Campus renovations encourage community

by KELLY MATENAER

 

A widespread air of change has permeated the Mount Mary College campus in the past year. From the renovated library to the brand new bookstore, courtesy of Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, these historic halls have undergone an unprecedented transformation that now provides a brand new stage for the ongoing history of the college.

For almost 100 years, the 80-acre campus, a lively and friendly place with a strong sense of community, has set Mount Mary apart from other institutions.

According to Sister Joan Penzenstadler, SSND, vice president of mission and identity, there was a time when the campus community shared a great deal  more leisure than it does today. In years past, faculty shared meals in the dining room during “a wonderful hour of camaraderie,” while students met for a weekly assembly period each Wednesday. These regular gatherings were essential to the sense of community that so many have come to expect at Mount Mary. But changing times and schedules have slowly eroded many of these traditions.

Penzenstadler said, “With people running in for a class, having to leave, going to work, and faculty with all different schedules, many teachers and students don’t come to campus until late afternoon and then have a class until 10 at night.”

According to the school’s mission statement, Mount Mary, sponsored by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, provides “an environment for the development of the whole person.” The recent changes on campus focus on improving the physical environment in order to uphold this mission.

Penzenstadler said the college’s intent is to provide more than a simple change in physical ambiance, but to also continue to ground the Mount Mary community with its mission. The recent physical modifications are meant to invite the development of community in new ways and to become an engine of change in a community poised for change.

Although some may worry that the school will lose its small-college feel with its new look, Penzenstadler said, “I think the sisters welcome changes that develop our core values – competence, community, compassion, commitment – and that are intentional about keeping what is vital to our culture alive and relevant.”

The School Sisters hope the addition of the new Learning Center, Starbucks, Parkway Grill and other venues offering comfortable seating areas and open spaces will bring the campus together by bringing the students out to study and socialize in community spaces.

Sister Joanne Poehlman, SSND, associate professor of anthropology, said, “I’m delighted to see more informal gathering spaces built into our campus. The renovations make it even more inviting.”

She continued, “As we grow we experience change – our bodies change, our ideas change – but there is something important about us that remains. We experience an ‘I’ which remembers the past and imagines the future. That ‘I’ is what steadies us even as we change.”

According to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the college will continue to be able to say “I,” but the only way it can do that is if there’s also a “we.”

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