Those lessons are still with me today.”
She also found her life-long love for learning.
“I had some great teachers at Mercy, people who let me be myself and encouraged me to do my best. I take that into my classroom with my students.”
After graduating from Mercy, Mary attended Creighton University and earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education in 1992. She continued her studies at the university and received a Master’s in Educational Leadership in 2012. Mary also took 30 plus hours in school counseling and is completing an early childhood endorsement at Creighton hopefully this summer.
Grateful for her Mercy education, she is a strong supporter of the school and regularly attends FIESTA.
She is quick to tell others to also show their support.
“There are a million things you can do to support your school; it’s just finding what works best for you.”
Stacy Jacobson Engebretson, Ph.D. ’05 just might be a dog’s best friend. This resident of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is the Director of Canine Enrichment and Behavior at the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) of Southwest Michigan. Her journey to this career is an interesting one.
After graduating from Mercy, Stacy began her undergraduate studies at South Dakota State University. She loved Psychology and her professors encouraged her to apply to graduate school. In 2009 she was accepted to Western Michigan University's Applied Behavior Analysis Program and began studying in the Behavioral Psychopharmacology Lab.
“While working on my master's degree, I became heavily involved in teaching the Applied Animal Behavior Analysis Practicum. In short, it is an undergraduate course that uses the principles of behavior analysis to train dogs at local animal shelters. I was enthralled and began devouring as much information as I could that would benefit the shelter dogs. I sat for my certified pet dog training exam and became a CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed).”
Stacy finished her master’s and began working on a doctorate. During her doctoral research phase, her interest shifted to applied canine behavior. She wanted to understand how stressful environments, like animal shelters, were impacting animals physiologically. Working with her advisor, Stacy began investigating the effectiveness of music as an enrichment tool for lowering both physiological and behavioral indicators of stress in shelter dogs. She earned her Ph.D. in Behavior Analysis in 2018 and shortly thereafter started working at her current job.
“At the SPCA, I oversee the canine enrichment program and develop behavior modification programs for dogs that are exhibiting concerning behaviors or need a little extra work before they are available for adoption.”
She also holds private training sessions for owners dealing with issues typically not addressed in an obedience class.
Stacy feels that Mercy was instrumental in helping her achieve her personal and career goals: “Mercy introduced me to critical thinking and how other published works support your topic. I knew how to write research papers before going to college, which helped me immensely towards my dissertation.”
The mother of two also uses her experiences at Mercy to motivate her to exercise: “I was involved in cross country and soccer while at Mercy. Whenever I need motivation to exercise, I remind myself of the person that would wake up early and attend conditioning, weightlifting, extra practices and remind myself that I am still capable of that dedication.”
Stacy continues to have connections with her classmates and both of her sisters Angela Jacobson Weiss ’99 and Rebecca Jacobson ’02 attended Mercy.
“Some of my best memories are from Mercy and my friends and I have a list of ‘remember when’ experiences that my classmates that still make us laugh. I still have the letters I received on my senior retreat and treasure them. All the teachers were so accepting and encouraging.”
Stacy also found that she grew in her faith, and she feels the impact of that today: “Teachers encouraged us to ask questions, find answers and not be satisfied with shrugging and saying, ‘that’s just what Catholics do.’ Faith transitioned from storytelling, nativity plays and church on Sunday to something that truly belonged to me. I learned that social justice is not an intellectual debate, but a responsibility to fight for peace.”
Stacy and her family have enjoyed living in Michigan for the past 10 years because of the variety of things they can do there. She describes the state as both agricultural and nautical, and she loves discovering new things every day.
For this alumna, Mercy has been an anchor as she navigates her life.
For Barbara A. Young ’57, her journey to Mercy was just that, a journey. For two years, she took the bus from her home near St. Benedict the Moor Parish in North Omaha to St. John’s on Creighton University’s campus. In 1955 when Mercy moved to its current location, Barbara added an additional bus transfer to and from school. In her words, “Mercy was worth it!”
Her parish pastor, Fr. John J. Killoren, S.J.,was a family friend and was considered almost an uncle by Barbara and her siblings. He encouraged her to attend Mercy. She skipped a year in grade school so was a very young high school student, but that did not stop her from being involved in everything the school had to offer including speech, drama and theatre. She met many good friends, including her friend to this day, Maureen McGrath ‘57.
Barbara matriculated to the College of St. Mary and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Record Library Sciences. She turned that into an extended career when, in 1968, she began to work for the Veterans Administration as Chief Medical Information Section at the VA Center in Manhattan. While there, Barbara embarked upon graduate studies by attending evening classes at Baruch College/City University of New York from which she earned a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree. She continued her Veterans Administration position until her retirement in 1999.
She then got her feet wet in politics by working as a Policy Analyst for Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields. During that time Barbara researched healthcare programs for uninsured persons throughout the country. Subsequently, when Ms. Fields ran for mayor of New York City, she hired Barbara as her Coordinator of Campaign Volunteers.
Ms. Fields did not win the election, but this experience motivated Barbara to continue working, so she was hired as a Career Specialist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY where she counseled students and shared her knowledge of and experience with career issues as a manager and a staff member. She continued in this capacity for ten years.
Barbara, her younger sister Audrey, and older brother Webster still own and maintain the house they grew up in and return to Omaha every August to gather with friends and family. They make sure that the adjacent yard where a home garden was maintained (the pride and joy of their father) is cared for during the spring and summer months. Barbara remains active in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She was initiated by Omaha’s city chapter, Gamma Beta, when she was a sophomore at the College of St. Mary Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
Kayla Thomas-Haire ’93, Media Relations Coordinator at Nebraska Medicine, is the Mistress of Ceremonies for FIESTA 2021. The long-time communicator worked in television news as both a reporter and producer for 21 years before joining Nebraska Medicine in 2018. One of her fondest Mercy memories is being named state speech champion her junior year with an entertainment speech that focused on not stereotyping blonds and their abilities. Those skills led her to a successful career in broadcast and communication. Her mother, Lynda Lacoma Thomas ’65, went to Mercy and her sister, Holly Thomas, graduated in 1992.
As part of her emcee duties, Kayla will be navigating new terrain as FIESTA goes virtual for the first time in the school’s history because of COVID-19. Her communication acumen will be instrumental in presenting taped and live segments during the event’s live-streaming broadcast. Learn more about these new FIESTA arrangements at mercyhigh.org/fiesta.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications from Loyola University Chicago in 1997. Kayla began her television news career in Illinois, went to several other states as a producer and anchor at other television stations and spent eight years as executive producer of Omaha KMTV’s “The Morning Blend.”
A recipient of numerous awards for her news reporting and collaborative spirit, she serves as a board member for the Douglas County Historical Society. The mother of two tries to attend as many Mercy events as she can and also supports the school by sharing her love of Mercy through social media.
“I will always be a Woman of Mercy at heart. Mercy helped shaped me into who I am today,” she said.
This year, all of Mercy’s basketball teams will be coached by Mercy alumnae. The three graduates not only share a love of basketball and coaching, but they also feel honored to give back to their alma mater. The coaches are Nicole Lenczowski ‘06, Head Coach, Varsity; Becky Markey ’06, Head Coach, Junior Varsity; and Laura Salerno ‘18, a volunteer who helps with both teams.
Nicole got involved with coaching right after she graduated in 2006. She volunteered as Scott Stara’s assistant for the Freshmen and Junior Varsity basketball teams for seven seasons. When Scott took the head Varsity job in 2014, she remained his assistant until he stepped down.
While at Mercy, Nicole was involved in many activities. She ran cross country and track and played basketball. She was a class officer for multiple years, a Student Ambassador and a member of Pastoral Council.
She currently works at Union Pacific Railroad as a project manager in the Fuel and Environmental group, managing projects related to industrial wastewater treatment plants and fuel systems across the network.
“I wanted to be part of the Mercy community, and I love the sport of basketball especially being a part of the girls’ high school careers,” said Nicole.
Nicole and Becky, the JV Head Coach, were one of only two members of their class who played basketball during their four years at Mercy. Becky also played soccer all four years and was involved in journalism, serving as the yearbook editor.
She had already been hired as Mercy’s Junior Varsity soccer coach when the JV basketball coaching position opened, so she jumped on it.
“Since Nicole and I played together, It seemed like a natural fit,” Becky said.
The soccer standout played at Dominican University in River City, Illinois. She also coached at an all-girls school in Chicago and with the Bennington Soccer Club in Omaha. Becky played for three years on a women’s recreational soccer team while attending Notre Dame de Namur University in California.
Becky is currently an underwriter for an insurance company. She is a third-generation Mercy graduate. Both her grandmother, Patricia Doughtery Markey SM ’54 (deceased), and mother, Mary Jo Cumberland-Markey ’74, attended the school as well as her sisters Rachel Markey Andersen '04 and Ruthie Markey Stirewalt '09.
“The spirit of Mercy has always been part of my life,” she said.
Laura Salerno is not only a full-time student; she works two jobs while volunteering for the basketball program. She is a part-time therapy tech and nanny.
The 2018 graduate played basketball and volleyball, was a class officer, Student Ambassador and member of the National Honor Society. This is her second year of volunteering with the basketball teams. Her sisters Marie Salerno ’18, Katherine Salerno ’15 and Anna Salerno ’18 also attended the school.
“My dad coached me throughout my childhood, which gave me a great view of both the coaching and playing side of sports. I love sports and enjoy working with people. If I am able to help one girl on our team, it would be an ultimate accomplishment.“
Laura holds the school’s rebounding record, was named to metro and state all-star teams her senior year and was the Most Valuable Player that year.
Kimberlyn Yolanda Oliver, Ed.D., ’98 was appointed by the Mercy Education System of the Americas to the Mercy High School Board of Trustees effective January 2021. Mercy is a sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy the Americas.
Kimberlyn, a Mercy graduate, currently serves as Assistant Principal at Holy Name Catholic School and has been an educator for 13 years. The majority of her career has been as a classroom teacher, but she was also a Program Director and Grant Manager for Upward Bound and an Education Specialist for a local nonprofit. She also served as an Admissions Counselor for two local colleges. She received her Bachelor of Science in Sociology with a Criminal Justice emphasis from Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, a Master of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and her second Master of Science in Educational Administration and Supervision from Concordia College in Seward, Nebraska. In 2019, she earned her Ed.D. in Professional Leadership, Inquiry and Transformation from Concordia University, Portland, Oregon.
Kim has been married to her husband Ray for eight years, and they are the proud parents of three boys, Malachi, Micah, and Matthias. Kim is actively involved in her church, Solid Rock Christian Center, and other professional and community groups which include the Diversity and Equity Committee of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Undoing Racism subcommittee; American Educational Research Association; American Federation of Teachers; and Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
“Being part of this ministry for Mercy allows me to be a strong advocate for education, for young women and their families, and for policies that impact students,” said Kimberlyn.
Elizabeth Walters ’20 developed her love of writing during her years at Mercy. Now a freshman at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, she recently had the opportunity to report on November elections in the state. She attended an election watch party in Topeka and had several stories printed in the university’s paper, “The University Daily Kansan. “
“Mrs. Coyle was instrumental in my development as a writer. Her constructive criticism helped me develop my skills and when I graduated, I had moved from first-level English to Advanced Placement English. I also had great experiences in my Convergence of Media in the Digital Age class.”
During her high school years, Elizabeth was in Mock Trial for three years, was Editor-and-Chief of “Tea Time,” Mercy’s online newspaper, her senior year and was a member of the National Honor Society. During her free time, she taught religious education at Mary Our Queen Parish and volunteered at Nebraska Medicine.
She received an academic scholarship to the University of Kansas where she is majoring in Journalism, in the News and Information track. Not only has she written for the college’s paper, she has also been writing for the school’s magazine, “Chalk.”
Although there are many good writers at the university, she feels very comfortable because Mercy prepared her both academically and personally.
“Mercy also taught me to be kind and compassionate in my view towards the world.”
Elizabeth hopes after graduation to pursue a career in writing for magazines.
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 '58, 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.
“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.”
“Mercy High School is a true family,” said Siryeya Belton ’09, Children’s Pastor for Dream City Church. Raised by a single mother, Siryeya found a sisterhood, a community and many lifelong friends at the school.
“The strong foundation of love at the school, coupled with the commitment to a faith-based education, helped me understand who I was and my purpose in life,” she said.
When looking for a high school to attend, Siryeya originally thought she might go to another Omaha all-girls school, but the tuition was too high. At Mercy she was not only given tuition assistance, but when she shadowed, she felt an instant connection to the Mercy community and its deep-rooted Christianity.
A member of Student Council for four years, Siryeya was also a cheerleader during her junior and senior years. Outside of school, she participated in the Upward Bound program.
“I made life-long friends at Mercy. We still get together and I have been part of numerous weddings and helped plan several baby showers,” she said.
Siryeya also became close to her teachers. Mrs. Cathy Kessler, English, became a mentor and was a subject of one of Siryeya college papers. Chris Rosenthal, science, was like a “dad” and taught her how to treat people. Ms. Holly McCoy, Assistant Principal, kept her on the straight and narrow, even when she slipped up.
“I struggled with understanding my faith in high school. I had carefully conceived a box of what a Christian looked like. The faculty, staff and students showed me you could be yourself, with all your faults, and still be full of faith,” she said.
After graduation Siryeya attended both the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) and the University of Nebraska -Lincoln, eventually graduating from UNO in 2014. Her degree is in Political Science with a focus on non-profit management.
“I actually wanted to be a lawyer, but I did an internship at a local church and knew I was called to do this,” Siryeya said.
She started as the Youth Pastor and took over as the Children’s Pastor of Dream City Church in September 2019. Her duties include developing lesson plans for Sunday school and Wednesday gatherings for youngsters ranging in age from toddlers to fifth grade. She also manages the volunteer religious education teachers.
“I know I would not be where I am today without my Mercy family. They taught me to love myself and to treat others with love,” she said.
Recently Siryeya was asked to join Mercy’s Alumnae Council. She is excited to be able to give back to the school.
Anne Mollner Stanley ’05 found her love of service while she attended Mercy High School. Now she serves as the Regional Director for Ignatian Volunteer Corps in Omaha. It is a volunteer organization for individuals over 50 who are looking to use their talents in service for non-profits in the area while participating in a faith community. These individuals serve about 8-10 hours a week at various organizations throughout the city and gather together once a month for reflection and faith sharing.
Anne considered Mercy on her short lists of high schools because her mom, Jayne Riedmann Mollner ’70, aunts, Margie Riedmann Sobczyk ’67, Mary Pat Riedmann Greene ’73 (deceased) , Kathleen Riedmann Kemler ‘78, and Francie Riedmann Weis ‘81, and sister, Katie Mollner Baumker ‘94, attended the school. But at her first visit, she knew it was the place she belonged.
“I knew it was a place I would be comfortable being myself. It was filled with so much welcoming energy,” she said.
During her years at Mercy, Anne was involved in theatre, Student Council, Pastoral Council, National Honor Society (NHS), and many service activities.
“The school had a major impact on me, and I often attribute both my path in life and who I am to Mercy. I truly believe Mercy gave me confidence and welcomed me into a community of people who truly celebrated who I am. My love of service was also instilled in me while attending school. Thanks to the incredible teachers of Mercy, I also developed a passion for Spanish and journeying with others through service,” she said.
After graduation, she attended Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio and majored in Spanish. She did a year of service in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Anne went on to get her Master’s in Education from Creighton University in 2013. She taught Spanish for five years at Mercy from 2014-2019.
“The young women that attend Mercy continue to be some of the kindest, funniest and most creative young people in our community,’ she said.
According to Anne, the organization she is with now pairs faith and service together, two foundations of Mercy education. The job allows her to grow in spirituality while helping others and working with non-profits across Omaha.
“It is beautiful to see so many in our community working together to better the world around us,” she said.
Anne continues to talk to the teachers and follow along with what students are doing.
She tries to attend both alumnae events and school activities such as Mercy Day and P.A.
“I love keeping up with Mercy. The school does so many things. I would encourage alumnae to participate in the ways Mercy invites us to reach out to current students by writing letters, watching events, and celebrating the successes of the girls,” she said.
“Mercy is a special and unique place. It is hard to put into words, but I know that because of the school I am the person I am today. I have succeeded in a career I love,” said Hannah Yelinek ’11. She now is an Associate Veterinarian at the Fremont County Veterinary Clinic in Sidney, Iowa.
Hannah attended Holy Cross School across the street from Mercy. It made sense to her to stay in the neighborhood for high school. After attending several events at Mercy, it confirmed she had made the right decision.
While at Mercy, Hannah was a member of Pastoral Council for four years and Student Council for three years. She was also involved in Operation Others, directed PA during her junior year, was the President of the National Honor Society and honored as class valedictorian.
In reflecting on the effect that Mercy had on her personal development, Hannah said that there were four areas of impact that stay with her: academics, spirituality, community and personal development.
“Mercy’s academic preparation is second to none. I could write a college paper thanks to Mrs. Coyle’s amazing teaching. My Mercy years made college a breeze,” she said.
According to Hannah, spirituality was nurtured at Mercy as students were encouraged to be comfortable and confident in their faith. She loved going to Mass.
She also developed lifelong friendships at Mercy. Hannah and seven classmates have created a close band who continue to be supportive of each other.
She also acknowledged that Mercy helped her become a confident and committed citizen of the world: “When I entered Mercy, I was quite shy. I did not like to speak publicly. I developed my presentation skills and took on more leadership roles.”
Hannah attended Creighton University and earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in theology. She entered the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State’s joint veterinary school program graduated in 2019. Her first job was at the Fremont County Veterinary Clinic.
“During my studies at veterinary school, I remember attending an ethics class where we were asked what type of vet we wanted to be. I remember at Mercy when Principal Carolyn Jaworski always reminded us what Mother McAuley said, ‘Do ordinary things extraordinary well.’ That is what I strive to do each day.”
As a veterinarian, every day is different. Hannah might be seeing regular patients during business hours then be called in the middle of the night to deliver twin calves.
“I began to love science after having Ms. Newville as my teacher at Mercy. She made learning science so fun. I was able to shadow at the Humane Society and I even did an internship in college at the local Humane Society in Iowa. That is when I knew I wanted to work with animals,” she said.
Hannah recently celebrated her one-year anniversary at the clinic. She shakes her head when she thinks of the timid girl who began Mercy as a freshman.
“Mercy set me up very well. Academically, spiritually, with great friendships, compassion and confidence and belief in myself. The school helped me be successful and for that I will be forever grateful,” she said.
Mercy Day holds a special meaning for Emily Gonderinger ’09. One of her favorite memories is her senior year at Mercy was when she and her classmate, Katie Aiello ’09, were directors of their senior play. Later, while Emily was attending Rockhurst University for college, she and several other Mercy alumnae would gather together and enjoyed a comfortable cup of tea. Now she celebrates Mercy Day with her two sisters whom also attended Mercy and her parents.
“My classmate Katie Aiello and I were directors of the Mercy Day play and we did a great deal of research to develop the script. We wanted to do something different. Instead of focusing on Mother McAuley, we told the story of how Mercy got to the United States and eventually Omaha,” she said.
For Emily, the decision to attend Mercy in the fall of 2005 was an easy one. Her older sister, Jesse Gonderinger Sullivan ’05, went there and their younger sister, Christine Gonderinger ’12 also followed suit.
“Jesse’s decision to go there dictated where Christine and I went, but I don’t think I would have wanted to go anywhere else. I watched how much she enjoyed all the traditions at Mercy, and I couldn’t wait to partake in those myself,” Emily said.
Emily’s entire family became entwined in the school. Her father and mother became active parents serving as chairs for FIESTA. Her father, Bob, is currently serving on the Board. Even her brothers found a way to participate in Mercy events through theater and attending the dances with their Mercy friends.
Emily’s school years were marked by her participation. She played golf all four years and was on the basketball team for three years. She was also involved in school traditions from PA to Farewell Day to Mercy Day.
After graduation Emily continued her education at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. She also participated in golf in college and graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Mathematics and Business Administration. After graduation, she returned to Omaha and in 2014 began working for Gavilon, an agricultural commodities trading company headquartered here in Omaha.
As a Transportation & Logistics Specialist, she works with Gavilon’s river assets and runs logistics for the company’s barges throughout the Mississippi River systems. Gavilon has 13 grain elevators along the rivers where they load barges with grain to send them to New Orleans to be shipped worldwide.
“The agricultural industry is male-dominated. I am one of three women on my desk and the only female on my team in Omaha. Mercy instilled in me a great deal of confidence that has allowed me to succeed in this environment. I might be in the minority at work, but I have earned a great deal of respect from my coworkers. Without Mercy and the all-girls community, I do not believe I would be as successful as I am at Gavilon,” she said.
Emily continues to stay involved with Mercy High School. This past year, Emily joined the Alumnae Council and has enjoyed working on ways to engage Women of Mercy with the school. She also dedicates some time to the Mercy Golf Fest committee and enjoys the yearly event where she plays with her sisters and a close family friend.
“Mercy is a place that gave us all so much for our futures. I feel that it’s the least I can do to give a little time back and support them financially when I can. I want Mercy to continue for future generations,” she said.
Lia Rose Reckmeyer, a 2019 alumna of Mercy High School, is practicing the compassionate service so emphasized at her alma mater. The Benedictine College freshman has become a virtual volunteer, helping non-profits in Atchison, Kansas, where the college is located, expand their outreach, despite social distancing requirements.
In January and February, Reckmeyer was working with a team of students in a business class to promote the local office of the non-profit, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). They intended to implement their plans in April, but their strategy changed significantly due to the pandemic. Reckmeyer and her classmates persevered and found ways to promote the agency, including an informational section in an online church bulletin.
Reckmeyer also responded to a request for volunteers from the Atchison Boys and Girls Club. The Club, which typically hosts fifty kids every afternoon, five to ten years old, had to transfer their programming to an online format. Preparing all the videos that would be needed was a tall order for their limited staff. Reckmeyer was one of the many students who stepped up to help. Using the college’s newly acquired GivePulse platform, Reckmeyer was able to select from the various video needs to prepare one she felt comfortable with. She chose an “Activity video” and taught the kids how to make a paper boat. This served as the base for a Club-wide “Sail Away Challenge” which encouraged the youth to watch the video and make their own boat.
The digital opportunity was facilitated by the college’s Center for Service-Learning, a department which supports academically relevant community engagement. Reckmeyer, who intends to study Education, was delighted by the opportunity to help the children of Atchison. “I love working with kids and… it is important for them to know how much they still mean to us,” she said.
You can read more about Reckmeyer’s service with CASA by visiting https://www.benedictine.edu/academics/service-learning/newsletter/index and you can view her paper boat video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xP72IRAkJQo.
Launched in 2016, the Benedictine College Center for Service-Learning engages students in challenging academic work and promoting the common good through cultivating mutually beneficial partnerships with community organizations in Atchison, Kansas, and beyond. Students encounter and apply course material as they address local needs and critically reflect upon their experiences.
COVID-19 has affected all of our lives, but alumna Helen Holmes Giambrone ’97 deals with it daily as a Disease Investigator for the Douglas County Health Department. In her role, Helen is responsible for contact investigations of individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus. Contact tracing is designed to halt transmission of an infectious pathogen and slow community spread. Helen has been preparing for this work since January and working nonstop since the first week of March. But Helen feels that "everything she does is helping people on a daily basis." Her commitment to others took shape at an early age through her Mercy education.
Although her parents said she could go anywhere for high school, Helen followed in the footsteps of older sister, Katie ’95, and enrolled at Mercy in 1993. Her younger sister, Betsy ’01, also went to Mercy. Helen had many friends who were going to enroll at Mercy, and she “wanted to experience the same close-knit friendships from grade school during high school." She was not disappointed.
At Mercy, Helen participated in Campus Ministry, Christian Life Community (CLC), and was also one of the first group of teens to volunteer at Children’s Hospital through the Teen Connection Program. She was also a member of Prom Court her senior year.
“One of my favorite teachers was Ms. Newville. Even though she taught a subject that was complex and challenging, she made learning really fun and relatable,” Helen said.
After graduation, Helen earned both leadership and writing scholarships to Rockhurst University in Kansas City and majored in history and psychology.
“I credit my Mercy education in developing my skills, especially in making my writing intentional and purposeful. I would never have received a scholarship without those talents,” she said.
Helen was very involved in college activities and was the president and secretary of her sorority, editor of the college newspaper, and participated in a service trip abroad.
“I feel my Jesuit education at Rockhurst was a natural extension to my Mercy education and furthered my belief that we need to be women and men for others," she said.
After graduating from Rockhurst, Helen joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. and worked at a domestic violence shelter as a youth advocate in Cleveland, Ohio.
"That experience was eye-opening. Children needed services and case management just as much as adults do but often their needs are not equally addressed,” she said.
Helen applied to be an Investigative Epidemiologist at the Kansas City Health Department. “The interview went really well but many of the questions were medical based, and I am not a clinician. However, they reassured me they look for strong candidates with critical thinking skills and that professional mentoring and CDC training would provide the rest,” she said.
Her first year working in public health was 2003. SARS, Mad Cow Disease, and Monkeypox were making headlines.
“I was immediately hooked on my new career and was totally engaged. Every day was different and challenging. There was a constant education piece to learn about new pathogens. The team approach was always present and the health of the community was always the focus. I felt I was making a real impact on the world,” Helen said.
She married her husband, Robb, whom she met in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps., in 2005. In 2006, they moved back to Omaha and Helen joined the Douglas County Health Department. The couple has three children, Dominic, Sophia, and Julia. They are members of St. Pius X Parish in Omaha where the children also attend grade school.
“Faith has always been a big component of my career. I never mention God or Jesus, but everything I do is about helping people when they need it most. Unfortunately, everyone I speak with is ill. Sometimes, people are facing tremendous hardships and I wish I could do more for them. That’s the hardest part of my job,” she said.
Helen currently serves on the Alumnae Council, attends alumnae events and FIESTA each year. She hopes her two daughters will follow in her footsteps and attend Mercy.
“Mercy gives you a quiet confidence and empowers you to make a difference in the world. I call it confidence with humility. You can be a leader without having the top title if you remember to put others first,” she said.
Thank you, Helen, for all you are doing to help keep our community safe and healthy!
Delaney Fisher ’15 has many passions. Since the age of four she played soccer and danced. She continued those activities at Mercy and also discovered another passion, photography, while taking a class there. That passion has turned into a thriving business.
Her decision to attend Mercy was a natural one. Her older sister, Natalie ’11, is an alumna. Delaney grew up hearing about all the school’s special moments and traditions.
“I could not wait to make my own memories at Mercy,” she said.
To say Delaney was active in sports during high school might be an understatement. Even before school started, her first activity at Mercy was summer conditioning. She kept in great shape and had an opportunity to meet her fellow students before school started. Because freshmen could not be on the dance team, she tried out for cheerleading and made the junior varsity squad.
“Cheer gave me a lot of confidence and a great work ethic. I had to be prepared not only for tryouts but for pep rallies and eventually while performing at games,” she said.
She also tried out for soccer her freshmen year. Delaney was a junior varsity soccer player from freshmen to junior year and then made the Varsity Soccer Team during her senior year.
“Soccer holds some of my favorite memories at Mercy. One of them was the Skutt Tournament my sophomore year on Junior Varsity. The game ended up in a shoot-out against Skutt. I remember our team holding hands on the sideline saying a prayer after each shot. Our amazing goalie, Nina Theiler ‘15, blocked every single one from Skutt. We stormed the field cheering, filled with pure joy that our hard work paid off with a win,” she said.
Her other favorite soccer memory was going to state in 2015.
“The love and support we received from our families, the school and the other athletes at Mercy was incredible. Our student section was always filled and cheering at the top of their lungs, even the teachers. To have that experience, win or lose, as a team but also as a school, was a perfect end to my senior year,” she said.
Delaney also pursued another passion during her sophomore year: dance.
“I decided to do dance instead of continuing with cheer, which was a difficult decision. Dance team definitely brought me out of my comfort zone even more. I got to try choreographing for the first time with my lifelong friend and teammate, Allie Barnhart ‘15. To be given that chance by our coach, Miss Howe (now Mrs. Burkey), reinforced my work ethic as an athlete and my ability as a leader. Those abilities stayed with me for years to come. I was also nominated for junior captain the next year and eventually became a captain my senior year,” she said.
She also took a photography class at Mercy and found the passion she is pursuing today, photography. Delaney joined the yearbook staff her senior year. She also began taking pictures of seniors, engagements, events and weddings. Delaney credits Mercy with giving her the confidence to take chances, to fail and get back up, to not take time for granted and to enjoy the little things.
After graduating from Mercy, she attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha, graduating in 2019 with a major in Graphic Design and a minor in Art History.
As she is building her photography business, she does free-lance design, bartends and nannies.
“Keeping busy with all these endeavors has kept me active and used to scheduling. It also has given me free time to pursue photography,” she said.
Mercy has benefitted from her photography skills at FIESTA for the last few years as she has attended the school’s major fundraiser with her family and taken pictures. She also has taken numerous senior portraits.
“What I would say to others to help motivate them to get involved with Mercy is to just give back. It sounds simple because it is simple. When you give, good things happen,” she said.
Photo by Delaney Fisher.
Meg Maynard ’13 is a third generation Woman of Mercy who discovered the power of social justice during her years at Mercy High School. She now works for a nonprofit that provides after-school programs, adult learning and family initiatives at homeless shelters.
Even though she was a Mercy legacy, Meg had a choice of which Catholic school to attend. She shadowed at all three all-girls Catholic schools in Omaha, but ‘Mercy felt right.’ Her grandmothers Rosemary Litton Maynard SM'44 and Ann Bendon Wieberg ’57, her mother, Angela Wieberg Maynard ’83, as well as several aunts and cousins are all Mercy alumnae.
While at the school, Meg played soccer and volleyball, was a member of the MESS spirit club, and went on the trip to Ireland during her junior year. She was also a Student Council representative all four years as well as president her senior year.
“Student Council was probably my favorite activity. I enjoyed the work behind the scenes and the fulfillment when those activities came to life. I also liked the way that students and faculty came together for these efforts. My participation taught me leadership, gave me confidence, and it was fun,” she said.
Meg is especially proud that during her time on Student Council, the group created SIESTA, the student version of the annual FIESTA fundraiser, to support Mission Week.
“Traditions are such an important part of Mercy, and we created one that is part of the school’s student life landscape now,” she said.
According to Meg, Mercy’s small class sizes and the dedication and commitment of the teachers sets Mercy apart from other schools.
“The teachers were amazing. They were willing to help you inside and outside of the classroom. They are still helping me today. In fact, Ms. Mandi Marcuccio has become somewhat of a mentor to me. She is always present and passionate about education and her enthusiasm is contagious,” she said.
Meg’s favorite classes were in theology. A project on foster care that included research and writing a paper was a pivotal moment for Meg. That activity reinforced her commitment to social justice and evidentially led to her to the work she does now.
“I was unsure of what I was going to study in college. This project opened my eyes and ignited a spark in me. It led me to my major in social work and my career,” she said.
After graduation, Meg went to Creighton University where she majored in Spanish and social work. She continued her involvement in leadership activities though participation in Creighton’s Freshman Leadership Program. She was also a sophomore mentor and served as a Resident Advisor during both her junior and senior years.
“Mercy instilled in me the confidence to be a leader. The community there builds you up, encourages you to succeed. Without the distraction and competition from men, shyness disappears. I never feel intimidated, and I have the courage to try new things,” she said.
She graduated from Creighton in 2017. Now she works at a nonprofit called Completely KIDS to coordinate after school programs, adult learning and family initiatives in homeless shelters.
“Kids programs include snacks, a relaxing activity, a question of the day, and lessons for the day. Sometimes we have outside partners share programs on the arts and other skill-building activities,” she said.
Adult learning takes place at the Ronald McDonald house and includes many activities.
Meg tries to keep in touch with her Mercy community through social media and attends alumnae events when she can.
“Mercy’s social media presence is strong and engaging. It keeps me involved and I love reading what is going on,” she said.
Through her family, teachers, in work and her passion for social justice, Meg’s ties to Mercy are strong. She feels Mercy is a part of who she is, and she sums it up with a quote that Mrs. Kristi Walters Wessling ’88, current principal, once shared with her: “You never really leave a place you love. Part of it you take with you, leaving a part of you behind.”
While Rebecca Jacobson ’02 was at Mercy, if any activity involved writing or performing, she was probably part of it. Her professional career has followed those passions and she currently works in science communications for the JILA, a joint physics laboratory with the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Her journey began in 1998, when she decided to attend Mercy because her sister, Angela Jacobson Weiss ’99 attended the school and it was in the neighborhood.
“At Mercy, I was an honors student and a music and theatre participant. I was part of choir, the Mercy High Singers, and was in all of the one-act and fall plays, as well as spring musicals. I also wrote for the school’s literary magazine,” she said.
In addition to writing and performing, the alumna also developed a passion for social justice, activism and civic responsibility from her classes.
“Some of my religion classes senior year were basically introductory moral philosophy classes. My ‘Media and Morality’ class is one of the reasons why I wanted to study film. From writing weekly letters to Amnesty International in English class to current events quizzes, I went into the world able to discuss local and foreign affairs easily,” she said.
After graduation, she decided to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), earning a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Film Studies.
“Mercy’s emphasis on writing research papers gave me an advantage over other freshman entering college. I was in an honors program at Nebraska, and some of my classmates had never written a paper longer than two pages. I was already writing 10-15-page papers by my senior year,” she said.
Rebecca started interning at Nebraska Educational Television (NET) her sophomore year in college, working on local documentaries until she graduated.
“Working at NET put me on the journalism path. Mercy had given me a lot of experience performing in front of others, so I felt at ease talking in front of a group and working with a camera or microphone,” she said.
Next, she took an internship with National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington, D.C. From there, Rebecca joined The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) News Hour as a production assistant and later became a reporter and producer in their Denver office. Her work entailed everything you could do in a TV newsroom: shooting video, taking photos, editing, writing, reporting, setting up lights, arranging catering and travel and developing budgets. She covered politics, health, and the arts but found her niche covering science and technology.
Rebecca left TV broadcasting in 2019 to take her current position. The lab she works at studies quantum physics, including ultrafast lasers, biophysics, chemical physics, precision measurement, optical atomic clocks, and astrophysics. The lab has won numerous accolades including two Nobel prizes.
“I refer to my job as being a ‘science cheerleader,’ championing advances of physics for the public. My task is to use every tool at my disposal—videos, photos, articles—to help non-scientists understand why this work is so important. I also help our scientists learn how to talk to the public about their research, whether that’s with journalists or potential funders,” she said.
Rebecca acknowledges that the shift to science communications is a bit of a pivot but reflecting on her high school education and journalism career, it makes sense.
“I had great science teachers at Mercy, all inspiring women who really sparked my curiosity in STEM. They gave me the foundation to understand science and appreciate it even if I didn’t have the skills to be a scientist myself. In fact, at PBS I started regular Pi Day celebrations because I remembered celebrating Pi Day and Mole Day in my Mercy classes. Mercy always taught us to use our talents to benefit society, and science needs storytellers.”
She doesn’t get back to Omaha often, but she will be Skyping in to share her story with Mercy students on Career Day, March 30. As part of Kaleidoscope, Mercy’s unique four-year leadership and empowerment program, alumnae will be sharing insights about their careers during that day during that day.
A drive for service and a compassion for others have become Vankat family traits. Mercy graduates Rose ’12, Hannah ’14 and Maggie ’16 have all entered careers where they impact people's lives. They learned this drive from the inspirational examples their mother Julie, Mercy’s Theology Chair, and their father, Dan, have given them. But they were also shown this path through their studies and teachers at Mercy.
Rose always knew she would go to Mercy because her mother teaches at the high school. She was involved in Student Ambassadors, National Honor Society, Justice and Peace Club, the volleyball team, Mercy High Singers and Bridge Club. She also completed more than 500 hours of service in her senior year and was given the Sr. Jeanne O’Rourke Award, which honors a student’s commitment to service.
“Some of my favorite memories were created during my time at Mercy. I learned about creating a community and how much support that can bring. I am very grateful for everything Mercy gave me, especially the friends who continue to be a support to me and who have influenced who I have become,” she said.
After she graduated from Mercy, Rose received the Goodrich Scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO)and earned a Bachelor of Science in Social Work in 2016. She volunteered for a year with the Mercy Volunteer Corps in Baltimore as an activities coordinator in a long-term care facility.
“The love of service and the connection to the Sisters of Mercy led me to the program,” she said.
Rose moved back to Omaha and now works as a Case Manager for children and their families in child welfare through foster care.
“Mercy taught me to approach people with compassion and empathy. Mercy promises to grow Mercy Girls into Women of Mercy, and they hold true to that promise,” she said.
Her sister, Hannah, also attended Mercy and the commitment to community service and itswomen-centered mission has always stuck with her.
Active in music and theatre, she was a member of student government and several clubs. Some of her best friends to this day are women she met in the first weeks of Show Choir Camp or her first play, “Beauty and the Beast.” In her senior year, Hannah received The Distinguished Thespian Award for her commitment to Mercy theatre.
“The connections I made were the best part of my time at Mercy,” she said.
Like her sister, she received the Goodrich Scholarship to attend UNO. Hannah started as a pre-nursing student until she switched her degree to Public Health.
“I liked the community and preventative aspects of that field and it gave me a great deal of perspective about the impact of societal systems on an individual’s health,” she said.
She studied abroad twice in college. First to study public health and sustainability in Peru and then to study public health and community development in Belize. The Mercy grad finished her degree with an internship at the Women’s Center for Advancement (WCA) and graduated in May 2019. Her internship with the WCA led her to work as a Client Care Specialist with the organization, but in September 2019 she took on a new role as a Self Sufficiency Case Manager. Hannah is also the Healing Warriors Case Manager, working with military-associated clients and co-facilitating a class called “Getting Ahead.” At the WCA, services are provided to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking. This is done through advocacy, case management, crisis counseling and legal services.
“I am challenged on a daily basis to broaden my understanding of different systems, cultures, barriers, life stages and community resources,” she said.
Seeing the positive impact that Mercy had on her two older sisters and the love her mom has for the school made Mercy an easy choice for Maggie.
While at Mercy she participated in Mercy High Singers, was in all of the plays and musicals, Show Choir, Student Council, Student Ambassadors and National Honor Society.
“Mercy taught me how to love and care for others and gave me confidence in myself. I am eternally grateful for that," she said.
She also made friends for life.
“The people I interacted with every day in the halls of Mercy made me who I am today,” she said.
She also went to UNO on a Goodrich Scholarship and will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science in Education. She is currently student teaching in a 3rd grade classroom.
“I hope to be the kind of teacher that my mom is one who makes students feel valued, empowered and loved. My dad, in particular, really taught me the power of selflessness at a young age. By choosing a path in elementary education, I choose selflessness by putting my energy into providing all kids with the opportunity to reach their full potential,” she said.
Another sister, Molly, is currently a Mercy junior but is already involved with theatre and has been a cantor at Mass since 4th grade. Her brother Jake will be a freshman at Gross High School next year and has been in several Mercy plays and is an active Mass server.
For the Vankats, giving back is very much a family mindset. Julie has been a teacher at Mercy for more than 25 years but still finds time to be active in her local parish, to coach sports when her children were younger, to take students on service trips and trips abroad. Her husband Dan is on the Assumption/Guadalupe Parish Council and chairs the annual parish dinner. He also coached several sports.
Maggie said of her family, “now that I have grown older, I get to watch my parents and both of my older sisters choose selflessness every day in their own careers,” she said.
For the Vankat girls, the power of family—their own and their Mercy family—taught them confidence and the drive for service and compassion for others. And they have made that commitment their careers.
She has been described as an incredibly generous and service-oriented woman who has brought her compassionate view of the world to everything she does. This Woman of Mercy, Joanne Stewart ’72, has put her Mercy values to good use, striving for the betterment of the Omaha community. From her 44-year career in the newspaper business to her volunteer work at local organizations and her parish and community boards, this retiree is not slowing down. Joanne has been selected as the recipient of the Distinguished Woman of Mercy award for 2020, an honor given by the Mercy High School Alumnae Council. Her selection will be announced at this year’s FIESTA, and she will be honored at Mercy’s All-School Reunion on June 7, 2020.
You might say Joanne has journalism in her veins. Not only was she a reporter, editor and executive at the Omaha World-Herald (OWH), numerous family members have also been involved in journalism. Her great -grandfather published the Villisca (Iowa) Review. Another grandfather sold ads for the Daily Nebraskan (DN). Joanne’s mother earned a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska where she was the first women to be news editor of the DN. Her father was a sports editor at DN and a sports writer at OWH. A niece is now a reporter at OWH.
Joanne’s passion for journalism was nurtured during her years at Mercy. She was the assistant editor of the school newspaper, the Mercy Hi-Times, and worked on the yearbook. She was also the director of the Mercy Day play, the PA announcement and many of her class presentations. Joanne was active in Speech and Debate in her earlier years but, because of time constraints, chose Journalism as her extracurricular activity during her senior year.
“The former Sr. Kathleen Hodak taught Journalism, and she was an exceptional teacher who fed my passion. I also learned confidence at Mercy and how to be comfortable as a leader,” Joanne said.
Joanne attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) where she earned a degree in Journalism in 1976. But even before her college graduation, she worked part time at OWH at night as a copy messenger. Night Managing Editor Carl Keith mentored her and by her senior year in college, she was working 40 hours a week as a copy editor and reporter for the regional news desk. After graduation from UNO in May 1976, she was hired as a member of the Copy Desk.
Joanne was the first woman to hold a position on the paper’s city desk. She also held numerous positions during her tenure including night editor, education editor, government editor, day editor; then regional editor, and metropolitan/regional editor (a shared responsibility). She developed and organized the newspaper’s annual academic recognition program. It started with a focus on metro schools and within two years grew to selection of an Academic All-State Team. Later, the program was expanded to include western Iowa schools. In July 1998, she was promoted to assistant managing editor, a position she held until her retirement on January 3, 2018.
Larry King, a former editor at OWH said of her, “Joanne has put many of us on her back time and again. She is leaving the place better for being here…through the work she has done and through the journalists she has schooled and mentored.”
But Joanne’s impact reaches far beyond her career. She has served on Mercy’s Board, the school’s Alumnae Council and comes to Mercy once a week to update the alumnae database. In addition, she is a new member of the Outreach Ministry Council on the leadership team at her parish, St. Vincent de Paul, and is a volunteer coordinator for the church’s community food pantry. She also finds time to bake cookies and put together treats for troops through Iowa Cookie Crumbs, serves on her neighborhood HOA board and is president of her local chapter of P. E. O., an organization that promotes education of women and philanthropy.
Joanne has been recognized by numerous groups for her contributions and achievements. She received the McAuley Award from Mercy’s Alumnae Council, was the Omaha Press Club’s Career Achievement Honoree in 2018 and that same year she received UNO’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I am truly stunned that I am receiving this Mercy award, especially in the year the school is honoring Sr. Johanna who is someone I admire and wish to emulate. Sister taught me the importance of inclusion, being clear about one’s goals and knowing what the end game is and going for it. The spirit of Catherine McAuley is alive at the school and hopefully, will continue to be alive in me.”
A physician, an attorney, but more importantly someone who wants to make a difference, Lynn Fullenkamp ’02 credits Mercy High School in helping to develop her as a person who wants to use her talents to help others.
“At Mercy you have the best of both worlds. The academics and the college preparatory curriculum are second to none. But there is also a focus on becoming a genuine, caring person with finely honed interpersonal skills,” she said.
Although her sister, Beth Fullenkamp Hix ’00 attended Mercy, Lynn's parents gave her the choice on which Catholic school she would attend. She shadowed at Mercy and fell in love with the school.
“There is a great sense of community there. You benefit from being exposed to all socio-economic levels of students from every neighborhood. Exposure to those different perspectives broke down barriers and gave you a fuller appreciation of the breadth and depth of society,” she said.
While at Mercy, Lynn was involved in Student Council all four years, was the director of the Mercy Day play her senior year and played volleyball, basketball and ran track. She also participated in the Debate Team her freshman and sophomore year and was a member of the National Honor Society.
“My favorite subject was math. I loved the logic behind it and the process of solving a problem and coming up with a solution at the end,” she said.
She attended Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO where she majored in math and minored in communications. After graduating in 2006, she headed to law school at Notre Dame University.
“The law was another discipline where there was a logic to an argument and an outcome. I wanted to be an advocate for the underserved and use my legal knowledge for their betterment,” she said.
In 2009, the new attorney joined the Legal Aid of Western Missouri and helped clients obtain access to state public benefits. During her tenure, she became intrigued with benefits and health care issues and decided working with individuals through the healthcare field was her next calling.
Lynn went to medical school at the University of Kansas, Kansas City, graduating in 2016. She completed her pediatric residency at Wake Forest, in Winston Salem, NC, in 2019 and took a job as Pediatric Chief Resident. She will complete this job in June and will return to Kansas City working as a Pediatric Hospitalist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
“I enjoy working with children. What I like is the ability to address an issue, use my skills, solve the problem, and gain closure. At the same time my legal background is an asset as I help patients and their families navigate a complex health system. Making a difference in their lives is very fulfilling to me,” she said.
Education and music have become the heart strings of her life’s journey. Margaret Pesek ’92 is a graphic designer for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN, affectionately known as Music City, U.S.A. Her Mercy education was instrumental in leading her to this career.
“I was drawn to this job because it is about educating and informing visitors and hopefully opening them up to a greater understanding of how interconnected we are and how music can bring us all together. My time at Mercy and at college gave me an appreciation of broader education,”she said.
Margaret decided to attend Mercy since the public school near her parents’ farm did not offer the variety of courses she was seeking. When she visited Mercy, she found the community friendly and the smaller class size less daunting.
“I was involved in competitive speech, with drama on set design and in performance as well as art club. I really enjoyed the little creative family that formed with teachers and friends. The art room with teacher Betty Darrell was kind of a second home for me. And the Speech Team with Hersch Rodasky was something I really enjoyed all four years,”she said.
After graduation, she decided to attend the University of Iowa in Iowa City and pursued a degree in English. After a semester, she decided to add Fine Arts to her major. She took a variety of design classes as well as painting, drawing, photography and metal smithing that helped broaden her creative skills. She graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Fine Arts. Her first job was as a graphic designer at a small public relations firm in Omaha where she had interned while in college.
She joined the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2005. Her job involves any and all graphic design work from creating kids’ worksheets for the education center, to print and digital ads, to exhibits of different sizes.
“Through my formal education I came to realize that all I learned connected to create a greater, more enriched understanding than just studying for the next test,” she said.
She admits it makes her happy when she runs into someone who has visited the galleries and come out sharing a deeper understanding of the roots of America’s musical styles.
Unfortunately, she does not get to come back to Omaha very often. However, she still has lifelong friends she met at Mercy and they keep in contact on social media.
Ann Nussrallah Adkins’ 74 has been an educator for more than 40 years. She currently teaches fifth grade at St. Pius X/St. Leo School in Omaha and credits the sense of community and the knowledge you can impact someone’s life, to valuable lessons she learned while at Mercy.
“No matter where I have taught or worked, it always came back to that sense of community and how I, individually or as part of a group, could make a true difference in others’ lives. I also believe that my time at Mercy filled me with possibilities and that has given me the self-confidence and courage to make changes during my career and take on new challenges,” she said.
Ann attended Mercy from 1970 to 1974. The Mercy alumna went to Holy Cross School across the street and remembers going to a May Crowning with her cousin. For her, the Mercy girls seemed grown up and were always having a good time.
“I asked myself who wouldn’t be part of that?” she said.
Her sisters Theresa Nussrallah , Mary Jo Nussrallah Riley '78 and Carolyn Nussrallah '79 also went to Mercy.
During high school she recalls being more a “behind-the-scenes” student who cheered on teams and worked backstage on productions. Her pivotal moment was when she took a catechesis class as a religious elective. That led to valuable insights and a teaching assignment in religious education at St. Joan of Arc.
“Being part of that Mercy class made me feel that I could go out and change the world. It truly inspired me to want to somehow make an impact. No matter what teaching position I have held, I have worked to affirm, uplift and empower my students,” she said.
After graduation, she received a Regent’s Scholarship at the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO), and her family felt it was an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Ann was concerned about the large student population, but she discovered that you could create community in individual classes. The Mercy graduate earned a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1978.
Ann taught at Sts. Peter and Paul School for eight years and spent the next 20 years at St. Bernard’s School. During that time she taught mostly younger students and that led to a desire to learn more about educating young students. She decided to go back to UNO to earn her Master of Arts in Education with a concentration on early childhood, receiving her degree in 1999. Having a master’s allowed her to become an adjunct teacher on a college level. She liked it and decided to study for a doctorate at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln which she received in 2013. She taught at Dana College in Blair. She was also a member of the faculty for eight years and earned her tenure at Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa.
With a strong pull to get back in the classroom and a desire to move back to Omaha where her husband was working, she joined St. Pius X/St. Leo School last August.
During her career she has been honored with two teaching awards. Ann was named one of the Archdiocesan Inner-City Teachers of the Year in 2004. In 2016, she received the Meneve Dunham Excellence in Teaching Award at Clarke. She has presented internationally and traveled to India in 2019 to help prepare and teach English lessons to children living in a rural area.
The mother of four has seen all three of her daughters graduate from Mercy including Lara '99, Jenna '02 and Kimberly '06
“I believe the Mercy experience made them the strong, caring women they are today,” she said.
Although returning to the classroom has been a challenge, Ann feels blessed to
contribute to the wonderful learning community and make an impact through her work in the classroom.
“Whenever I am able, I tout the excellent education that Mercy offers and express my gratitude for that education for me and my daughters. I express our family's appreciation for negotiated tuition – a social justice issue. What stays with me after all these years is a strong sense of and understanding of community. I think that everything I have done since my time at Mercy has revolved around being part of communities with strong commitments to service and social justice,” she said.
“All the world is a stage,” said William Shakespeare. For Daena Schweiger ’87 her career has flourished on that theatrical stage. From acting to directing to backstage work to writing plays, she has been involved in theatre for more than 30 years in the Omaha area.
Daena caught the theatre bug as a Mercy freshman and was involved in theatre and speech all four years. She tried tennis and soccer and took several honors classes during high school, but she knew she had found what she wanted to do for the rest of her life on the stage. Daena is part of a Mercy legacy. Her mother, Pat Schweiger ’64, attended Mercy as well as her aunt, Barbara Schweiger Skalla ’60.
After graduating from Mercy in 1987, Daena attended the University of Nebraska -Lincoln and earned a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts with an emphasis in acting. She worked as a stage manager at Opera Omaha for eight years as an independent contractor. For ten years she served as a secretary and business manager of Mary Our Queen Church. Currently, she is an office manager at Melotz & Wilson, LLC, a local tax firm.
“My first love is the theatre, but it doesn’t always pay the bills. I have been fortunate to have other jobs so I can fulfill my true passion. At Mercy, I learned about the importance of Catholic faith. I have always had faith that I could pursue theatre and find other jobs to supplement my income. Things have always had a way of working out,” Daena said.
The award-winning playwright, actress and director has been part of many Omaha-area productions. Her writing credits include numerous one-act plays, and two full-length plays: “Love is Strange” and “Voices From the Closet.” She has directed over 20 plays and musicals, including “Now. Here. This.” at Creighton University; “Clue: The Musical” for Bellevue Little Theatre; “Avenue Q” for SNAP! Productions; “Jesus Christ Superstar” for Chanticleer Theater in Council Bluffs; “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” for BroadStreet Theatre Co.; and “Eating Raoul” for the Shelterbelt Theatre.
Daena is also a frequent performer onstage, appearing in “The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui” at the Bluebarn Theatre; Montressor in “The Cask of The Amontillado for Tales of Poe” at Joslyn Castle; Claire in “Proof” for Baby D Productions; Reggie in “The Laramie Project” for SNAP! Productions; and Jeanette d’Arcy (Joan of Arc) in “Daughter of the Tree” at the Hudson Guild Theatre in New York City. Most recently, Daena was part of the cast of the Omaha Community Playhouse production of “Men on Boats.” Directed by another Mercy alumna, Amy Harmon Lane ’86, “Men on Boats” told the story of the John Wesley Powell expedition to map the Grand Canyon. All the roles were written for and portrayed by women. Daena received recognition for her work in this production from The Omaha Community Playhouse, the Theatre Arts Guild and the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards Academy.
Daena hosts her own podcast called “Thank You 5” where she spotlights the vibrant performing arts community in Omaha by interviewing local theater artists. She is also an established audiobook narrator.
Although she does not have much free time with her hectic schedule, Daena still has friends from her years at Mercy, keeping in touch with them on social media and at the occasional breakfast or dinner.
“Literally I made my best friends at Mercy,” she said.
Her first love, her theatre career, continues to blossom. Daena will be directing “Joseph and the Amazing Technical Dreamcoat” this spring at the Chanticleer Theatre.
For Marilyn Krajicek ’58, Ed.D. R. N., F.A.A.N., teamwork has been a constant through line in her successful career as a pediatric nurse, professor, and medical researcher. She credits her success to her willingness to learn from others and lead with them in mind.
“The things I did at Mercy provided me with the confidence I needed,” she said.
Marilyn was enrolled at St. John’s High School before it merged with St. Mary’s in 1955 to become Mercy High School. While some of her classmates were not excited to move to this new school, Marilyn was thrilled: “I was so pleased to have the navy-blue Mercy uniform.” When she arrived at Mercy, Marilyn came with a can-do attitude and an openness to meeting new friends and having new experiences.
“My friendships were critical,” she remembers of her time at Mercy. “I didn’t have a car, so I either had to get a ride to the activities or somebody had to cart me home.” Marilyn credits her friendships, including her ongoing friendship with former Mercy Principal Sr. Corrine Connelly, RSM ’58 , with making her high school years unforgettable.
As a senior, Marilyn was featured in an issue of the Mercy student newspaper. The 1958 article explains that Marilyn “has made herself and others happier by her cheerful leadership in class activities.” She served as the president of the Mercy Marthas, treasurer of the Christeens, vice-prefect of Sodality, and as a member of the Triple Trio, Glee Club and Greek Club. She was also selected by her classmates to be May Queen her senior year.
Her involvement allowed Marilyn to hone her leadership skills and obtain valuable lessons about relationship building and teamwork. From her time at Mercy, Marilyn realized the importance of working with others. “You can learn from other people,” Marilyn said.
And learn she did. As a student, Marilyn visited state institutions where she met people who had developmental and physical disabilities. From those experiences, she knew she wanted a “career in caring, in working with people with challenges.”
The student newspaper article explained that “Marilyn, who is seldom unsure about anything, replied hesitantly when asked about plans for the future. ‘I’m really undecided, but at the moment I plan [on] a career in nursing.’” Those hesitant plans blossomed into an impressive career spanning five decades during which Marilyn touched the lives of thousands of patients.
After graduating from Mercy, Marilyn received her nursing diploma from St. Joseph’s School of Nursing in 1961. She then received a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Duchesne College, a Master’s in Maternal Child Nursing from Washington University in St. Louis, a Post-Master’s in Nursing Handicapped Children from the University of Washington, and a Doctorate of Education at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
Early in her career, Marilyn served as a nurse. In 1965, Dr. Loretta Ford and Dr. Henry Silver created and implemented the first pediatric nurse practitioner model and training program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus College of Nursing. Three short years later, Marilyn began working at the University of Colorado in 1968 as the Director of Nursing of the John F. Kennedy Child Development Center. In this role, she worked in the innovative nurse practitioner program.
Since then, she has held various positions within the Schools of Nursing and Medicine within the University of Colorado system. Marilyn is currently a tenured professor at the University of Colorado Denver College of Nursing, as well as the Nursing Director of JFK Partners, University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities: Education, Research, and Service, Department of Pediatrics University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Marilyn’s research has resulted in numerous publications on topics ranging from childhood obesity to dental health. She has helped develop and led multiple nursing courses for university students and served as an advisor for numerous students in their pursuits of higher education.
She is quick to recognize the importance of teamwork and that good leaders seek out those who can help and provide consultation.
“I have learned that to be successful, you must work with people from different disciplines and backgrounds. At Mercy you have the opportunity to benefit from different perspectives,” she said.
Throughout her impressive career, Marilyn has been dedicated to creating strong partnerships with her colleagues. She is a strong believer in interprofessional relationships and believes that her time at Mercy made it all possible. “My time at Mercy led me to carry on those leadership skills throughout my nursing career,” Marilyn said.
Jessica Cannon Rempe ’96 learned in her years at Mercy High School that service is a humble way of giving gratitude for the things that God has given us. In 2016, the Mercy graduate started the Secret Kindness Agent Family Chapter as a parent at St. Columbkille school. Her efforts have made national news. In February 2020 she and her husband are will be flown on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, which has a viewership of 4.2 million, to be recognized for the program. It is one of 10 efforts being honored through Ellen’s One Million Acts of Good.
“As a mother of four, I wanted to find a way for families to work together to participate in random acts of kindness for the betterment of others. I had heard a speech by Ferial Pearson, the founder of Secret Kindness Agents Projects, and I adapted her program into family service mission. Ours is one of many groups worldwide. All ages participate from toddlers to grandparents,” she said.
The first event was painting rocks with positive messages in a local park. The response was overwhelming, and the movement began. The program has grown through social media (there is a special group Facebook page) and word of mouth.
More than 100 different activities have taken place and include:
o Easter baskets for the Ronald McDonald House
o Blessing bags for the homeless
o Military care packages
o Scarves and hats on Christmas trees for the homeless
o Survival kits for NICU mothers
o Kindness cards for people
o Treats and thank you notes for teachers
o Book drives
o Refugee home setups
o Prayers on lockers
o Chemo care kits
“Kindness missions are originated by our members, usually having to do with someone or something that is developing in their life. Other missions can be determined by local events or tragedies,” she said. Her group made pinwheels in Gretna after several students died in a car accident this past year.
“My love of service began at Mercy. In learning about the Sisters of Mercy and Mother McAuley, I learned that the world is much bigger than me,” she said.
“I was drawn to Mercy because it was a smaller, all-girls school since I was a quiet, shy student during my grade school years,” she said.
Jessica took part in Volleyball, Basketball and Track for all four years. She was also involved in journalism as a yearbook editor, junior class secretary, an EMHC and in National Honor Society. Her classmates chose her to be a Nocturne Princess as a junior. She also participated in Habitat for Humanity and the work study program in the summer months.
“I was struck by the feeling of family at Mercy. It was really about the little things...classmates, teachers and coaches who were there for me and wanted the best for my future. At the time I didn’t realize the little things were the big things. At Mercy, I was given a gift I knew I needed to pass along,” she said.
After graduation Jessica attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. She received her Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. Since then she has been working full time as a Speech-Language Pathologist for Omaha Public Schools. She and her husband, Jim, have four children who attend St. Columbkille.
“Mercy had a huge impact on me socially, academically and spiritually. My years at Mercy taught me how to interact with people on a level of kindness no matter what they are going through,” she said.
Thanks to that Mercy education Jessica is passing acts of kindness along to others.
Mercy graduate Sr. Pat McDermott, RSM, ’66 holds the highest leadership position in the Sisters of Mercy community: President of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. The Institute has more than 2,400 Sisters serving in education, healthcare and social service ministries in the United States, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Pacific. The Omaha native, who is also an educator, celebrated her 50th Jubilee as a Sister of Mercy in 2016. Her dedication and commitment to the values of Catherine McAuley were formalized during her time at Mercy High School.
Attending Mercy was a foregone conclusion for the young student whose only sister, Mary Ann Dobrovolny ‘58, attended St. John’s and then moved to Mercy for her last two years of high school . But the school was a good fit for Sr. Pat.
“The spirit of Catherine McAuley was vibrant in the school, not only from the Sisters there but from the lay faculty as well. You are encouraged to be your best self and discover the importance of relationships and collaboration. Articulate young women emerge as a result,” she said.
She recalled that it was a time in history where school was like a second home.
“The educational community had an advanced sense of women spiritually, socially and academically. The student body lived their faith in concrete ways, especially through a lens of social justice,” she said.
During high school, Sr. Pat enjoyed the creativity of journalism as she worked on the school’s quarterly magazine and learned layout and design. She also participated in debate.
“Debate was a wonderful discipline. It encouraged thinking, got you engaged in current issues and increased skills for women who might be competing with young men at debate competitions,” she said.
She also recalls values were practiced and critical concerns were part of the fabric of educational life at Mercy.
When asked about receiving a calling to be a Sister, Sr. Pat explained it was more of a movement in a certain direction.
“At an early age there was a sense of awe and mystery surrounding the Sisters of Mercy whose lives I wanted to emulate. They had a sense of God that was an essential part of their makeup, which I admired,” she said.
After graduation, she and 18 others entered the Novitiate at the College of St. Mary, receiving their formation while attending classes. She also studied at Misericordia University in Pennsylvania and received her Bachelor’s of English in 1971. Pat made final vows as a Sister of Mercy in August of 1972. She taught English, journalism and religious education for 10 years at St. Thomas More and at St. Albert’s in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Following that she finished her doctoral studies and taught pastoral theology at The Catholic University of America.
She has spent most of her ministry in Sisters of Mercy leadership positions for more than 20 years.
“As part of the discernment process, you are called to share your gifts with others. It is somewhat unique that someone would serve this long on the leadership team, but I feel God’s deepest presence in this ministry and it is still a good fit,” she said.
Prior to being elected president in 2011 and again in 2017, she served two terms on the Institute Leadership Team. She also served as president of the former regional community of the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha from 1990 to 1998 and as an administrative team member for the previous four years.
Kathleen Leary ’94 was convinced by Mercy Theater teacher Hersh Rodasky that she could achieve a career working backstage in the theatre; she just had to dedicate herself to that goal. Kathleen has worked in theatre for more than 25 years and is still going strong. Kathleen currently serves as the Education Coordinator of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division at the New York City Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Kathleen’s parents gave her the choice of which Catholic high school in Omaha she would attend. Although few of her St. Pius X Elementary School classmates were attending Mercy, she was impressed by the Mercy’s small size and the welcoming atmosphere she felt when she toured the school and went to the Open House.
She found a home in the Theater Department, working on costumes, props, and all aspects of the behind-the-scenes work for a production.
“There was a true comradery backstage. I loved the artistic nature of the work but also fostering the ability to work under pressure. Mr. Rodasky encouraged my passion and I knew that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” she said.
Kathleen also ran Cross Country for two years, took four years of Spanish and learned about and became involved in social justice.
“I still embrace those beliefs to this day and believe we have an obligation to help those underserved in our communities, providing dignity and support, especially when it comes to learning,” she added.
The Mercy graduate received a scholarship to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and started a double major in Spanish and Theater. She attended the college for two years, took a year off and then moved to Richmond, Virginia, to study at Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts in Technical Theater in 1999. Graduate school was next on her agenda, and she moved again to attend Temple University and receive a Master’s in Costume Design in 2002.
Although she knew it would be challenging, Kathleen moved to New York and began a freelance career in theater. She worked as a dresser for Playwright’s Horizons and was part of the design team for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus.
“The key was to always be a step ahead. Even though you might be working on one job, you were always looking for your next position. That is the nature of the performing arts,” she added.
Kathleen continued her efforts working on the touring company of “White Christmas," a new show that had three touring companies, one of which has performed at the Orpheum Theater.
“I would work as a costume shop manager or shopper during the day, and then design and costume my own shows at night,” she said.
In 2009 she decided to teach costume design at two schools on the East Coast: St. Alban’s School and National Cathedral School. Both had robust theater curriculums. Kathleen taught at both schools for five years and decided to get a Master’s in Teaching in Museum Education from George Washington University, earning her degree in 2015.
“I enjoyed imparting my passion and theatrical knowledge to others through the educational process,” she said.
Although she continued to freelance in the museum field for one year after graduation, she found her current job in 2016. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is the largest and most comprehensive archive devoted to the documentation of dance in the world. Chronicling the art of dance in all its forms, the Division acts as much more than a library. Education and preservation of the history of dance are also important aspects of this work.
Founded in 1944, the Dance Division is used regularly by choreographers, dancers, critics, historians, journalists, publicists, filmmakers, graphic artists, students, and the general public. While the Division contains more than 44,000 books about dance, these account for a small percent of its vast holdings. Other resources available for study free of charge include papers and manuscript collections, moving image and audio recordings, clippings and program files, and original prints and designs.
Through outreach, presentations, and other educational programs, Kathleen works on preserving the history of dance by presenting diverse written, visual, and oral resources to varying audiences, and mostly K-12 students. She focuses on critical thinking and observation skills through the lens of dance history and movement.
“For example, there is a dance piece called ‘Heartbeat” performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov that I thought would be a perfect video to show 2nd grade students. Baryshnikov has attached a heart monitor to his chest while dancing and is using that heartbeat as his music. The teacher and I developed a lesson plan whereby the class learned how to take their pulse, copied Baryshnikov's moves, and monitored the increase in their pulse while dancing. They also learned the importance of breathing, hydrating, and cooling down after dancing. I really enjoy creating lesson plans that teach about dance but also about science, history, or language arts, so the material feels relevant," she said.
According to Kathleen, no day is ever the same. She is always meeting new people, sharing new knowledge, and trying new things.
“My dedication to this work has been strongly influenced by my years at Mercy. I learned you should always do your best to advocate for others,” she added.
“I learned many great things at Mercy. For me, what sets the school apart is the faculty. They believe in you and are dedicated to your success. Without the influence and passion of teachers such as Mr. Rodasky and Sr. Jeanne O'Rourke, I would never have pursued the career I love,” she said.
Cutlines: Kathleen Leary ’94 shows her Mercy pride while dancing. Photo credit Julie Lemberger.
Kathleen teaches students about dance. Photo credit Jonathan Blanc.
Carrie Potter ’95, alumna and President of The Carrie Potter Group, LLC, in Houston, Texas, is the Master of Ceremonies for FIESTA 2020. Potter is an award-winning executive who provides business consulting and financial planning services to professional athletes and small businesses. Previously, she was Vice President at PMG Sports in Washington, D.C. She also serves as a Lecturer with the Rice University Department of Sport Management.
No stranger to the limelight, Potter is founder and President of Women in Sports & Events (WISE) Houston; President of Texas Executive Women; and served on the Houston Area Women’s Center Board of Directors for ten years, including five as Chair of Finance and two as Chair of the Board.
She was named one of Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women in 2019, a 2016 Woman on the Move by Texas Executive Women, a part of the Houston Business Journal’s 2017 40 Under 40 class,and honored as a STEAM Role Model by the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce in 2018.
She earned two degrees in business, B.B.A.’99 and M.B.A.’01, from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and serves on the Executive Committee of the School of Business Board of Advisors, chairing the Student Experience Committee. Carrie is a Senior Fellow from Class XXXIV of the American Leadership Forum and after participating in Class 34 of the Center for Houston’s Future, co-chaired its 2018 Leadership Campaign. She was named a 2016 Woman on the Move by Texas Executive Women, a part of the Houston Business Journal’s 2017 “40 Under 40” class, and honored as a STEAM Role Model by the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce in 2018.
Carrie was also valedictorian of her class at Mercy, the first female class president at The George Washington University, and a writing assistant for The Babe Book: Baseball’s Greatest Legend Remembered. Her three sisters, Katie Potter Peterson’99, Julie Potter Richt ’01, and Mary Jo Potter ’04, also attended Mercy.
She not only found her career at Mercy High School, but her Catholic faith and the charisms of Catherine McAuley were nurtured there. Now Sandy Goetzinger-Comer ’70 is the Director of Communications for the Sisters of Mercy of the America, West Midwest where she continues her passion for helping others while publicizing the lives of the Sisters and seeing the impact those Sisters have on society.
Her journey began at Holy Cross Elementary School and it was a natural evolution to attend the high school across the street.
“Having Sisters as teachers and examples of Catherine and her commitment to the poor of the world at Mercy was very life giving and has remained with me throughout the years.”
According to Sandy, she entered Mercy as a shy girl. However, she made a decision to overcome that trait with the help of classmates and her involvement at the school.
“For me, academics were a priority. I actually found my career at Mercy. I was an avid reader and loved English and writing. But when I took Journalism as an elective my sophomore year, I knew it was for me.”
She did reporting, photography and layout and was on the yearbook staff. She also took three years of French and four years of Latin. Being a member of French Club and Junior Achievement, while also covering events for Journalism, kept her busy.
She recalls going to Mercy and Prep dances and having a great group of friends, many who are still friends today.
Sandy received a full scholarship to Creighton University and felt well prepared because of her education at Mercy.
Her senior year at Mercy, she took part in a journalism competition that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln hosted. She had to create a successful ad on the spot. She was surprised to learn she earned first place. She also entered the photo competition and placed second.
“My Mercy education and the experience I gained there helped me succeed in the competition.”
At Creighton she was involved in Delta Zeta sorority and, as part of her Journalism curriculum, the university’s newspaper, The Creightonian. She worked on the publication for four years, becoming editor a semester of her senior year.
She thought she would eventually be a teacher because most women at that time either taught, were secretaries or nurses.
“I took a part-time position at Omaha Steaks as a copy writer and I had a major ‘ah ha’ moment. I learned that the field of Journalism has many opportunities.”
Her first position was at the Midlands Business Journal. During her tenure she did everything from interviewing, writing stories, headlines, taking, developing and printing photos, designing ads, laying out and pasting up the paper and even preparing and making negatives for printing.
“My education and experiences at both Mercy and Creighton really gave me an advantage as I took on these responsibilities.”
In 1982, she joined Mutual of Omaha in employee communications. Among the positions she held was editor of the employee publication at Mutual of Omaha and at the same time she wrote for the daily newsletter. Later Sandy was assigned to the sales communication and worked on incentive/marketing materials for the sales staff.
“My ability to be flexible and my education in many aspects of journalism served me well.”
Sandy moved to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1989 beginning as a publications coordinator and then heading the Department of Public Affairs for her last 13 years. She was with the institution for 19 years and their department reported to the chancellor’s office. As a result, the work involved overseeing a talented team and their work in media relations, publications, employee communications and special events. “When I began there in 1989, the Durham Outpatient Center did not yet exist.”
“I especially loved interviewing researchers, learning the amazing things they were working on and then finding a way to communicate their discoveries with the general public. The environment was exciting, and I felt I was contributing to the health of individuals and families. Again, Mercy instilled in me that desire to make a difference.”
In 2008, she saw God’s hand in her life again when she decided to work for the Sisters of Mercy as their structure changed from 25 communities to six and the West Midwest Community was born. The West Midwest includes Sisters, Mercy Associates, Companions in Mercy and staff from Detroit, Michigan, to Auburn, California with major concentrations in Detroit, Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Omaha, Burlingame (near San Francisco) and Auburn (near Sacramento) California. The communications staff of three is responsible for a bimonthly newsletter, writing stories of the Sisters to share internally and externally, media relations, photography, videography, design and special events. They also connect regularly via technology with colleagues at the other five major areas across the United States, Guam, the Philippines, South and Central America. As a result, her work has involved travel to meet and witness the work of the Sisters first-hand.
“I am inspired by these highly educated, talented women, how they live their lives as individuals and in community and what they do to help those who are marginalized and address issues that affect us a nation.”
As Catherine McAuley addressed the needs of the day, so too have the Sisters of Mercy. From the early years of opening hospitals and schools, the areas of focus for the Sisters of Mercy have changed over the years to identify five key areas which they call “critical concerns.” Sandy enjoys sharing the stories of their work in these areas which are earth, anti-racism, non-violence, immigration and women.
Over the years, Sandy has continued to be involved with the high school and has served on the Alumnae Council and Board of Trustees. She participates in FIESTA, the annual Golf Fest and has helped with the phone-at-thon. Currently she is working with classmates to plan their 5oth class reunion. No surprise, Mercy is also part of her family’s legacy. Mercy graduates are: daughter, Lauren ‘13; sisters, Joan Goetzinger Villanueva ’75 and Pat Goetzinger ’76; and nieces Sara Goetzinger Tingelhoff ’93 and Alyssa Goetzinger Wattonvilel ‘96. Great niece Delanie Wattonville is currently a sophomore.
“I support Mercy because I want to see the tradition of academic excellence and the caring environment that shapes future women of mercy continue. I also value the fact that Mercy makes it possible for girls who might never be able to afford this education to do so.”
She should know. Mercy helped her discover a career where her skills and talent are making a difference.
Have ideas for other alumnae features, contact Deborah Daley, Communications and Marketing Director, firstname.lastname@example.org.
She always keeps Mercy in heart and now she is spending a year in volunteer service with the Sisters of Mercy through the Mercy Volunteer Corps. Amber Johnson ’14 is living her values and supporting Mercy’s critical concerns in Philadelphia, Penn.
Amber had shadowed at several Catholic high schools but chose Mercy because of the club and academic opportunities as well as the welcoming atmosphere.
“I lived in Elkhorn, so we formed a fun carpool with six Mercy girls who commuted to the school.”
While at the school she was very involved in theatre, singing, clubs and other activities.
“I had a strong circle of friends. We were always ourselves while at Mercy. I grew in my spiritual live and learned unabashedly in my classes.”
She also saw first-hand the kindness and empathy of the Mercy community.
“When my brother passed away the year I graduated, I received so much kindness and support from the Mercy community. I am still very appreciative of that.”
After graduation in 2014, she attended the University of Nebraska Omaha for five years, receiving a Bachelor’s in International Studies with a minor in Political Science.
“I was also fortunate to study abroad through educational fellowships, where I learned Mandarin Chinese,” she shared.
She was inducted into the Mercy Volunteer Corps (MVC) group of 2019-2020, just after graduating in May 2019. MVC is an opportunity to do a volunteer service year through the Mercy sisters; it is not a vocational path but it is a chance to live out your values and support Mercy’s critical concerns which focus on protecting the environment, human rights, and pursuing a compassionate, service-oriented path. There are placements in 10 cities in the U.S. and one international placement in Guyana. The organization covers the housing, provides a stipend for groceries and personal spending, and includes several spiritual retreats throughout the year. The job sites have a focus on social services, medical services, and teaching/education.
Amber is working at the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia. She is helping recent refugees to the U.S. in enrolling for healthcare, accompanying individuals with high language barriers to doctor appointments, and running a food pantry.
“Not only am I able to live my Mercy values, I am connecting with great folks, and experiencing another region of the U.S.”
She stays connected to Mercy and has many dear friends from her school days.
Her advice to others post- high school is to be open to life leading you in new directions and to take time to find out what brings fire to your heart. She did!
Have ideas for other alumnae features, contact Deborah Daley, Communications and Marketing Director, email@example.com.
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.
Have ideas for other alumnae features, contact Deborah Daley, Communications and Marketing Director, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Have ideas for other alumnae features, contact Deborah Daley, Communications and Marketing Director, email@example.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.
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.
Twenty-two Mercy alumnae and four community representatives visited the sophomores and seniors to discuss careers on March 25. Students were surveyed about jobs they were interested in and alumnae in those fields were asked to attend.
In a “speed-date” like forum, students will rotate between alumnae grouped together by professional fields.
Careers of interest ranged from health care to public service, fine arts, education, and the law.
Our participants were:
Rose Grabow Anderson' 03, Owner of Baela Rose
Amanda Peterson Baker '98, Real Estate Appraisal at Kinteic Valuation Group
Siryeya Belton '09, Youth Pastor at Dream City Church Omaha
Molly Collins Beran, MD, FACOG '97, Doctor of Obstetrics and Gynocology with CHI Health
Katelyn Cherney '04, Staff Attorney at the Milton R. Abrahams Legal Clinic at Creighton University School of Law
Kaylea Dunn '96, Performance Consultant at HDR
Malinda Frevert '07, Deputy Digital Director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Helen Holmes Giambrone '97, Disease Investigator at the Douglas County Health Department
Becky Dale Girthoffer '99, Global PMO Manager at LinkedIn
Emily Gonderinger '09, Transportation and Logistics Specialist at Gavilon
Kayla Thomas Haire '93, Media Relations Coordinator at Nebraska Medicine
Mary Kirchoffer, retired from the Omaha Police Department
Amy Harmon Lane, Ph. D. '86, Theater & Dance Coordinator at the Creighton University College of Arts & Sciences
Angela Wieberg Maynard, RN, BSN, CPN '83, Assistant Director, Clinical Support at Creighton University Student Health Services
Danielle Meier, Bass and Vice President of Artistic Administration at the Omaha Symphony
Kashmir Miedl '10, Owner of Theory 12 Massage and Wellness, LLC
Kelly Nystrom '86, Associate Professor and Acting Assistant Dean, Office of Academic and Student Affairs at the Creighton University School of Pharmacy and Health Professions
Meg Latka Peters '04, Nursing Informatics Lead at Nebraska Medicine
Leanne Prewitt '97, Creative Director at Ervin & Smith
Cynthia Russell, BS, DDS '76, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Creighton University School of Dentistry
Judy Niemoller Sorenson '75, VP/Audit Manager, Credit & Counterparty Audit at Bank of the West
Carolyn Andreasen Taylor '71, Teacher (retired) from Holy Cross Catholic School
Erin Walsh, PA-C, Physicians Assistant at Creighton University Student Health Services
Francie Riedmann Weis '81, Judge with the State of Nebraska
Brittany Willmore '08, Social Worker with the Nebraska AIDS Project
A representative from the Omaha Fire Department
“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
Helping to bring together families in crisis is a shared mission for Amanda Fulton ‘98 and Paul Tschudin, Technology Director. Foster care helps to provide a safe and stable environment for a child who cannot be with his or her parents for some reason. The need for foster care has reached epidemic proportions as almost a million children are currently in foster care but the number is growing.
Amanda has taken the words of Catherine McAuley to heart, especially Catherine’s call to serve those who are in need. In Amanda’s case, she sees the goal of fostering children as a way of living Mother McAuley's words as well as fulfilling her dream of being a mom.
She attended Mercy from 1994 to 1998. As a student, Amanda played sports and was involved in theatre, campus ministry, and Student Ambassadors. After graduation, she attended Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, Texas.
Amanda earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She then worked as a pediatric nurse in Rhode Island for 15 months and worked at Nebraska Medicine from 2003-2016. She worked a few other jobs but returned to Nebraska Medicine in 2017.
“The beauty of nursing is I could choose a variety of ways of providing service through nursing and caring for others,” she said.
Since September of 2017, Amanda has been working at Nebraska Medicine in radiation oncology, which allows her the flexibility to care for her family.
Amanda started the foster care licensing process in 2008, was licensed in 2010, and got her first placement in the summer of that year. Her background in nursing became a real asset as she navigated the health care system for children. One of the defining moments in her life was when she received a call to care for a newborn baby who was in the NICU. She met Everett when he was a week old.
“It was pretty much love at first sight even though I knew my time with him could be temporary,” she said.
Thanks to her family and friends, Amanda decided to adopt Evertt in September 2016. He is now in pre-kindergarten at Holy Cross Catholic School in Omaha.
About eight months later, his sister Evelyn came along. Taking her as a foster child was a no-brainer for Amanda, because keeping siblings together as a family helps children feel safe and at home.
Evelyn came to Amanda's household when she was three days old. Although caring for two youngsters as a single mom is often challenging, Amanda again credits family, friends, and Mercy connections for helping her through. She adopted Evelyn in December 2017.
“I’m lucky to have a nursing career that allows me flexibility to care for my children. Catherine McAuley and women of Mercy inspired me to be an independent, confident woman, focused on service and dedication while caring for young people. I could not have done this without my Mercy influence,” she said.
Paul Tschudin’s journey to foster care was different, but his experience at Mercy impacted his decision to be a foster parent.
“Mercy’s mission to inspire young girls to become confident women of Mercy who embody faith, knowledge, and compassionate service is something that I try to live every day at work. But this mission has also seeped its way into my personal life,“ Paul said.
Paul grew up in Papillion and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in Business, Marketing, and Technology in 2013. He has been at Mercy for five years and earned a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Creighton University in 2017.
As Mercy's Director of Technology, Paul works with classroom teachers on instructional technology and supports the school’s network, equipment, and infrastructure needs.
“My wife and I were at church and picked up a connection card that listed activities we could be involved in together. The last entry was foster care classes. We decided to try it. Even though at times the classes were challenging, we stuck with it,” he said.
Soon after they were licensed, they received a placement, and as of February they are in their fifth month of foster care of two young girls.
“It was definitely God’s plan as we got placement so quickly,” he added.
According to Paul, his and his wife’s lives have transformed dramatically.
“Every day my interactions with these girls as their foster dad has been to help them become confident girls who embody faith, knowledge, and compassionate service. Our girls bring us so much joy! We love having them around,” Paul said.
Our education lies at the heart of how we approach the world. Mercy played a large part in shaping me into the person I am today, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Angela Jacobson Weiss ’99.
Angela, a Senior Project Engineer, has been at Thermal Energy System Specialists (TESS) for eight years. At TESS, she does energy performance simulations for renewable energy systems, green buildings, and other innovative energy systems. She also does troubleshooting, training, and development work on the software used in running simulations.
She credits Mercy with giving her a strong STEM foundation and has fond memories of the teachers there.
“Maureen Davis and Kristi Wessling taught me everything I know about geometry, trigonometry, algebra, and calculus. College was really finishing school for me on these subjects. I was very lucky to have such guiding lights at such a formative time in my life,” she said.
While at Mercy, she was heavily involved in theatre. Angela also participated in vocal ensembles, speech tournaments, Chemistry Field Day, and the annual High School Math Exam.
Mercy helped Angela find confidence in a safe and supportive space where she could be creative, quirky, and get excited about things like celebrating Mole Day and Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday.
“Throughout grade school and junior high, I never clicked with the rest of my class, and I tried to disappear. At Mercy, I found like-minded friends, and I started to grow into myself,” she said.
Angela graduated from Mercy in 1999 and attended Iowa State University where she earned a degree in mechanical engineering. She attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning a Master’s Degree through the Solar Energy Lab in Mechanical Engineering in 2006. Her first job was at Nexant, an energy services company, for five years before she went to TESS.
Her current position has taken her all over the world to undertake on-site software trainings.
“When I lead my trainings, I try to emulate my favorite teachers at Mercy by being approachable, engaged, and hands-on with the material. I invite discussion, and I make sure they realize there are no stupid questions," she said.
Even though she lives 400 miles away, Angela finds ways to keep connected to Mercy through social media, publications, and conversations. She also makes annual charitable contributions through her company by designating Mercy as her charity of choice.
“Education is one of the most life-changing investments we can make in ourselves, our children, and our community. Mercy is, in my experience, one of the best places to trust with a girl’s education,” she said.
Sarah Austin ’18 is putting her Mercy education to good use. The first-year Biological Systems Engineering student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln built a night train bobsled for a class project and the efforts were captured on Facebook. The objective was to make an autonomous vehicle that was programmed to stop when the photo sensor saw a bright light.
While at Mercy, Sarah was involved in the National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, and the Golden Girls.
“Mercy prepared me to work on these projects because of the experience I had in Chemistry and Physics. I think research and projects in STEM-related fields are important because they are hands on and give you real life experience if you plan to go into a STEM field,” she said.
Sarah’s long-term career goals are to graduate with a degree in Biological Systems Engineering with an emphasis in BioMedical Engineering. She is hoping to do something with that degree in the field of prosthetics.
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.
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.
Confidence. Empowerment. Communication Skills. These are all things that Kayla Thomas Haire ’93 learned at Mercy. In fact, one of her fondest memories is being named state speech champion her junior year with an entertainment speech that focused on not stereotyping blonds and their abilities. Those skills led her to a successful career in broadcast and communication.
“My sister Holly picked Mercy, so my parents told me the decision was made. I am grateful to her because it turned out to be one of the best experiences in my life,” she said. Her mother, Lynda Lacoma Thomas ’65, went to Mercy and her sister, Molly Thomas, graduated in 1992.
While at Mercy, Kayla was involved in speech, theatre and Student Council. She played the Queen of the Fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, winning co-best actress honors her senior year and was an evil step-sister in “Cinderella” her junior year. That same year, she was a Junior Prom Princess. She also spent a couple seasons on the school’s bowling team. In fact, to this day, her favorite teacher was Mr. Hersh Rodasky who introduced her to public speaking.
“My experiences in speech and theatre definitely helped to build my confidence and led me to my career,” she said.
She has maintained close relationships with her classmates and her best friend, Rebecca Redlinger Wesch ’93, had the locker next to her and also works now with Nebraska Medicine .
When Kayla graduated from Mercy, she decided to attend Loyola University in Chicago to study communications.
“I considered Chicago a mecca for broadcast journalism, and I felt I would have opportunities there,” she said.
She earned her Communications degree in 1997 and worked in television news as both a reporter and producer in Rockford, Illinois, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Jackson, Mississippi. Kayla came home and spent 15 years at KMTV, most recently completing eight years as the executive producer of a local talk show, “The Morning Blend.” She is married and has two sons.
This summer, Kayla started another job that ties into her Mercy experience. She is a Media/Communications Specialist for the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and Nebraska Medicine.
She said, “At a time that our society is wrestling with women’s equality, the lessons I learned at Mercy, that women can achieve anything they want and deserve it, are invaluable. There was serious girl power.”
During part of the week, Kayla works out of the Olson Center for Women’s Health. Nearly all the doctors and health providers are female. She feels very comfortable in an environment that’s all about strong, educated women supporting and bettering each other.
She tries to attend as many events as she can at Mercy and to support the school, especially by sharing her love for the school through social media.
“I will always be a Woman of Mercy at heart. Mercy helped shaped me into who I am today,” she said.
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.