Reflection Essay

Monday, October 8, 2012 1:25:00 AM

By Peg Flahive, Ed.D.

Congratulations to the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi as they celebrate the 75th anniversary of Cardinal Stritch University. Cardinal Stritch “College” comes to mind in my early recollections of my father, Dr. Robert Flahive, beginning employment there under the leadership of Sister Mary Aquin Miller, O.S.F. “Mr. Stritch,” as he was affectionately known to many, wrote a doctoral dissertation on the history of the Sisters and their founding of Cardinal Stritch College. Published in 1973, it was entitled, “Cardinal Stritch College: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Surely no greater labor of academic love was there, from a man who treasured his Franciscan colleagues deeply and helped to set the groundwork for the great success the University enjoys today. The “tomorrow” he wrote about in the early 1970s is here and thriving.

A better anniversary slogan could not have been chosen than “75 Years of Transforming Lives.” For that is what the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi have done since the founding of Stritch and continue to do to this day. If asked about their traits and characteristics, I suppose anyone who knows the Sisters would tell you they have always been women of deep faith and unconditional service, who foster a work ethic unmatched in our secular, self-oriented society. This could probably be said of all women religious, but it’s these Sisters in particular who built Stritch into a flourishing model of Catholic higher education.

I was fortunate to be taught by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi as an undergraduate student at Stritch in the late 1970s. In 1999, I entered the brand-new Stritch doctoral program, and, while there were no Sisters as instructors in that program, the groundwork they laid in infusing their mission and identity throughout all aspects of the University had taken root. The cutting-edge doctoral program, and so many other endeavors the University has undertaken, transforms countless lives in Milwaukee, and indeed ripples out around the U.S. and world.

It’s the personal nature of two Sisters that I, as an alumna and family/community member connected to Stritch for decades, would like to highlight. Sisters Camille and Joanne Marie Kliebhan embody the term “servant leader” like no other women I have ever known. Sister Joanne Marie died in 2005 and served Stritch for 29 years in special education. We miss her but feel her spirit deeply throughout the walls of the University and the St. Francis Children’s Center, adjacent to Cardinal Stritch.

Today’s students who walk through the halls of Stritch know Sister Camille’s presence on campus as students have for decades, since she was president there from 1974 to 1991. Her presence at Stritch is ingrained into the fabric of life on campus. Sister Camille is a walking archive of Stritch history, but, more importantly, she espouses a lifetime of the Franciscan charism of loving service to this special institution.

Something I clearly remember about my father and Sister Camille – both of them in the highest administrative positions in the college – was that they made a point to greet students by name in the hallway, to attend basketball games and cheer loudly, and to make sure the students in a play or a concert knew afterwards that they did a good job. No one went unnoticed or un-thanked from custodians to student waitresses and ushers, to musicians playing at graduations.

“Cardinal Stritch College: Small Enough to Care,” was the college motto back in the 1970s and Sister Camille embodied this value then – and today – like no other. Her office door was always open and, even though she was a busy college president, she took time to meet with students who had concerns or new ideas. As our family grew and my brothers and sisters got married and had children, Sisters Camille and Joanne Marie were always considered extended family members. Whenever possible, they were present for family holidays, birthdays and the welcoming of new babies. Sister Joanne Marie lovingly knit handmade baby blankets for many newborns in our family and other lucky families. My siblings and I brought our children to see “Grandpa’s” office and, of course, Sister Camille graciously welcomed all of us as well, never minding the interruption or chaos youngsters can bring to an orderly desk of a college president!

Our family will forever be grateful for the personal friendships we have had over decades with these two fine sisters, for their professional determination to make Stritch one of the finest institutions of higher education around, for their quality Christian guidance, and for their examples as women of faith and service – examples that truly “transform lives.”

Peg Flahive was one of the first Stritch Communication Arts graduates in 1980, was a member of Cohort III in the Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service doctoral program, class of 2002; and is presently enrolled in the St. Clare Center Lay Ministry Certification Program at the University.