A native of Monticello, Iowa, where she born on May 11, 1908, Sister Mary Agnes Hennessey attended Mount Mercy’s Academy and Junior College, later receiving her Bachelor’s degree from Loras College in Dubuque. She pursued graduate studies in Missouri, completing her Masters in Education and English and then a Doctorate in Education from St. Louis University. Sister Mary Agnes formally entered the Sisters of Mercy on July 2, 1928 and was the college’s first president solely appointed to that position.
During her fifteen years as college president, Hennessey led the campus through monumental change. McAuley Library opened in 1962, shortly followed by the second dormitory, Regina Hall, in 1965. The Greene Mansion, once the home of the Sisters of Mercy, was demolished, and in 1968, the Sisters transferred legal authority to a Board of Trustees. Student enrollment tripled, and the college became co-educational in 1969. Faculty numbers expanded, reflecting a varied curriculum. Mount Mercy’s Nursing department opened, eventually to have its home in the Donnelly Center, dedicated in 1975. Four apartment-style residences met the demand for male student housing on campus.
Hennessey’s legacy to the campus paired her boundless energy for growth and change with her convictions as a Sister of Mercy. Sister Mary Agnes died on March 28, 1985, remembered for her role in bringing Mount Mercy College a new vision for the future.