Mount Mary University alumnae, students, faculty and friends converged on the campus Oct. 6 through Oct. 10 to celebrate Homecoming 2014. While most colleges celebrate homecoming weeks with football games, parties and dances, Mount Mary students celebrated much of it on their knees.Volunteers from Mount Mary University including students, faculty, employees, teachers, and alumnae sort food at the Hunger Task Force Saturday, Oct. 11. Nicole Gahagan, a Mount Mary University employee, reaches down to get food from a large box as Mic Pietrykowski, left, an alum and president of the alumna association, and School Sister of Notre Dame Joan Penzenstadler, Mount Mary Class of ’69 and vice president for mission and identity, put food on the conveyer belt. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson) View and purchase related photos.

Students and alumnae participated in prayer services, reflections and games, in discussions and songs. They also worked on a service project to benefit Hunger Task Force.

Second year art therapy graduate student, Meaghan Dugan, was excited Mount Mary was going to have a homecoming.

“I think it is great that the school is starting to be more focused on resources for students, not only in the classroom but also outside the classroom to facilitate our growth,” she said. “The week was great, better than I expected. There was so much to do that I had a hard time picking what event I should go to.” 

Her favorite activity was the Great Potato Derby where she raced a potato hoping to win a trophy.

“It was so much fun seeing all of the staff and students who were racing potatoes, and being creative with their designs,” Dugan said. “There were many laughs at that event and our school president even stopped by. I think that I felt a greater sense of pride in my Mount Mary community.”

Days began with ancient prayer forms

As part of the homecoming planning committee, Lea Rosenberg, director of campus ministry, focused on spiritual reflections. She also tried to participate in the student events hosted on campus, such as the dress-up days and the Great Potato Derby.

“The previous year we had done a Mission Week, Spirit Week and an Alumnae Weekend all around the same time, with each working toward the same goal – to build community on our campus,” said Rosenberg. “Mount Mary has really been working on collaborating more among the different departments and we felt this homecoming week would be a great opportunity to do continue doing this.”

Beginning each day with the ancient prayer forms of Liturgy of the Hours and Lectio Divina was a centering and reflective way to begin each day that week, said School Sister of Notre Dame Joan Penzenstadler. 

While the community of sisters who live on campus pray morning prayer before daily Mass, students and staff have not been part of this, primarily because the gathering is at 7 a.m.

“This is one reason why we got the idea to host a prayer time at 8 a.m., after Mass, and see who might be willing and able to join in,” said Sr. Joan, former faculty member, now vice president of mission and identity. “There seem to be many on campus who appreciate the spiritual aspect of what we do here at Mount Mary throughout the academic year. We have never celebrated ‘homecoming’ week before, so we are building our own brand of homecoming, if you will, and it would be natural for us to have forms of prayer and reflection as part of this.”

‘Spiritual’ part of school’s identity

Katrina Williams, left, a Mount Mary student, and Mic Pietrykowski, an alum, put food on the conveyer belt to be sorted. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson) View and purchase related photos at

As the homecoming committee planned, it was assumed prayer experiences would be part of their celebration explained Sr. Joan, adding it was gratifying to work with students, faculty, administrators and staff who own the spiritual aspect as a significant part of the schools identity.

“Admittedly, I thought of Liturgy of the Hours and Lectio Divina, but there were many other offerings throughout the week,” she said. “One of our students also led a Marian prayer by the reflecting pool on the front lawn. She got the idea of reflecting on the gifts we have to offer as leaders and joining them with Mary’s gifts.”

Students, alumnae, faculty and staff welcomed the merger of Alumnae Week, Spirits Week and Mission Week into the idea for homecoming week. 

“We knew that fun and community building activities would be a part of this, but so would reflective moments, service projects and intellectual stimulation,” said Sr. Joan. “These are all aspects of who we are, so they would all be reflected in Homecoming Week.”

There was a “Draw Your Soul” opening exhibit in the Marian Art Gallery, which featured ink drawings by the Mount Mary students, alumnae, faculty, and members of the community in their interpretation of the soul.

Philosophy professor James Conlon held a group exploration and discussion on “Search for Meaning: Yesterday and Today.” The popular course, required of all Mount Mary freshmen and transfer students, captured the attention of many alumnae.

“I gave the class to a group of former students and some of them had not had the course because it was required after they graduated,” said Conlon. “They were very active and participated in the discussion and in making comments and (asking) questions about how contemporary technology affects the search for meaning, which is both helpful and misleading and harmful.”

He noted that some of the students in the class had graduated 50 years ago. 

“It was very interesting to hear them talk about technology and how they saw their grandchildren using technology,” Conlon said. “They could understand how technology can be a hindrance and distraction from the meaning of life.”

Throughout the interactive course, participants examined technology and how to deal with its ramifications. Conlon said the students understood technology gives them powers in certain ways, but they also know the many ways which technology controls them, and can become an addiction.

Beginning of ‘good tradition’

Conlon said he felt it was an excellent way to celebrate homecoming week. 

“It seemed to be a very successful week, and I cannot imagine they won’t repeat this,” he said. “This would be a very good tradition for the present students and the alumni in varied ways too.” 

 Catherine Dulan, a senior majoring in religious education and Spanish education, was enthusiastic when she learned the university was having a homecoming week.  

“In the past, we’ve had Spirit Week for the students and Alumnae Week for the alums, but this event was a great combination of the two,” she said.

While most students did not know what to expect from the week, most were pleasantly surprised to see the collaboration.

“During the Alumnae Weekend, I had the opportunity to attend different events with the alums. It was so great hearing their stories of their experience at Mount Mary and what their lives have been since graduation,” said Dulan. “It really inspired me as a student who is looking toward my own graduation, to see all I can accomplish.”

On Friday evening of homecoming week, Dulan attended the Alumnae Awards night.

“Not only was it incredible to hear everything that the award recipients have done in their lives, but I was lucky enough to sit next to some fabulous alums,” she said. “Hearing their stories and sharing a few of my own was really fun.”

Sr. Joan said she heard many positive comments about homecoming week, especially regarding the various prayer experiences.

“I sensed a desire for more, even as people struggle to fit a rhythm of prayer into their busy lives. One staff member asked if the two of us could continue a Lectio practice for the remainder of October. It meant so much to her,” she said.