Dr. Ryan Hanning is Assistant Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Director of Cultural Advancement at University of Mary – Tempe.

In 1878, five intrepid Benedictine sisters traveled to the plains of North Dakota to establish St. Mary’s Academy, which served 21 boarders and 80 students in three tightly packed classrooms their first year.

Around this same time, far away in the southwest, settlers from Mexico founded San Pablo a small town on the eastern side of Tempe Butte in the Arizona Territory. There they built an adobe chapel dedicated to Our Lady. Unknown to the sisters or the settlers, God’s providence would weave these two small communities together in quite a remarkable way many years later.

This is a story about how one such conspiracy of grace now impacts the Diocese of Phoenix and the community of Arizona State University.

Throughout the 1880s, the Benedictine sisters continued to grow and institute Catholic higher education on the prairies, and by 1885, they launched the first hospital in Dakota Territory. Despite little training in healthcare, they treated 65 patients in the first year, and, in accordance with the Rule of St. Benedict, they “received all guests as they would receive Christ.” They treated the rough and tumble along with more famous patients like Chief Sitting Bull and Teddy Roosevelt. Inspired by God’s grace and with incredible fortitude, they provided both education and healthcare and eventually established Mary College in 1959, which in 1986 became the University of Mary.

Benedictine Sisters in front of St. Mary’s Academy Bismarck, c. 1885. (Courtesy of Annunciation Monastery)
The San Pablo community along with pastor, Fr. Severin Westhood, OFM, at the adobe chapel c. 1881. (Courtesy of Tempe Historical Society)

Far away from North Dakota, the San Pablo community outgrew their small chapel by 1902 and started building the first Catholic church in Tempe. Their new church — built from the quarry stones of Tempe Butte and called St. Mary’s in memorial to her ongoing intercession — stood across the street from the Territorial Normal School. St. Mary’s immediately started serving the growing community of Tempe and Phoenix including the students attending the Normal School. Prior to World War I, St. Mary’s provided supplemental education for Catholic school teachers and fortified the growth and life of what later was named Arizona State University in 1958.

No doubt, the trajectory of the University of Mary and Arizona State University has been ordained to cross paths. For the past five years, the same intrepid spirit of the founders of University of Mary who braved the badlands of North Dakota has blessed the desert. The University of Mary partnership with ASU and All Saints Newman Center, formed in 2012, has provided the very best of Catholic higher education to students at ASU and throughout the Valley.

University of Mary students walk into their new campus, the repurposed Old St. Mary’s Church in Tempe. The chapel will remain as a prayer space for students. (Courtesy of UMary – Tempe)

To date, hundreds of students have been able to combine the incredible education at ASU with degrees and coursework in Catholic and Theological Studies from UMary. The formation of the mind and heart alongside the pastoral support of the Newman Center encourages an integrated life, one where faith informs all aspects of being a young person today. Among the first fruits of this endeavor are several marriages and those discerning priesthood and consecrated life as well as active alumni serving in important apostolates and corporate America. While the partnerships and first fruits provide reason to hope, much more can and should be expected. Our vision for a flourishing intellectual community and an engaging student culture actively living out our Catholic faith with great zeal and authentic joy needs the continued support of the community.

A new day!

This month, the University of Mary – Tempe will move into its new home at Old St. Mary’s, and we begin a new chapter in a story that began nearly two centuries ago. There, in the Old Church basement, we are creating a beautiful classroom where students encounter the depth of theology in all its beauty and complexity, student space that encourages engagement and study, and administrative offices that inspire interaction between students and faculty. Upstairs, the Old Church will remain a place of prayer as well as study with a new small library space and a remodeled choir loft with quiet reading areas.

We invite you to celebrate how God has and continues to work through our partnerships in Arizona. Please join us for our Opening and Fall Community Night on Sept. 14. Full details online at umary.edu/tempe.

University of Mary-Tempe

Learn more about how you can support the work of UMary-Tempe and give the gift of Catholic education to a student from your parish at umary.edu/tempe or by calling (480) 290-7047.

Fall 2017 Course Schedule

CTH 330 Catholicism and the Modern World – Dr. Hanning           T/TH 8:45 – 10:15 a.m.

THE 112 Introduction to Theology – Dr. Markette      T/TH 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

THE 208 Intro to Christian Ethics – Prof. Cady          T/TH 1 – 2:30 p.m.

THE 330 The Gospels – Prof. Hoyt        T/TH 2:45 – 4:15 p.m.