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The Great Depression was a trying time for an entire nation, and Marygrove College was no exception. Having leveraged an enormous debt for the construction of the campus in 1927, the administration led by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) was feeling the pressure to deliver on the promises it had made to its congregation and student community. The IHM order had offered up its very best teaching talent, working tirelessly to implement the highest quality programs for women to be found anywhere at the college and university level. Consequently, the lack of finances and general hard times did not stop students from enrolling in record numbers.
“Marygrove was the place to be,” said Marie Ankley Drouillard, ’34, and at 101 years, the oldest known living alumna of Marygrove College. “The reputation of the IHMs and the schools they opened and supported were well known.”
Marie Ankley was only seven years old when both of her parents were taken from her by the flu epidemic of 1918-20. Her heartbreak on a Michigan farm 10 miles north of Imlay City presented many challenges early on; challenges that would not get the best of her, through the help of key mentors in her life.
“The Depression was tough, but it’s not like we all sat around and said, ‘Oh, what a terrible Depression we’re having,’” Marie says, with a refreshing sarcastic wit. “We just made do; we were all in the same boat.” She endured a cruel upbringing at the hands of her mother’s sister, who beat her “while no one was looking” for bringing pork chops back from the butcher with too much fat on them. She summed up her childhood as performing endless household chores while her cousin menacingly practiced piano scales over and over again. When she graduated high school early at age 16, she was abruptly asked to leave and find work. “As a child, I was just glad to have a roof over my head,” Marie remembers. “But when I had to go off on my own, I felt relieved.”
Despite grim economic hardship, there were some jobs for teachers available at the time, and Marie felt she had the “bearing” required to be a good one. But the politics in the state of Michigan surrounding the establishment of public schools lost her a full-time teaching position in 1932 “…because I was a Catholic in a normal [public, teacher-preparation] school.” Marie dusted herself off and enrolled in Marygrove College to expand her teaching knowledge. She lived off campus, and took odd jobs to pay tuition. Marie rode the streetcar each day, but walked the long way up Livernois Avenue if she wanted to save the six-cent fare.
Some of the fondest memories of her undergrad years were of the dances hosted by the formerly male University of Detroit and formerly female Marygrove. Formal dresses for dances were repurposed and shared among friends. “There was a rule that if your neckline was too low you would be presented with a scarf,” she said. And many were. “Just because the Depression was on didn’t mean that you had to stop having fun,” Marie adds.
She remembers Marygrove’s first President Dr. George Hermann Derry as a dapper man who held assemblies often to keep in touch with students. “My brother dated one of the Derry daughters for a while,” she said. “They were a wonderful family.” The Derrys made their home in Hartman Hall on campus, and George’s wife Agnes was a relative of Horace Mann, who is known as the Father of American Public Education.
Marie loved math class with Sister Ignatia Frye, IHM, ’34, and speech class— which was compulsory, with Sister Rose Walsh, IHM, ’31, “I wish everyone could have had her for speech,” she says wryly, launching into an animated discourse on the speech patterns of some of today’s popular broadcasters, (with perfect diction, by the way). But the Sister whom she claims to have made the biggest impact on her life was Mary Jerome Sanford, IHM.
Remembering the proud legacy of a founding faculty member
Sister Mary Jerome was a classics scholar who taught Latin at Marygrove for 19 of her 46 years as an IHM. Educated at the University of Michigan, AB, Ed., 1910, and then the University of Notre Dame, Sr. Mary Jerome was a very influential teacher in the 1930s and 40s. She was known as a brilliant mind, a mystic and writer who wrote the litany for the imprimatur of the Archdiocese of Detroit “Prayer to St. Raphael,” based on the writings of French Roman Catholic author Ernest Hello. The prayer was printed by the hundreds of thousands and distributed all over the world. It was said that many theologians credit Sister Mary Jerome for the overwhelming devotion to the Guardian Angel.
“Latin instruction was discipline for the mind!” Marie exclaimed with all the terseness of a brisk ruler smack to the hand. “It taught you how to think, much like mathematics.” Mentor and teacher Mary Jerome, IHM encouraged Marie to be strong and to have faith. She was an intellectual as many of the teachers at Marygrove were. But Sister Mary Jerome was different. “She had a sunny presence, a manner that commanded respect,” Marie says. Sr. Mary Jerome generously shared her zeal for praying to St. Raphael with her students during class.
Eighty years later, Marie still prays to St. Raphael every day, several times a day. “I even named my son Jerome Raphael after Sr. Mary Jerome,” she said.
Described by her peers as a “perfect religious,” Sister Jerome gave students something to hold on to during tough times; the Depression era and the Second World War. But her popularity was probably due to much more than that. She “walked the walk and talked the talk” with a certain congruence that inspired confidence in students like Marie, who were just testing the waters of their confidence and skill.
Sr. Mary Jerome’s love of the ethereal was tempered with a disciplined mind. Marie learned from Sister Mary Jerome that one’s actions were important. “If you want to change something, take action and do it,” she says. “You can train yourself to think positively, and let good things come into your life.” That’s precisely what contributed to a happy 61-year marriage and raising a successful family of four children in the Catholic faith. “I ended up with two lawyers and two chemists; that’s pretty good!” And it certainly is.
Marie shared her wedding photo—Albert and Marie Drouillard were a handsome couple. They both made teaching their profession in the Ecorse Public School District. Albert was a principal for many years. Both daughters, Miriam (Mimi) Drouillard Barilovich ’74 and Monica Drouillard ’77 attended Marygrove in the 1970s.
Mimi believes that the IHMs and Marygrove saved her mother. “She was obviously smart and driven to succeed at something,” Mimi said. “But the IHMs at Marygrove gave her a chance to be someone in a day when women did not have many choices, especially an orphan without resources.” Marie’s story speaks to the strong, Catholic-based social justice mission that the institution was founded on in the city of Detroit— a mission that shapes its current Urban Leadership Vision.
But what else accounts for such exemplary health to extend Marie Drouillard’s life for more than a century? A very large bag of popcorn every single day—for many years now, her caregiver confides. Marie, having been blinded from macular degeneration, doesn’t see the look of sheer amazement on her face. Marie is an amazing woman. She asks to be led back to another room where she keeps her personal “papers.”
Out of a stack of magazine articles, newspaper clippings and envelopes she rifles for something important. Quickly plucking a small wrinkled paper buried deeply within, she presents the St. Raphael prayer card. It had been photocopied long ago from the original that was printed in 1938. The type is worn, but you can see that it was dutifully used for a long, long time.
“I don’t need it anymore, I have it all memorized,” she says. Just like the fond memories of her friend, teacher and mentor, Sister Mary Jerome Sanford.
Mary Jerome Sanford, IHM died in 1952, a few years before David Joseph was born—the descendant of Sr. Mary Jerome’s grandmother who would grow up to become Marygrove College’s eighth president, Dr. David J. Fike. For young David, an entry in his grandmother’s journal from 1910 about traveling to the IHM Motherhouse in Monroe to watch Mary profess her vows would be the only tangible connection between them until many years later. Who could have known that one day he would be entrusted with the care of the College that she and her Sisters built, served, sacrificed for, and loved so well?
One of Sr. Mary Jerome’s favorite writings found in her Motherhouse archive about living in faith rings true for the Urban Leadership Vision that drives Marygrove College today. Hailing the virtues of action and advocacy, and faith and reverence, its timely discovery may be a prophecy for an institution that has weathered many storms, yet still stands tall.
“Trade with the gifts God has given;
Bend your mind to holy learning So you may escape the fretting moth of littleness of mind;
Brace your will to action That it may not be the sport of weak dreams;
Train your heart and lips to song Which keeps alive the courage of the soul.
Being buffeted by trials, learn to laugh;
Being reproved, give thanks;
Having failed, determine to succeed!
You are a warrior maiden! Be you watchful, temperate, indomitable, Serene and great-hearted, Humble and fervent, Intrepid and strong!”
-based on the words of St. Hilda of Whitby (614-680)
Marie Ankley Drouillard and countless others know exactly what she meant.
Marie Ankley Drouillard lives in Dearborn with her daughter and son-in-law, Mimi and David Barilovich. She and the late Albert Drouillard have four children: Mark, Jerome, Miriam and Monica, and seven grandchildren. They are looking forward to celebrating Marie’s 102nd birthday in the spring.