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Sisters and Educators

Monday, January 22, 2024

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of stories on College of Saint Mary's history during its first century. CSM is marking its 100th anniversary in a yearlong celebration through August 2024.

College of Saint Mary has a long history of educating and training new teachers.

When the University was first established, it educated the Sisters of Mercy. By 1905, the Sisters were teaching in 13 schools in the state of Nebraska, according to “Journeys: A Pre-Amalgamation History of the Sisters of Mercy Omaha Province” by Sr. Kathleen O’Brien, RSM.

“They prized their reputation as excellent teachers and they had never been too proud to go outside the order for the expert advice and education they needed to maintain their reputation,” she wrote.

In 1919, the state legislature enacted a law requiring all teachers in private and parochial schools to be state-certified. On Sept. 12, 1923, CSM enrolled its first students who were not Sisters of Mercy.

Many of the Sisters educated at CSM later taught at the University. Some even became president of the institution. Below is a brief look at some of those Sisters and educators.


Sr. Mary Angelica Costello, RSM

Sr. Mary Angelica joined the English department at College of Saint Mary in 1962. She was a “witty and demanding” English teacher, according to an article by the Omaha World-Herald after her death in 2003.

Costello earned a bachelor’s degree from Creighton University in 1946, a master’s degree in English from Marquette University in 1954 and a doctorate in English from Fordham University in New York City in 1962.

In 1970, Costello was named president of the University. At the time, CSM had focused mainly on liberal arts and teacher education. Costello broadened the curriculum to include business and nursing. She was also instrumental in the college moving to a lay board of directors.

After stepping down as president in 1978, Costello continued to teach English at Mercy High School. From 1990 to March 2002, she volunteered in the medical records department at Bergan Mercy Medical Center.


Sr. Mary Alice Long, RSM

Sr. Mary Alice Long was College of Saint Mary’s first full-time president, serving from 1946 to 1965. She directed the institution's transition from a two-year junior college to a four-year liberal arts college. Long also guided the college's relocation from 15th and Castelar streets to 72nd Street and Mercy Road.

A residence hall, a science hall and the Gross Conference Center were added during her presidency.

Long left CSM to supervise all the Mercy high schools in the Omaha Province, which covered 17 states. She later worked as a high school principal and instructor in Missouri and North Dakota schools.

In 1973, Long returned to CSM to direct its financial aid program. She also worked in development and public relations before retiring in 1982. Long died in February 1990.


Sr. Catherine Marie Franey, RSM

Sr. Catherine Marie Franey taught music for 70 years, starting in 1936, at the former St. Mary High School in Omaha, College of Saint Mary and Mercy High School. She also taught private voice lessons and piano lessons.

Franey graduated from Mount St. Mary (a predecessor to Mercy High) in 1929 and College of Saint Mary in 1931. She earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee and a master’s degree in music education from Chicago Musical-Roosevelt University, now the Chicago College of Performing Arts.

After entering the Mercy order in 1933, Franey was known as Sister Mary of the Angels.

While at CSM, Franey was chairman of the music department. She directed the choirs, including the “Singing Sisters of Mercy,” who performed on KETV in 1964 as part of the centennial of the Sisters of Mercy arriving in Omaha.

Franey died in January 2011 at age 99.


Sr. Mary Patricia Wathen, RSM

Sr. Mary Patricia Wathen served as College of Saint Mary’s president from 1965 to 1970. She had previously taught English at the University.

During her tenure as president, a new college center – now Mercy Hall – was opened. An extensive renovation program also resulted in an expanded library and office space.

Before her presidency, she was provincial councilor of the Sisters of Mercy of Omaha Province.

After her retirement, Wathen served as the director of volunteer services at Bergan Mercy Hospital. She also became a published poet with her book “I Must Keep Tapers Lighted” in May 1986. She died later that year.


Sr. Mary Eugene Ramey, RSM

Sr. Mary Eugene Ramey started the medical records curriculum at College of Saint Mary in 1953. She was the program director until 1975.

At the time, the registered medical record librarian program was among the unique training CSM offered. The program collaborated with Bergan Mercy Hospital, where Ramey was also an assistant administrator.

Ramey retired in 1976 after 23 years at CSM. She passed away in 1983.


Sr. Mary McAuley Gillgannon, RSM

Sr. Mary McAuley Gillgannon was chairman of the history department at College of Saint Mary for a number of years.

Gillgannon earned her bachelor’s degree from CSM in 1951, a master’s degree in history from Marquette University in 1958 and a doctorate in modern European history from Notre Dame University in 1961.

Her dissertation, “The Sisters of Mercy as Crimean War Nurses,” increased her interest in Mercy history. She also taught younger sisters about Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, and gave presentations at her religious community meetings.

In addition to teaching at CSM, Gillgannon served as a teacher and principal at a number of Catholic schools in Omaha. She was also a professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha and Creighton University.

Gillgannon died at age 95 in 2016.


100 Years Digital Exhibit