University of Saint Mary dedicates first doctorate program to beloved Sister of Charity
by John Shultz
Special to The Leaven
LEAVENWORTH — Sister Mary Kathleen Stefani was one of the guiding lights of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth — a talented teacher, a dedicated and focused leader, and a great friend.
On Oct. 26, friends and supporters of the University of Saint Mary and Sister Mary Kathleen gathered in USM’s newly renovated Berchmans Hall to honor her as the university’s first doctorate program — the Stefani Doctor of Physical Therapy — was blessed and dedicated.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas blessed and welcomed the addition of USM’s new DPT program.
In years to come, Archbishop Naumann said, “you’ll look back on this moment as one of the great blessings that this university has brought to our community.”
“The respect, the reverence, we show patients distinguishes Catholic health care,” he added. “Physical therapy is a very important part of the health sciences, and it is truly wonderful that young men and women can come here to not only learn the science of it, but also learn physical therapy with Catholic health care values.”
The Saint Mary DPT program has been years in the making, and has seen the university invest heavily in expert faculty and renovated, state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge equipment. The university’s DPT program is currently in the process of seeking accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the American Physical Therapy Association.
The establishment of the DPT program is a key part of USM’s ongoing evolution into a premiere institution for health care education, an effort guided by the university’s board of trustees. The DPT joins USM’s well-regarded nursing degree programs, its preprofessional health paths, and other new offerings like the Health Information Management track.
The first class of DPT students — 37 strong — arrived on campus in June. If the university is successful in its efforts, the DPT program will receive accreditation in 2015, just prior to the graduation of its first DPT class.
The university selected Sister Mary Kathleen as the namesake for the university’s first doctorate program due to her lifelong dedication to education, her love of science, and her years of leadership.
Born Betty Lou Stefani, Sister Mary Kathleen was a native of Butte, Mont. She made her profession of vows with the Sisters of Charity in 1945 and graduated from Saint Mary (then Saint Mary College) in 1951 with a degree in chemistry. She went on to earn master’s degrees from both USM and the University of Notre Dame.
Sister Mary Kathleen was a well-respected teacher, instructing and working as an administrator at schools in Billings and Butte, Mont., Denver, and Hayden High School in Topeka.
“Kathleen was probably one of our best educators in our community,” said Sister Maureen Hall, current community director of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. “She instilled in her students a real desire to learn.”
Following her time as a teacher, Sister Mary Kathleen was elected community director of the Sisters of Charity in 1986, a post she held through 1998. Sister Mary Kathleen’s colleagues praised her leadership style.
“She was very focused — that’s probably the best word for her,” said Sister Anita Sullivan, SCL, a close friend of Sister Mary Kathleen. “Whatever she did, she did perfectly.”
Sister Mary Kathleen died in 2010 at the age of 84.
As part of the Oct. 26 ceremony, a portrait of Sister Mary Kathleen was installed in USM’s Berchmans Hall by her sister, Doreen Strizic, of Butte, Mont., and a dear friend Sister Anita.
Sister Maureen said Sister Mary Kathleen would be honored by the university’s decision to name the DPT program for her.
“Science was beloved to her,” said Sister Maureen. “I can’t think of a better person that we could name our doctor of physical therapy for than our Sister Mary Kathleen.”
Learn more about the USM Stefani DPT program, visit the website at: www.stmary.edu/DPT.