Tributes For A Guiding Force - Students, Friends Honor Sister Ann Kessler On Her 90th Birthday

January 30, 2018

Randy Dockendorf

On Sunday afternoon, Sister Ann Kessler made grown men cry.

The men were among Mount Marty College graduates, many from the 1980s, celebrating Sister Ann’s 90th birthday. A number of them fought back tears as they recalled the nun’s impact on their lives.

Three men — Craig Mock of Mitchell, Tim Mudd of Kansas City and Ron Glover of Newark, New Jersey — spoke during Sunday’s program. As MMC freshman, they arrived with few ties and hundreds of miles from home.

However, the trio — and thousands of other MMC students through the years — were greeted and befriended by Sister Ann. For lonely and often overwhelmed students, she because more than a history teacher and academic advisor.

Mock, a 1989 MMC graduate, told Sunday’s audience that the Benedictine Sister continues to impact those students’ lives even decades later.

“She wasn’t just a teacher or social sciences advisor. She was a friend and confidante. She was a tremendous listener,” he said. “She put out tough love, but that kept us strong for reaching our goals.”

Now, those students have returned to offer their thanks, Mock told Sister Ann.

“This is your 90th birthday, and you have spent a significant number of those years being part of our lives,” he said. “We will always cherish you. You’re a saint.”

Sister Ann returned the compliment, saying she was overwhelmed at the large turnout for her birthday.

“After 90 years, life is beautiful, and I feel blessed,” she said. “I’m very gifted to have friends who would take the time out of your busy day. I love you all.”

“We love you, too!” an audience member shouted back.

The program included remarks from MMC President Marc Long and Sacred Heart Monastery Prioress Maribeth Wenzlaff, a prayer from the Rev. Valerian Odermann; and memories from Mock, Mudd and Glover.

The reception resembled an all-school reunion, drawing students from various decades. The afternoon also drew a large number of community members.

Sister Ann recently celebrated her 70th year as a Benedictine Sister. She holds a doctorate in history from the University of Notre Dame. She has devoted her life to education at all levels, with her 45-year teaching career including not only MMC but also Marquette University.

In addition, she authored a book on the Benedictines and Christian monasticism.

Sister Ann She has also remained a diehard MMC sports fan, following the Lancer teams on the court and field. She strongly believes in encouraging students both in and out of the classroom.

Glover was one of those athletes. However, his transition went beyond the 1,500 miles between Yankton and his native Newark. He was adjusting as a young black man in a small Midwestern community.

“Here I was, a young minority kid from an urban area. And I missed the first three days of orientation, which made things even worse,” he told the Press & Dakotan.

“Sister Ann helped get me over the culture shock. And when I said I wanted to go into criminal justice, she told me they didn’t have (that major) at Mount Marty. But she helped me as an advisor.”

Glover played on the basketball team, meaning he didn’t go home much during the school year. His father hadn’t been around much during his childhood, and he was separated from his mother and other family members.

“I would visit the convent, and Sister Ann and I talked about life and history,” he said. “I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving, and she had me join them at the monastery for dinner.”

 Glover treasured the friendship, helping ease any homesickness.

“I thought of her as a surrogate mother and even called her ‘Mama,’ but she told me to call her Sister Ann,” Glover said.

While taking one of her classes, Glover received a dose of Sister Ann’s tough love.

“One day, I didn’t go to class, and the phone rang. It was Sister Ann, and she wondered why I wasn’t in class,” he said. “I told her I wasn’t going, and she said I should get over there because they weren’t starting class until I got there.”

Glover learned a valuable lesson about taking responsibility and showing up. “I’ve worked for the Newark police department for 25 years, and I don’t think I’ve missed nine days of work,” he said.

Mock arrived at MMC from Illinois, playing Lancer basketball and baseball.

Sister Ann helped channel his passion for history and his desire to teach and coach. She also helped him juggle both the classroom and participating in two sports.

“You need a person to support you, to help you through the adversity. You need someone you can go to in your time of need, when things got stressful and difficult,” he said. “And Sister Ann was always advocating for the athletes. She was always in the front row (at our games).”

During one basketball game, Mock was puzzled by the nun’s hand signals to him. He later asked her what it meant.

“She said it was a sign to put the ball in the basket,” Mock said with a laugh.

Did it help? He paused before admitting, “Well, it certainly didn’t hurt.”

Three decades later, he uses her example in his own role as a school principal and coach.

“Sister Ann has this infectious laugh. She continues to be a tremendous listener and to be a provider of wisdom, encouragement and guidance as she did since I arrived here,” Mock said.

“She made a point of preparing you for life. She encouraged you to give of yourself, to use your unique gifts as you go forward in life. Her 90th birthday is a significant milestone, but it’s also a time when we can say ‘thank you’ for her impact on our lives.”

Mudd came from Louisville and graduated from MMC in 1987. He now practices law in Kansas City, Missouri.

However, things started a little rocky when he registered for courses during his first semester at MMC.

“I was the first kid in my family to go to college. I was signing up for classes that sounded cool. But they were in the 200s, meant for sophomores,” Mudd said. “Sister Ann pulled me aside. She told me, ‘We think you can do it. But you have to understand we’re not going to hold your hand.’"

Continue reading about the life and legacy of Sr. Ann Kessler in the Yankton P&D.