2015 Alumnae Award Winners Announced
Each year, since 1979, St. Catherine University recognizes outstanding graduates who represent the ideals of St. Catherine University. These alumnae demonstrate excellence in leadership and service to others, and play an influential role in family, profession, community, church or volunteer activities.
The 2015 Alumnae Award winners are Joan Kuzma Costello ’65, Connie Krautkremer, M.M., ’65 and Mary Emery Shearen ’75. They were recognized on Saturday, June 13 at the President's Luncheon during Reunion weekend.
Joan Kuzma Costello’s lengthy and successful career in higher education began when she was 18. “My father chose St. Kate’s for me,” she recalls. “He was very pro-women’s education. It turned out to be a great choice for me.” She was the first one in her family to attend college.
Advised by then-registrar Helen Margaret Peck, CSJ, ’24, Costello prepared for graduate studies instead of a teaching licensure, which her father urged her to pursue because he believed it came with job security. Following graduation, Costello received a Ford Fellowship to study English at the University of Chicago. She earned her master’s degree a year later.
Costello’s resume includes teaching positions at Winona State University, Minot State University and St. Louis University, where she earned a Ph.D. in English. Her career moves matched the Air Force duty assignments of her husband, Stephen. During a stint in Germany, she taught service men and women and their spouses at the University of Maryland University College.
Upon Stephen’s military retirement in 1989, the Costello family returned to St. Paul. Joan joined the faculty at Inver Hills Community College, where she spent 24 years. She became provost and vice president for academic affairs after serving as English professor for 12 years.
“When I arrived at St. Kate’s, I could’ve never imagined a career in higher education or getting my doctorate,” she says. “My dad just wanted me to get a secure teaching job. He never imagined the possibilities.”
Costello was named 2010 Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) Administrator of the Year. Her MnSCU colleagues praised her professionalism, depth of knowledge and leadership. They also admired her passion for consistently using higher education to help individuals from all parts of society.
When asked why she’s done what she has for so long, Costello shares a quote from Mary William Brady CSJ, ’31, former St. Kate’s president: “We’re not educated for ourselves, we’re educated for what we can do for others.”
Since retiring in 2013, Costello has kept busy as an education consultant for the Persistence and Success Academy at the Higher Learning Commission. She’s also active at her parish, Nativity of Our Lord, and serves on the Alumnae Council at St. Kate’s.
“Joan has done it all: wife, mother, devoted Catholic, educator, administrator, volunteer and dear friend,” says classmate Catherine Lang Fee ’65, who nominated her for the Alumnae Award.
As a high school senior, Connie Krautkremer, M.M., attended a discernment retreat, a visit with a religious community for those contemplating religious life. Here, she received her calling to her life’s work. “I had this clear knowing I would be a missionary,” she explains.
The Maryknoll Sisters Congregation, dedicated to serving poor, ailing and marginalized people around the world, seemed a good fit for Sister Connie. But the congregation required a year of college or work before entrance. She applied to St. Kate’s, expecting to stay for just one year. She spent four years, earning her biology degree in 1965.
“Everything I learned at St. Kate’s has helped me,” she says. “Coming from a small farming community, I was exposed at St. Kate’s to a world that excited and challenged me.”
Sister Connie made her first vows in 1968, following three years of study at the Maryknoll School of Theology in New York. Her first assignment was Tanzania.
Arriving in January of 1969, she taught science and religion at a secondary school in Bukoba, Tanzania. From there, she moved to Dar es Salaam where she was a youth worker. In 1978, she began teaching at Nangwa Girls Secondary School in Babati, and became the school’s principal in 1981. Nangwa is an experimental school that prepares young women for leadership roles in their villages. The system Sister Connie helped develop has produced some of the first women leaders in Tanzania and the United Nations.
Sister Connie spent six years on the Maryknoll congregational leadership team. She traveled the world — including Myanmar, American Samoa, Nepal, Cambodia, Yap, Marshall Islands and Albania — to see the work of the Maryknoll Sisters. She considers these trips among her most rewarding experiences.
In 2009, Sister Connie returned to Tanzania as a teacher, counselor and program facilitator for high school students. She also works with widows, who face economic and social hardship. Homes and furnishings are often confiscated by a husband’s relatives when he dies, and widows with little education or employable skills are faced with poverty and homelessness.
“What holds it all together for me is my commitment to women,” she explains. “The various ways I have engaged with women, shared my skills and learned, have been so meaningful.”
According to classmate Terry Kohout Amel ’65, who nominated her for the award, “Sister Connie’s ties to St. Kate’s have endured throughout every hour of every day of her ministry over the last 50 years. She has carried with her over a lifetime the values the University instilled in her.”
Mary Emery Shearen’s college career didn’t begin at St. Catherine University, but she found her way to the St. Paul campus and is grateful she did.
One of her favorite memories happened during her first campus visit. She had an appointment with Marie Corrigan ’26, then dean of students, for what she thought would be just an informational talk about St. Kate’s. Shearen, at the time, was an unhappy student at another university.
“Before I left campus that day, she had me signed up for three semesters of classes,” Shearen recalls. “I didn’t know what happened to me. I went home and said ‘I think I just transferred to St. Kate’s.’ Now I know that she saved me. I’m so grateful for her.”
With nursing degree in hand, she landed on the transplant floor of the University of Minnesota Hospital. “What we were doing there was cutting edge at the time,” she explains. “It was fast paced and I worked hard. I was a head nurse by the age of 26.”
After several years at the hospital, and careful consideration about her career path, Shearen left nursing to attend law school. As the daughter of a nurse and an attorney, she was raised with a connection to both professions.
She was valedictorian of her class at William Mitchell College of Law in 1988. She went on to serve as a law clerk with the Honorable Donald P. Lay, chief judge of the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1989, she joined Best and Flanagan in Minneapolis, where she continues to practice as an attorney. She became a member of the firm’s executive committee in 2013.
“A common denominator in everything I’ve done is that I cared for others,” she says, when asked the secret to her success. “It makes such a difference.”
She also credits her alma mater. “St. Kate’s is an extraordinarily special place,” she adds. “The culture established by the Sisters is one of quiet confidence. They instilled a standard of conduct — to care.”
Carol Delage ’80, who nominated her for the award, says: “Truly outstanding leaders want to serve others, not themselves; Mary Shearen understands and lives this principle each day.”
In addition to her work at the law firm, Shearen is an active volunteer. She’s the chair of the Friends of St. Paul College and gives her time to St. Kate’s, William Mitchell and the Cornerstone Council.
“Service to others is just a part of my family culture,” she says. “I feel blessed to have skills I can share with others, and I think it’s important to help when you can.”
Related content: List of past Alumnae Award winners