“Be humble, be simple and bring joy to others.” These words of St. Madeleine Sophie are modeled daily by Laura Mullen Haroian.
Laura reveals the love of the heart of Christ in all that she does – in her nursing career, as a volunteer extraordinaire and in her relationships. During last summer’s RSCJ Spirituality Forum, she was the epitome of Sacred Heart hospitality and generosity as she joyfully greeted travelers arriving at the airport, golf-carted them across Saint Louis University’s campus and served as hostess and nurse when they journeyed on to Sugar Creek, Kansas. Laura’s easy-going style instantly makes people feel important and valued. She takes the time to deeply listen and in her very centered way offers her perspective that helps to cut through the clutter.
Says Julie Siderfin, Class of 1961, “Laura’s life seems to me to be built on the words of St. Ignatius ‘to give and not count the cost.’ To have Laura on your committee gives you great confidence; everything will be accomplished, with joy, love and a witty sense of humor.”
Laura’s nominations were collected by her daughter Ani, Class of 2008, and give a perspective on her mother’s life that speaks to her devotion to Philippine and the Sacred Heart. Ani says, “Receiving messages from people so close to my mother’s heart and hearing how she has impacted their lives has been an incredible blessing to me as her daughter.” While these nominations capture a variety of voices and experiences that span Laura’s life, the same words emerge again and again: Service. Integrity. Courage. Confidence. Compassion. Grit. Selflessness. Humility. Generosity. Faith. It’s abundantly clear the number of lives that Laura has touched in her “Philippine Way.”
Daughter Allison, Class of 2005 says, “I remember frequent conversations at home growing up that included statements like, ‘Think about what St. Philippine would do.’ My mom has constantly THOUGHT about what Philippine would do, and then ACTED upon it.”
Laura followed her older sisters Mary Ann Class of 1966, Bonnie ’67 and Judy ’71 when she began in Primary at the Academy. “I was dropped on the doorstep and never really left,” she jokes. While she cherishes the special traditions of Conge, Silver Teas and prayer services, it was the love and compassion of her teachers that stand out as divine encounters. The unconditional love of Sister Adele Caire provided a warmth that made her feel at home. She calls Sister Margaret Caire one of her life mentors. To this day, they are close friends, with Laura road-tripping with her classmate Michelle Schrick and their daughters to visit Sister in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.
After graduating in 1976, Laura attended Visitation Academy then went on Diploma School of Nursing, an intensive training program at Barnes. She received her BSN from Maryville and has a master’s in nursing. She’s been serving as a registered nurse for 36 years, and for more than 20 years has been a nurse supervisor in gastroenterology at BJC Healthcare, where she began a specialty procedure in the GI area.
For Laura, serving others seems to be a daily, spiritual practice. Individuals shared stories of her humble service, like the time she noticed a Bosnian woman with limited English who was roaming the halls of the hospital. Laura took the time to engage with her, then learned the woman was at the wrong hospital. Laura drove the woman to another hospital to help find her physician.
Her background in healthcare extends to the RSCJ as well. Sister Sheila Hammond, Provincial of the RSCJ in the U.S. and Canada writes, “Several times when our sisters have been ill, Laura has been their confidante, their guide through the medical morass that often accompanies treatment for the seriously or chronically ill. She establishes trust very easily and our sisters (and I am sure all of her other clients) feel totally comfortable and empowered as they go through their experience. Philippine was like that. She inspired trust and gave confidence to those who needed it. Like Philippine, Laura always gives credit to God and her Sacred Heart education and background.”
Laura says of her Sacred Heart education, “You don’t realize at the time what it meant to you, but as you grow, you realize how important it is. The charism is the way of life that I choose to try and mirror (even if I’m not always successful). I consider my Sacred Heart education a true gift that helps me to be a person that makes intentional choices that are in line with sharing the heart of Christ. I try in my imperfect way to be a part of it. There is congruency with the spirituality that has been provided to me. Having role models in Sophie and Philippine is easy to relate to.”
Laura enriches her spiritual life as a member of the Associates – women and men who are attracted by and live the spirituality of the RSCJ. She is currently working to reenergize the local group and hopes to integrate a service component. For her, it is very important to be partners in the mission of the Society of the Sacred Heart and continue Philippine’s work together.
Laura shares that, “The importance of cultivating relationships has been the life lesson that I have received from my Sacred Heart family, and, in turn, those relationships are life-giving. One thing all of us learn is how to be relational; what you choose to do with that lesson when you leave the Academy is up to all of us.”
Laura shows us the power of being in relationship. When she received the news about the Philippine Duchesne Award, she was on vacation with her family – her devoted husband, Ed, daughters Ani and Allison, and son-in-law Zach Stauder ’05 and granddaughter Julia. Now Laura is surrounded by her Sacred Heart family as well — as we honor in this Bicentennial year a true daughter of Philippine Duchesne.
In the footsteps of Philippine Duchesne, Marcia Renken has devoted her life to Sacred Heart education. She has spent 35 years serving this school that she loves, preserving and advancing our foundress’s mission. Marcia’s impact spans generations – much like that of her role model, Sister Patricia Steppe whose lifelong love of learning and high standard of excellence are a continuing inspiration to Marcia.
Her sister Karen Baronovic Cowperthwaite Class of 1983 shares, “She is truly a devoted leader of Rose Philippine Duchesne’s mission to inspire students to be courageous, confident, and to share the love of God through service. A lifelong servant to the Academy’s mission is exactly who Marcia has been for the greatest part of her life. As a student, an alumna, a teacher, a parent and an administrator, Marcia exemplifies the vision of a community builder who seeks to connect the minds and spirits of students as well as staff and families. She does so through her deep connection to God and her deep connection to her heart.”
Marcia follows her heart, and lucky for us, she fell in love with the Academy when she began in Primary in 1963. She remembers the elegance of Primes, with white gloves and pink cords, memorizing the Baltimore Catechism and a deep, spiritual connection with Sister Muriel Cameron. She recalls Sister Steppe, her then First Class teacher, teaching her how to complete a score card when the Cardinals were in the World Series, playing the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz and being dazzled learning about the stars. She also remembers the entire school assembling in the Shrine when President Kennedy was assassinated.
But the thing that sticks with her the most wasn’t something she learned. It was something she felt. Marcia explains, “I was made for this place and it was made for me. Who I am as a being matched perfectly what this school offered. The stars aligned.” She intrinsically knew, thanks to the love, support and belief of her teachers, that she could do and be anything she wanted.
Marcia went on to Duchesne High School, started nursing school, then wanting to teach students with special needs, she earned her bachelor’s from UMSL. After teaching in the Special School District, marrying her love, Keith, and starting a family, she returned to her alma mater in 1982 as a part-time Primary teacher. And she’s been here ever since! Marcia has moved from teacher to administrator to her current role as principal, receiving a master’s degree in educational leadership along the way. She is proud that her children, Katie and Christopher, are both graduates of the Academy.
Alumna and former principal Kathy Hopper says, “I was blessed to work closely with Marcia at the Academy for many years. Her deep understanding of the philosophy of Sacred Heart education was evident. Most importantly, she modeled daily in her interaction with students, parents, and colleagues the values inherent in the Sacred Heart way of life.”
From helping students develop their interior lives through mindfulness, meditation and prayer, inspiring their intellectual lives through a strong and creative curriculum, or recognizing their growth in Heart of Oak assemblies, Marcia brings classic Sacred Heart education to life.
Her sister, Mary Beth Baronovic Bulte, Class of 1977 writes, “Marcia has touched hundreds and hundreds of students and their families and by doing so has positively affected the greater community and continues to play a part in transforming our world. In her desire to bring to light the gift of each student and each faculty member, Marcia lives out the role model of Philippine — the unrelenting gift of herself to others.”
In her years at the Academy, Marcia has experienced much change and growth but says, “the core of who we are hasn’t changed, just how we live it out.” It’s in the expression of Sacred Heart education, in the life lived that Marcia’s gentle spirit and heart-centered style of education shine. Raymond Bulte, Class of 2016, says, “My aunt, like St. Philippine, is very passionate about education and kind and patient with students — all students. She believes that everyone has gifts and she looks at situations from both sides and treats everyone with love, compassion and fairness. She taught me and my classmates many life lessons, like how to treat others, how to speak from your heart, and how to respect the differences in others and to see God in each person. She also focused on making every day a new day and that by making myself better, I could make the world better.”
Nathan Rich, who graduated just a few weeks ago, says it beautifully, “Not only is (Mrs. Renken) pushing us to be our best selves, (she is) also pushing the school to be the best it can be. In our exit interviews, (she) showed a true desire to improve the school for future generations and listened to us with open ears, something I know my classmates and I greatly appreciated. I believe that there was no greater guiding presence for us during our years at ASH. No greater role model for us. There was no greater example for us of how we can bring Philippine’s mission into the 21st century and spread the ideals of Sacred Heart education to those around the world.”
How fortunate we are to have Marcia Renken here in this holy place. She follows her heart and leads with love. On behalf of the Alumni Association, it is my honor to present the 2018 Philippine Duchesne Award to my colleague and a true educator of the Sacred Heart, Marcia Renken.