As Catholic Schools Week ends, we share a story that speaks to the heart of what it means to be part of the Central Catholic family. Recently, we invited our oldest living alumnus to come back to campus! Marion (Schwensen) Shafer, or Mimi as she's affectionately called, is a 1942 graduate of Mount Marie, now Central Catholic, and will celebrate her 100th birthday in March!
Mimi had lunch with our students, toured the building, stopped in classrooms, chatted with students & staff, and shared stories with us. Students & staff alike enjoyed her visit, some classes even left their rooms to come and find Mimi to spend time with her!
Mimi has led a fascinating life yet she remains enthusiastic about her high school years at Mount Marie and was equally enthusiastic about all she encountered upon her visit and willing to share stories with our students and staff.
As a young child, her father’s medical practice took her family to Oklahoma where they lived and attended school with children from the Cherokee and Apache tribes. She proudly shared that her father improved conditions in Oklahoma by helping to establish hospitals and permanent housing.
Her father brought his medical practice to Canton before she began high school, and she attended Mount Marie Academy. Mimi shared that as they pulled up to the campus, she thought, “what a SCHOOL,” sharing that it was the most beautiful school she’d ever seen, the “castle on the hill,” a sentiment she still carries today.
While visiting with several classes in the Chapel, she was asked if much had changed on campus since she attended. She responded, “so much has changed, but the feeling in the school hasn’t. I still got that same feeling walking in that I did all those years ago when I first came.”
Mimi emphasized over and over to students how fortunate it is to attend a school like Central Catholic because it’s a special place, unlike any other. She had 59 girls in her graduating class, she said they were close then and many of them continued to stay in touch long after graduation and gathered in person regularly.
Mimi attended Mount Marie during the war years. She remembers the nuns storing water in giant whiskey barrels on the 5th floor in preparation for emergencies. Mimi could recount the shared concern found in the school about the war and taking measures to save and preserve all they could in case of shortages.
Yet, despite attending school in turbulent times, she shared countless happy memories. She enjoyed learning a new language in her Spanish class. It was easy for her to recount participating in May Crowning each spring. She loved her art classes and music. Mimi shared the names of her teachers, the nuns, that made a lasting impact on her.
She enjoyed visiting Theatre 303 and was pleased to see the variety of shows our students have staged over the years and all of the opportunities young thespians are offered today. Sharing that she participated in theatre at Mount Marie and remembered being in “Pride and Prejudice.”
On the 2nd floor, she marveled over the technology room which houses our laser engraver, vinyl printer, 3D printer, green screen, and video equipment. In the new Renee Powell Learning Commons, she was impressed with the mural depicting the life of the Crusader alumnae for whom the space is named, as well as the plans for the recently renovated area.
Her memories included those during school hours but also after school. She recalled staying after school or riding her bike back to campus to participate in a variety of activities. She laughed recalling the “ugly” green jumpers the girls wore for gym class or after-school activities like basketball which she loved to play.
One day, as she pulled into the school, she recalls the nuns standing out the in yard with a watering can in the dead of winter to create an ice-skating rink for the girls. After school, the girls flocked to the temporary rink.
Mimi and her friends would ride their bike back to campus after school because it was the place to be. One day, work had begun on the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, so she and a friend rode back to school to check it out and they both got to lay down some of the original rocks which are still there today! She was impressed to learn of recent updates to the Grotto, including a walking Rosary that our art students painted.
Mimi has a passion for the arts, she spent considerable time on our Arts Floor. She was impressed at the variety of art classes (14) we offer, especially all the space dedicated to the arts, a classroom for drawing and painting, a separate studio for ceramics, a kiln, and a dark room, plus a classroom dedicated to graphic arts. Students in our digital arts class shared their latest projects with her and she was amazed at their work.
Mimi knows her stuff when it comes to the arts. Not only is she a brilliant painter, but she also had an impressive career in the field. She worked with Lewis Lane doing opera work and attended the Westminster Conservatory. Mimi worked for George Gallop and did work at Radio City Music Hall.
She and her husband lived in Berea where she was with the Cleveland Symphony, the Bach Festival, and at Baldwin Wallace. She raised 3 children in Berea, eventually moving to Indiana where she was in the Indiana Symphony.
After 11 years in Indiana, her family moved to Illinois where she continued to share her talents in painting, sculpture, poetry, and voice. Her career has included singing at Carnegie Hall, singing with the New York Philharmonic, and the Canton Symphony.
In recent years, she has returned to Ohio and settled in Strongsville with her daughter. Her daughter is planning Mimi’s 100th birthday party which will be celebrated here on campus.
As much as Mimi seemed to enjoy being back on campus, it was clear that what she enjoyed most was meeting people. She lit up each time a new class, student, or staff member took a moment to speak with her. Most of the student body and staff knew that Mimi was visiting and made a point to say hello or talk with her. EVERY SINGLE time, she had a way of showing enthusiasm for each person and a willingness to share stories with them and to hear what their school experience is like.
Our visit with Mimi was a vivid reminder of what it means to be a Crusader….
The connection our students of today have with the alumni who walked these halls decades before them.
The spirit of excellence that still lives in our hallways.
The tradition and history that our graduates take with them.
The reminder of what it means to be part of the Crusader family.
The feeling that's hard to put into words when we look at the “tower,” our “castle on the hill."
The pride that comes from being a Central Catholic graduate.
Thank you, Mimi, for giving us another reminder of why we should all be #CrusaderProud!