Mercyhurst Magazine Fall 2013

theateR PRogRaM taKeS ‘diS’ out oF diSaBilitY Mary Hofman ’74 and mary ellen lieb (wife of mercyhurst fnance director Jim lieb ’74) were a bit uncomfortable stepping into the spotlight last spring to accept their rave award as adult Volunteers of the year from the Junior league of erie. The two usually prefer to watch from the wings while their students – dozens of adults with special needs – take center stage in their annual musical productions. This year’s Fiddler on the Roof was the 26th show in a series they call “inspire.”

gaRden naMed FoR enviRonMental PioneeR

a lot has changed on the environmental front in the more than four decades since Sr. Maura Smith, RSM ’48 , was hired to teach biology at mercyhurst college. mercyhurst now has a sustainability ofce, a sustainable agriculture program at the north east campus, academic programs in sustainability studies, and

mary and mary ellen, both now retired

an annual weeklong celebration of earth day (the frst of which in 1970 was organized by sister maura herself). now, a new garden on campus honors the sister of mercy who paved the way for all these thriving sustainability initiatives. The sr. maura smith peace garden was created to celebrate the mercyhurst sustainability award presented to sr. maura in 2009. it was an appropriate tribute to the bufalo, n.y., native whose upbringing on her family’s dairy farm cultivated her passion for farming and gardening. Though she was honored by the award, sr. maura asked that any gift be given back to the university. “i’m just happy to be remembered for my part in the environmental movement,” said sr. maura. “i think the more we can do for the earth, the better. The planet doesn’t owe us anything; we owe mother nature, and we must pay our dues.” The sr. maura smith peace garden is located behind warde hall on the mercy walkway, a path that leads both to mercyhurst preparatory school, where sister maura was principal from 1977 to 1987, and to the sisters of mercy motherhouse, where she now lives. The garden features many edible plantings, including a dwarf apple tree – a tribute to the nearby apple orchard that predated mercyhurst on the property and sr. maura once helped tend. also featured are a dwarf cherry tree, strawberries, blueberries, onion and oregano, as well as a colorful assortment of sr. maura’s favorite fowers, including violas, pussy willows, holly, hydrangeas, junipers, phlox, peonies, day lilies and hostas. as a professor, sr. maura was passionate not only about the environment but also about social justice more broadly and the cause of world peace. as she taught about environmental issues, she helped students and colleagues grasp the connections between, for example, the degraded state of the environment and social injustice. in 2000, sr. maura worked with new history professor dr. chris magoc to launch the mercyhurst green Team. now known as the sustainability committee, the group of students, faculty and administrators has produced impressive results, including dramatically increased recycling rates on campus; a 100 percent investment in wind energy; installation of a green roof on the ceramics lab in Zurn hall; establishment of an organic and sustainable gardening program now housed at mercyhurst north east; and the launch of on-campus composting in 2012. appointed to the university’s board of Trustees in 1980, sr. maura still serves as a Trustee emerita and continues to weigh in on matters that can positively impact the campus environment.

as special education

teachers with the millcreek Township school district, teamed up

Mary Ellen Lieb and Mary Hofman ’74

in the 1980s to make sure their students would have opportunities even after they graduated. The night school class they created soon morphed into a unique theater company. it takes most of spring term to prepare each show. “we extract the songs from the plays and the kids – some as old as their 50s – act out the songs to the best of their ability,” mary explains. “a narrator tells the rest of the story in between numbers.” community gifts and many dedicated volunteers help provide costumes, props and simple backdrops. for Fiddler , students performed all the popular songs from “Tradition” to “sunrise, sunset” to “if i were a rich man,” but the narration downplayed darker aspects of the plot. “i have worked with people with special needs my entire life and their self-expression is simple, beautiful and enviable,” mary says. “i enjoy their perspective on life – that everything is beautiful and that is the way it should be.” by the time next year’s show rolls around (it may be Godspell ), mary will have been teaching several of the cast members for 40 years, since they were in her frst elementary school class. “it’s so cool to see these kids fourish as people,” she says. “it takes the ‘dis’ out of disability and just shows of their abilities.” it’s a magical experience for the 800 or so people who pack the auditorium each year. mary downplays talk about her contributions. “This is the best thing i’ve ever done for me,” she insists.


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