A long-overdue visit with a 90-year-old friend

August 4, 2012

The space that was once the Sunken Garden in front of the Marymount College Admin Building is now one of many construction sites as major renovations continue.

There were just a handful remembering their student days from the 1940s, and more from the ’50s and ’60s. Most of those in Salina this weekend were reconnecting with classmates from the 1970s and ’80s.

But they had all come to visit their oldest friend – the 90-year-old building that was the heart of Marymount College and is now the center of a lengthy redevelopment project.

As the 2012 Marymount All-School Reunion went into full swing early Saturday afternoon, the family of Donnie Marrs welcomed alumni to what for nearly seven decades was known as the Admin Building.

Marymount College closed in 1989 and the Marrs family purchased the landmark “castle on the hill” four years later.

For 20 years, architect Donnie Marrs and his family have worked to save the majesty of the old building while converting 28,000 of its 130,000 square feet into residential condominiums.

On Saturday, Donnie and his wife Mona, along with sons Brahn and Dahx and daughter-in-law Colleen served as tour guides to show off the work done so far — including the just-completed underground garage with parking for about 50 cars.

Eventually, there will be 23 condos. Seven have been sold so far, and the first occupants hope to move in by the end of the year, Brahn Marrs said. (To learn more about the project, go to www.marymountproperties.com.)

• • • • • • • •

For the Marrs family, Saturday’s tour offered an opportunity to deliver a friendly sales pitch. But for most of the nearly 250 alumni and former faculty and staff attending the weekend reunion, it was a chance to reminisce.

Walking through what was a third-floor dormitory, now middle-aged women marveled at how little space they had, but remembered vividly where their desks were placed and who roomed where.

Former classmates chatted about exactly where they had lived during their time at Marymount and then exchanged stories about favorite — or not so favorite — professors. And some of those former faculty members, including numerous Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, were seeking out their memorable students.

The Concordia congregation built what was originally an all-girls school and opened Marymount in 1922. The sisters ran it until 1983, when they transferred ownership of the college to the Diocese of Salina. Despite committing more than $2 million to keep the school operating, the diocese in 1989 decided to close it. Three years later, the diocese sold four of the campus buildings to the state to be used for the Kansas State Patrol Training Center. That was when Donnie and Mona Marrs purchased the landmark Tudor Gothic-style Administration Building and its grounds.

During its 67-year history, Marymount had always hosted all-school reunions, but those stopped when the college closed.

Then, in 2003, the Marymount Alumni Association held its first post-closure reunion. Two more followed in 2006 and 2009.

Planning for this weekend’s event was well under way when the longtime alumni director, Sister Lucille Herman, died in October 2011. But the alumni association board, led by Eileen Curran Thibault and assisted by the Sisters of St. Joseph Development Office, carried on with Sister Lucille’s plans.

After gathering Saturday morning at the Ramada Inn in Salina to reconnect and look through old yearbooks and other Marymount memorabilia, the alumni took full advantage of the tours.

Then Salina Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger celebrated a special Mass Saturday afternoon in the Immaculate Conception Chapel at Marymount.

The Saturday evening banquet at the Ramada will include a keynote speech by former Marymount faculty member Dr. Samuel Zeakes, as well as a welcome from Sister Marcia Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, and a special tribute to Sister Lucille Herman by Jan Saylor, Class of 1977.

The reunion concludes Sunday morning with a special memorial held on the Marymount grounds. Unlike previous years, however, it cannot be held in the Sunken Garden just in front of the Admin Building; that had become a construction area as the underground garage was being built.

“But it will be there again,” Brahn Marrs assured the group he was leading on a tour.

“Then you should add a statue to (the late) Sister Mary Julia (Stegeman),” one alumna suggested. “That’s my memory; she was always there working.”










Fun day builds girls’ awareness, confidence

March 30, 2012

Sister Julie Christensen, far right, watches as senior girls from Sacred Heart and St. Xavier high schools try "mirroring" each other in an exercise at the Nazareth Motherhouse Friday (March 30).

Eighteen high school seniors spent today (Friday, March 30) at the Nazareth Motherhouse in activities that looked for all the world like silliness and play.

• • • • • • •

But the point of the annual daylong retreat for senior girls was much more serious: To help them understand the challenge of being faithful to themselves as they move into adulthood and the next phases of their lives.

Girls from Sacred Heart High School in Salina and St. Xavier High School in Junction City took part in the program, let by Sisters Beverly Carlin, Julie Christensen, Anna Marie Broxterman and Polly Kukula.

To keep the group energized after lunch with the Sisters of St. Joseph in the Motherhouse dining room, Sister Julie led an exercise in “mirroring,” in which one girl led the gestures and movement as her partner attempted to exactly follow, or mirror, those actions. The idea, Sister Julie said, was to maintain eye contact and do the exercise in silence — but that proved too much of a task for a room full of teenage girls. Amidst giggles, each pair tried to be perfect mirrors.

In real life, Sister Julie asked at the end of the exercise, who do we try to mirror? Whose actions do we try to copy, and why do we do that?

As the girls go into unfamiliar situations after high school graduation — whether it be college or a job or the military — they will find themselves copying the actions of people around them as they try to get comfortable and fit in, Sister Julie said. “But the one person who is always there, who should always be a reflection of the true you, is the person looking in the mirror,” she told the group.

Also taking part today was Alice Jones, a senior at Kansas State University, who talked to the girls about her own transition from high school to college.

Other presentations during the day focused on the emotions that come from being out of our comfort zone and finding the courage to take risks.

The girls also joined the sisters for Mass at the Motherhouse.

Sisters bring immigration rights advocates together

January 19, 2012

This afternoon's meeting began with a prayer — and Mary Salazar, with the Univisión affiliate in Wichita, was there to report on it for the TV station's Spanish-language newscast.


Just days after Catholic bishops had convened a national conference in Denver on immigration policies and ways to move the issue to the forefront of political debate, a much smaller group of people from throughout central and western Kansas gathered in Salina Thursday to talk about immigrants in the state.


• • • • • • •

Nearly two dozen Catholic sisters, social service workers and other citizens took part in the “Conversation about Immigration” organized by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. They had been invited by Cheryl Lyn Higgins, the coordinator of Neighborhood Initiatives, an office within the Concordia congregation that is working with the sisters’ Immigration Committee.

Higgins said this meeting — and a second one scheduled for March 1 in Dodge City — were designed to “develop a better picture of what is available for immigrants and what needs to be done.”

Many of the participants brought to the meeting passion and a certain level of frustration over limited services, funding cuts and a lack of understanding among both politicians and voters.

“There are a lot of people who really do know our (economic) need for the immigrant,” said Sister Therese Bangert, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth and a longtime immigration rights advocate. “But we have to be more effective in getting that message out. Maybe, eventually, our own self-interest will move us (toward immigration reform).”

Sister Therese was among those last year who lobbied against Kansas House Bill 2372, which was authored by Secretary of State Kris Kobach and which contained provisions modeled after the Arizona law — also written by Kobach — that is still being challenged as unconstitutional. The Kansas House voted 84-40 against pulling HB 2372 from its Judiciary Committee, where the bill was tabled indefinitely.

But, Sister Therese said, that does not mean Kobach has given up his agenda on immigration. “He has said this year he’ll divide that bill into maybe nine little bills that won’t attract that much attention,” she said.

Sister Mary Ellen Loch of the Congregation of St. Joseph in Wichita said that educating laypeople of all faiths remains a crucial element.

While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph and numerous individual church organizations and religious communities – including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia — have called for national immigration reform, Sister Mary Ellen said, “The people (of the Church) have to see this as an issue for all of us. We’re not going to change anything until we change the spiritual attitude of the people.”


Cynthia Colbert, executive director of Catholic Charities in Wichita, said that after people are educated about the issue, they can apply political pressure. But, she noted, that takes money.

“We need a political action committee, we need a lobbyist,” she said. “Right now there’s no unified organization to get people calling legislators.”

Colbert added that while there are many Kansans in support of national immigration reform, there are also some who stand adamantly opposed to that position. “We’ve got to speak to those in the middle,” she said. “We’ve got to help them understand why this issue is so important to us, as people of faith and as Americans.”

Sister Judy Stephens, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia’s Immigration Committee, said that people in Wichita and other cities across Kansas need also to understand that services for immigrants are mostly limited to urban areas – despite the need for them in rural, agricultural areas where many new immigrants may work. “There is a Hispanic, Spanish-speaking family in virtually every little town, and yet there are no bilingual services outside of Salina, Wichita and Topeka,” Sister Judy said.

A Concordia resident who is fluent in Spanish, Sister Judy frequently provides informal translation services for people in the Concordia area.

Higgins said the sisters’ Immigration Committee will take all the comments and information gathered at Thursday’s meeting — and well as information from the upcoming Dodge City session — and compile it, “to see what steps we can take.” The goal, she said, is to find ways to work together collectively.