With the 100th anniversary approaching and the college transitioning into a university, students can expect to see physical changes to buildings and classrooms and experience the growing pains associated with that transformation.
The Mount Mary community will be faced with the challenge of passing on the legacy and mission of the School Sisters of Notre Dame — a valuable presence that has been physically diminishing for years.
As people join the Mount Mary community, they are introduced to the SSNDs as the founders and sponsors of the college, according to Sister Joan Penzenstadler, vice president of mission and identity. They are introduced to the mission, vision and values of the college, which include “educating women to transform the world” and values such as “competence, community, compassion and commitment.”
During Mount Mary’s early years, every role — from housekeeping and cooking to teaching and administration — was carried out by the sisters, according to Penzenstadler. The sisters were and still are natural entrepreneurs, skilled in many trades.
When Penzenstadler came to the campus in 1981, more than 60 sisters were working at the college. At that time there was no need to discuss “the mission or identity or the spirit of the sisters.” It was physically present.
“The culture of the sisters permeated everything (e.g. Mass every morning with a packed chapel, the tower bells ringing the Angelus at noon, no classes on Holy Days),” Penzenstadler said. “People deeply appreciate and honor what the sisters stand for and what they have done to make a difference in the lives of so many.”
Sister Joanne Poehlman, associate professor of anthropology, took her first vows in 1960 and began teaching at Mount Mary in 1970. She acknowledges that times have changed and can foresee the day when the college will not have the physical presence of the SSNDs.
“We have been not only imagining it but preparing for it for a long time – not only here but at all of our sponsored institutions,” Poehlman said. “We believe that our colleagues have taken on our mission and are committed to it, and that’s the presence that will count when we are no longer physically present.”
Penzenstadler added, “Now, we need to be more intentional about passing on a legacy of value and the education of the whole person in ways that become embedded in every department, with or without sisters.”
It is our responsibility as students and community members of Mount Mary to preserve the mission of our founding sisters and come together to transform the world. Each individual can start by feeding the poor, clothing the naked, volunteering money, time and services — basically, investing in another’s future.
Students, professors, administration and the community must be aware of Mount Mary’s longstanding values. All future decisions should be well thought out, with the intention of helping others in the community. The SSND legacy depends on it.