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Mount Mercy's Leaders, Then and Now

by Pat Burns

 

One of the more popular features of the Mount Mercy Academy Mercienne, the school’s yearbook, is the now and then pages where friends are pictured both in their younger years and currently.  Recently Mount Mercy’s current head of school Michele Sixt Melligan ’92 was reunited with her high school principal Sister Joan Sherry, RSM.  While reminiscing together it seemed natural to others to do a now and then article about the two Mount Mercy Academy administrators.

Sister Joan served as the school’s principal from September of 1987 until June of 1992.  Melligan was hired in June of 2020 as the school’s principal and was elevated to Head of School in November of the same year.  

Sister Joan had varied educational experiences prior to serving as principal, but her only other connection with the school was serving as a member of the Board of Trustees for three years.  Melligan had a career of twenty plus years in public education.  She was a guidance counselor in the Ken-Ton School district for grades K-8 and also educated her colleagues in professional development, as well as other Western New York educators through Erie 1 BOCES.  

While Sister Joan was principal, Mount Mercy had more students and staff members to supervise. Although the numbers may be different, many of the experiences and feelings of the administrators are similar.

Both administrators faced difficult situations during their tenures.  Sister Joan’s difficulty continues even today. “Several young women wanted to attend MMA but could not because their family could not afford the tuition.  We did offer as many scholarships as possible but it was never enough.  Not being able to have students who wanted to come to the Mount but not be able to afford it, was heart-breaking.  I understand that the situation continues even today” Sister Joan recalled.

Melligan struggles with financial difficulties as well, but has faced an even more critical plight. “The COVID guidelines, restrictions and mandates have been the most challenging,” Melligan stated.  “While trying to maintain the safety of our students and staff, the balance between distance learning and in person learning has been a struggle for many of our teachers, parents and students.”

Sister Joan was not totally surprised that Melligan has returned to her alma mater as head of school.  She believes that many of the women who attended Mount Mercy had leadership ability.  She commented that throughout the years many graduates have taught at Mount Mercy, and became members of the Board of Trustees, even serving as Chair of the Board.   She feels that Melligan has acquitted herself well during her tenure.  “When Michele Melligan became Head of School I was so happy.  She has proven herself quite capable during a most difficult time (this pandemic),” Sister Joan remarked.  “What a time to begin her professional career at MMA.” 

Melligan had an eye on an administrative path during the earlier years of her career. “My passion has always been in helping others, I discovered this early in my career.   I wanted to continue to help make and impact and inspire changes as much as I could, therefore I pursued an administrative position so I could continue to help teachers and students become the best version of themselves,” Melligan commented.

Although administration was part of her future plans, returning to 88 Red Jacket was not necessarily part of the plan. “Although I never expected to become a principal at Mount Mercy, I always wanted to reshape education.   I believe that teaching and learning should be consistent with the new and innovative ways to prepare students for the ever changing world in which we live,” Mellligan said.

Although education is a serious issue, it also lends itself to moments of humor.  Melligan tries to find humor in each and every day and to enjoy the people she spends hours with each day.  She feels it is important not to take oneself too seriously and to keep things in perspective.

Sister Joan has never forgotten an event that was not at all funny at the time, but with the passage of time has become part of Mount Mercy’s lore and she can laugh about it now. “In October 1987, we had a Learning for Life Day with a notable motivational speaker for the entire student body.  I asked the cafeteria manager to order 800 donuts so that we could have a snack at the break.  All of a sudden, four large trucks pulled up on Red Jacket Parkway,” Sister Joan recalled.  “I was presented with a bill for 800 dozen donuts!!  I didn’t know how the mistake happened.  I sent two dozen donuts home with each girl and sold the rest of them to the hospital and schools in South Buffalo.  After the fact, everyone had a good laugh.” Sister Joan was not amused at the time, but is proud to note that she managed to make a few hundred dollars after distributing all of the donuts.

Both women have fond memories of their days together at Mount Mercy.  “I have many fond 

memories of my time at the Mount.  Most of the young women were academically successful and won many scholarships to colleges.  Their participation at Masses, especially Mercy Day which they helped to plan along with the fun activities such as Spirit week were quite memorable,” Sister Joan rercounted.  “They gave their time to help people who were poor and participated actively in social justice activities.  The music program and clubs such as Speech and Debate along with Mock Trial were amazing and interested me very much.”

“The best memories I have are establishing the friendships that I made at Mercy and still maintain today,” Melligan revealed. “Being a Mercy girl is an experience that is like no other and is life changing.   My closest friends are the same friends I had 30 years ago and we still are making memories today!”

While Sister Joan has no specific memories of Melligan, who was one of over five hundred 

students, she does have memories of the student body that Melligan was a part of. “She was one of a wonderful class of young women who were outstanding academically and had a great spirit,” Sister Joan pronounced.  

Melligan has clear memories of Sister Joan.  Melligan recalled, “I remember Sister Joan as someone who was extremely professional and yet not afraid to have fun!”

One thing that was clear is that both women have a great deal of respect for one another.  “Sister Joan was/is an exceptional role model for women to be confident, compassionate and caring and I hope that I can portray these personality traits as well,” Melligan stated.

“Michele continues the Mercy Spirit, Christian principles academic excellence in everything that she accomplishes.  We are fortunate to have her in charge of our only high school in Western New York,” Sister Joan remarked.

While many things have changed at Mount Mercy throughout the years, one constant that has been and continues to be is having a strong, competent and compassionate woman as the leader of the school.

"Mount Mercy has positively changed my life forever. Through the inviting community, I was able to grow as a woman, as a daughter, as a friend, and as a member of society. Throughout my time here I have gained an education in both academic areas and life in general through the school's ongoing efforts to educate students on gender inequality, racial injustice, and environmental crisis'. Furthermore, Mercy has given me the space to gain confidence that 4 years ago I never would have guessed I would have. Mount Mercy has helped me take that initial step toward becoming the strong woman of color I am today. At Mercy you are more than just a student, you are whoever you wish to be."

Melina Courtney

Class of 2022

"My future, success, and the ability to be an empowered woman in society come from Mount Mercy. My school is a strong foundation for my role in life. From attending Mount Mercy, I can say with confidence, that I will graduate with the mindset that I can accomplish anything. Mercy is my home and my sanctuary to be whoever I want. Mount Mercy has been bringing forth generations of strong intellectual women into the world, and I am more than honored to be one of them. Mercy teaches girls more than academics, but also about the world around us. As a mercy community, we give back to the world because it is our home. From my four years at Mercy, I have been educated on pushing for equality and peace and the understanding that there is no limit to what I can do. I have the confidence to go out in the world and make a difference because being a Mercy girl has given me that opportunity. "

Cassidy Reid

Class of 2022

"Mercy is more than just a school. Mercy is my second home and a shoulder to lean on. Mount Mercy has given me the confidence and resources to pursue my passions and make the world a more inclusive place, propelling me to take strides into male-dominated fields. Mercy blessed me with an environment to grow intellectually and in the community, giving me the foundation to make a tangible impact while making lifelong friendships."

Adrianna Awald

Class of 2022

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