From a very early age, Dr. Maryanne Stevens, RSM, knew exactly what she wanted to do.
“Throughout my childhood, I aspired to be a teacher,” she said.
And that’s exactly what she was doing — teaching at Creighton University and chairing the Theology Department — when she accepted an offer that would change the trajectory of her life and the College of St. Mary, the region’s only Catholic university for women.
“One of the things the Sisters of Mercy are known for and believe in is response to need. I think that’s one of the things that drew me to College of St. Mary — it ‘needed,’ you know? And that’s what draws me to these students; they need something,” she said.
Stevens took the helm in 1996. The college was a struggling institution at the time.
“We all knew it was a risk,” she said. “We all said, ‘If it doesn’t work, we’ll pay off the debts, sell the assets, and put it into a foundation for women’s education.’”
None of that came to bear. More than 20 years later, CSM is debt-free and thriving.
“Some of it is just listening to the students and saying, ‘What do they need?’ That can really be a key to success,” Stevens said. “It’s about listening and surrounding yourself with people who will listen as well.”
During Stevens’ tenure, CSM has added occupational therapy, graduate and doctoral programs; academic spaces have been upgraded; and “listening” has led to student-centered innovations, including the $10 million Madonna Hall, which allows students who are single mothers to live on campus with their children. Current enrollment at the college is more than 1,100 students, almost double what it was 20 years ago.
“There is a tremendous amount of energy among our faculty and staff. And I think that’s caught by the students,” Stevens said.
The oldest of eight children, Stevens was born in Anchorage, Alaska. Her father’s service in the U.S. Air Force led the family to Riverside, California, and then — during her sophomore year — to Offutt Air Force Base. Straight out of high school, Stevens joined the Sisters of Mercy religious order.
“I went to Mercy High School, and the Sisters of Mercy were teaching there. I was just very inspired by them. They were kind. They were attentive to even the student who had the hardest time in class. I was inspired by that, and I wanted to become part of them.”
Sister Maryanne began her teaching career at a small Catholic high school in Missouri. She later earned her master’s degree in theology and her Ph.D. in religion and education. She taught at Creighton for 10 years before transitioning to the College of St. Mary. More than 20 years into her presidency, she is optimistic about the future of the college.
“Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy, said nothing is more important to society than the careful education of women,” Stevens said. “Seeing those students walk across the stage, shaking their hand, giving them that diploma and saying, ‘You did it’ — I think that’s the most rewarding moment of every year at the college.”
“Find something that you really believe in, something that you are called to, and go at it.”
Dr. Maryanne Stevens, RSM