Q&A with Sister Mary Lou

Sister Mary Lou

Q&A with Sister Mary Lou
by Jill Fishbaugh 


As Sister Mary Lou Podzimek AC ’52, ’66 celebrates 66 years as a Sister of Mercy, she takes a moment to reflect on her lifelong connections with the Sisters of Mercy and MMU.

Q: WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING A STUDENT AT MOUNT MERCY ACADEMY IN THE 1950s?

A: It was a place of faith, learning, friendship that still exists, and caring for others as we were blessed to be with the Sisters of Mercy. Most of the students were “day hops,” those who commuted daily; the rest were boarders, those who lived on the fourth floor of Warde Hall with the Sisters. We started our day with prayers in Warde room 310 before we went to our classroom. We often studied together in the library and, if caught talking, Sister Mary Carmel asked us to join the “duster’s club,” which meant we would be assigned to dust the library’s books and shelves. We all had to take charm class where we were taught how to be ladylike, including how to walk in high heels and dress appropriately. Our faith was strengthened by our being at the school. Principal Sister Mary Pierre and the other Sisters teaching us had our futures in their hands; their interest in us has lasted a lifetime. 

Q: HOW DID YOUR MOUNT MERCY EDUCATION PREPARE YOU FOR SUCCESS IN YOUR CAREER?

A: Although I always wanted to be a nurse, teachers were needed. As a Sister who had taken a vow of obedience, I agreed to take up a career in education instead. I loved learning as much as I enjoyed teaching. I worked in education for 20 years, where I taught grades 5-8 and was a principal in two schools before I became director of the Sisters in Formation, alumni relations director, and served as vice president of the Sisters of Mercy. After a sabbatical, I became the director of pastoral care at Mercy Medical Center and then chaplain at the Oldorf Hospice House of Mercy in Cedar Rapids. This work with patients and their families throughout the past 30 years has brought me closer to what I always wanted to do. All this was possible through the strong educational foundation I received.

Sister Mary Lou

Q: WHAT HAS CHANGED THE MOST FOR THOSE GETTING AN EDUCATION AT MOUNT MERCY NOW?

A: When I was a student, all the teachers and 99 percent of the students were Catholic. Religion was practiced every day, and daily mass was important to us. Now, students learn about religion through philosophy and religious studies programs, and faculty learn how to infuse the Mercy mission in every class with support from the Division of Mission & Ministry. We were also very homogeneous, but now there is much diversity. The Sisters taught us to include and accept all people in whatever we were doing. 

Q: WHAT REMAINS THE SAME?

A: I am grateful for the interest my teachers took in me. That same spirit of Mercy is still here. Mount Mercy continues to exemplify the principles Sister Catherine McAuley set when she established the Sisters of Mercy in 1831. With so many needs of refugees and immigrants, we are back to our roots, working hands-on to serve God’s people wherever they might be. We grow with the times and are open to change. After all, “Our name is Mercy, our spirit is compassion.”

Q: WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?

A: Being a chaplain is truly a gift—to be with the sick and dying and their families. I don’t see it as work but as fulfilling my passion to serve with compassion. I attribute this to the Sisters who taught me to care for others and to help those in need. 

Sister Mary Lou is currently a chaplain at the Dennis and Donna Oldorf Hospice House of Mercy and serves as a member of the board of trustees for the university and Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids.