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President's Blog: From the Heart

Literacy Through Literature class

Leaning Into Mary to Learn

By Eric F. Spina

When I swung by the “Mary in Catholic Education” exhibit in the Marian Library Gallery this week, I immediately spied a busy chalkboard, reminiscent of my childhood days at St. Joseph’s School in Buffalo.

It was filled with beautiful handwritten reflections from the campus community about the mother of Jesus, with not a child’s careless scrawl in the bunch. In a nod to contemporary times, an iPad sat nearby for visitors to scroll through dozens of memories about Mary’s influential presence in their educational experiences.

Cecilia Moore, associate professor of religious studies, shared how a lovely white marble statue of Mary greeted her and her five siblings every day at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Danville, Virginia. Provost Darlene Weaver wrote simply, “Mary means the grace and power of saying yes.” Ali Carr-Chellman, dean of the School of Education and Health Sciences, described Mary as “an attentive intellectual” who attended to the needs of others.

“Catholic education,” Ali wrote, “is a calling. It can only be heard when we listen, when we are attentive as Mary was, and when we listen to her words to ‘do whatever He says.’”

The Marian Library, which holds the world’s largest collection of material about Mary, never fails to astonish me with its wealth of resources. You don’t expect to spot children’s pop-up books among the holy cards, but they’re on display in this exhibit that was curated by teacher education students in Jennifer Adams and Mary-Kate Sableski’s “Foundations of Literacy Through Literature” course. Other treasures include an 18th-century primer, Italian scrapbook pages from the 1950s, a wooden rosary, Marianist manga — an anime-style comic strip originating from Japan — and five commissioned chalk art drawings of statues of Mary on campus by uber-talented rising sophomore biochemistry major Cecilia Martyna.

The students selected materials, wrote interpretive text, and designed the display cases in a hands-on learning exercise that has helped them — and visitors — learn how books, literacy, and Catholic education have evolved over the years.

“I hope visitors gain an understanding of the various types of literacy through the exhibit and that literacy isn't just about being able to read a book. Visual literacy plays a role in how people gain knowledge about the world around them,” said elementary education major Michelle Puente ’26 of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Beyond the artifacts on display, the reflections from faculty, staff, and alumni, add a personal and meaningful touch.

Laura Toomb, senior lecturer in communication, described Mary as “my idol, my go-to, my support, and most importantly, my spiritual guidance.” Matt Day, associate professor of physical therapy, fondly remembers listening to his grandparents sing “Ave Maria” in the choir at Mass. It had a lasting influence on him. “We may never know,” he wrote, “how our simple expressions of Marian devotion may impact a student’s spiritual life and lead them to Jesus.”

Struck by a stained-glass window in the Immaculate Conception Chapel that depicts Jesus as a boy sitting at his mother’s side and leaning into her attentively, Susan Ferguson, retired director of the Center for Catholic Education, asked, “How do we lean into Mary to learn?”

That’s the big question this exhibit answers so beautifully.

(The “Mary in Catholic Education” exhibit, free and open to the public, runs in the Marian Library Gallery on the seventh floor of Roesch Library through June 28. For hours, directions, and parking, visit the exhibit site. To read reflections from the campus community, visit eCommons.)

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