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NCEA Hails Sister Marion O’Connor as ‘Gift to Catholic High School Education’

Minneapolis, Minnesota – Sister Marion O’Connor, OP, a social studies teacher at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois, for more than 40 years, received the National Catholic Educational Association’s (NCEA) Secondary Schools Department Award for 2010.

The award was presented during a special convocation and awards ceremony on April 7 at the NCEA’s annual convention in Minneapolis. As an NCEA award winner, Sister Marion was also honored February 21 at the first Distinguished Service Awards Dinner sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago Board of Catholic Schools.

Sister Marion was nominated for the award by Mrs. Kathy Rzany, principal of Regina Dominican. The award “honors Catholic school educators who deserve national recognition and reflect the richness and diversity of American Catholic education,” according to the NCEA. Nominees are those who have made “significant contributions in a variety of roles.”

The document for the award noted Sister Marion’s love for politics and for study, as well as her mentoring of teachers through the years. “It is not the longevity of her career that makes her deserving of this award,” the document reads. “It is the way she fulfills her desire to make history and social studies come alive for her students by infusing values and relevancy into her curriculum. As an Adrian Dominican Sister, department chair, class moderator, and role model, Sister Marion has been a gift to Catholic high school education.”

Sister Marion came as a social studies teacher to the Adrian Dominican-sponsored, all-girls high school in 1964, only six years after it opened. She has served as Social Studies Department Chair since 1974. Other roles included junior homeroom teacher for many years; junior class moderator from 1968 to 1972; senior moderator from 1980 to 1987; and senior homeroom teacher from 1987 to 2007. For years, Sister Marion was also instrumental in organizing the senior honors convocation, a ceremony in which seniors are recognized for all of their contributions and accomplishments.

Sister Marion has also brought some special programs to social studies students. Every year for the past 25 years, she has organized the senior field trip to the Criminal Court at 26th and California in downtown Chicago. In the Legal Issues Seminar, she invites local lawyers and judges to the high school to speak to the seniors about the legal profession. These activities have “instilled a love of the legal profession” in many of her students, Sister Marion noted. Many Regina Dominican alumnae have become lawyers and judges.

Because of her many years at Regina – often teaching the daughters of alumnae whom she had also taught – Sister Marion has become involved with the alumnae of Regina Dominican. She attends as many of the reunions as she can, as well as the wakes for family members of alumnae or for alumnae themselves. “I’m going to more wakes of parents of the older alums now,” she said, noting that often she’s the only one from Regina Dominican that the older alumnae know.

While she relates to the older alumnae, Sister Marion still enjoys working with current students. “I really enjoy them,” she said. “They’re filled with enthusiasm, and I like that. I’m invigorated by them. They keep me young.” To continue to relate to these young students, Sister Marion stays in touch with their culture. It’s important for high school teachers to know “a little about everything. The more you share some of their culture, the better you can relate to them.”

Sister Marion sees teaching as a “wonderful profession and very much needed, but you have to love people and want to help people. …There’s a great need for teachers.” Still, it isn’t easy. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of assignments, a lot of papers, a lot of preparation. …You’re on stage every day. You have to be ready.”

While Sister Marion enjoys the high spirits of her students, she also knows that many of them face burdens that they don’t show. “You watch them screaming in the halls, and it seems that they don’t have a care in the world,” she said. “But many of them have a lot on their shoulders.” It’s hard to be young today. The students “really need you,” she said. “They really do.