By Straight and Twisting Ways

Sister Susan Rieke, C’66, opens with a warning: “This book is a book of love: I blessed and cursed it simultaneously throughout its writing.”

Although not a historian by trade, the professor emerita in English was an ideal candidate to tell the story of Saint Mary’s first 100 years. She just needed some convincing and a little faith.

With 37 years of teaching experience and memories from her undergraduate days, Sr. Rieke brings the personal stories of Saint Mary to life. Additionally, her mother, five aunts, and four sisters – all Saint Mary graduates – provided memories extending from the late 1930s to 1979. Of course, Sr. Rieke also spent months pouring over scattered archived materials, academic catalogs, and student publications.

The result is a book that creatively weaves together the history, mission, and values of Saint Mary.
“I think building the institution took so much faith, so much help from God,” Sr. Rieke said. “It has been a work that is beyond us. I think anyone who stays as faculty or staff does it because of that.”

Sr. Rieke begins the book in 1858 as Mother Xavier Ross establishes the foundation for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. After the first chapter, Sr. Rieke takes readers on a journey over the last 100 years – narrating the evolving academic mission of the institution and honoring many Saint Mary traditions.

“I’m not saying it was easy writing or easy research, but I loved dipping into all of it because I love Saint Mary,” Sr. Rieke said. “I can’t imagine myself without Saint Mary.”

“By Straight and Twisting Ways: A History of the University of Saint Mary, Leavenworth, Kansas” will be available to purchase in the university Spire Shop in 2023.

An Excerpt from Chapter One
“Look Forward: 1858-1923”

The faculty and staff were maternal and loving, professionally prepared and firm, and companions with the students on the educational journey; one of the earliest Catalog/brochures characterizes the students as “co-workers with their teachers.” It is the spirit embodied in the phrase, “co-workers,” that built Saint Mary into a place of educational excellence exhibited in a community of learners, learners maturing in all aspects of their humanity—the whole person. As the Catalog/brochure states: “The student’s mind is trained and strengthened in habits of initiative, self-reliance, and moral strength” (USM Archives).

Clearly, the seeds are all present for the University of Saint Mary’s core values of community, respect, justice, and excellence. Well-planted, the seeds flourished (flourish and will continue to flourish), time and again, in decades and eras, in times of plenty and times of lean, in great sorrows and great joys. Saint Mary Academy, Saint Mary Junior College, and Saint Mary College to the present have weathered change, not merely endurance of a static nature but ever-growing to meet the needs of the times and places of the current culture. Yes, Saint Mary has been well-planted along Mother Xavier Ross’ “straight and twisting ways.”

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