Mary Jo Meyer of rural Kiel left college in 1975 at the end of her junior year.
Now, nearly 40 years later, she finally has her degree.
Wearing a cap and gown, Meyer, 60, walked down the aisle to accept her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology at Silver Lake College on Dec. 13.
As a young college student, Meyer had changed her major twice before she decided to drop out and raise a family. Six children and 13 grandchildren later, she felt compelled to complete her degree as she watched her own grown children pursuing higher educations.
“I was working in the church and I wanted to reach a personal goal, to complete my degree. I already had three years in and I felt it was something I wanted to do,” said Meyer, a lay minister of prayer at Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Kiel.
When her name was called during the commencement ceremony, family members cheered.
“They’re happy that I accomplished what I set out to do. It’s been a long haul,” said Meyer, who enrolled in classes from 2000 to 2004, then took a few years off before returning to college to complete her studies.
Meyer is among the first group of students to receive a degree through a collaborative program between Silver Lake College and the Diocese of Green Bay, introduced three years ago.
The Diocese sponsors the Emmaus Program for ministerial leaders. Those who complete the program, named for a joyful story in the Gospel, earn credits from Silver Lake College.
Meyer worked full time during the day and was able to take classes at night. She focused her studies in the area of religious education.
The experience enriched her personal faith life and enhanced her teaching skills, Meyer said.
“I enjoyed the class time and meeting the people and the instructors,” she said.
In addition to a degree, Meyer said she gained a “burning in my heart to learn” and an eagerness to “help more in my parish.”
The Diocese also sponsors a Permanent Diaconate Program to prepare men for ordination as permanent deacons. The courses offered through this program are accredited through Silver Lake College as well.
Three other students who previously completed the Emmaus Program or the Permanent Diaconate Program took part in the December commencement ceremony alongside Meyer.
They included Deacon Mike Eash, deacon on staff at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Appleton; Rani Beckner, a member of the Pastoral Ministry team at Holy Family Memorial Medical Center in Manitowoc; and Carolyn Coutu, former Coordinator of Youth Ministry at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Appleton.
“These adult students have been stellar examples of personal and professional commitment,” said Sister Marie Kolbe Zamora, chair of the Department of Theology and Ministry at Silver Lake College. “Hearty congratulations to them for their many achievements. It is a joy to help them continue their educations and deepen the way they minister to God’s people.”