Sister Ellen Cunningham receives SMTG Award
As it turns out, a nomination written by Sister Rosemary Nudd and a letter of support from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) Vice President for Advancement and Strategic Initiatives Karen Dyer was all it took for Sister Ellen Cunningham to receive the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Award at the SMWC Alumnae Dinner, which took place on Saturday, May 19.
When Sister Ellen learned she would receive the award, she was stunned.
“’Who, me?’ sums it up pretty well,” she said. “I was surprised and so very honored – and challenged to live up to it.”
The award has been handed out since 1966 and Sister Ellen became the 13th Sister of Providence to receive the award. Sister Mary Joseph Pomeroy received the award in 1966. Other Sisters of Providence to receive the award include Sisters Jeanne Knoerle (1975); Marie Brendan Harvey (1982); Gilchrist Conway (1984, posthumously); Alexa Suelzer (1989); Barbara Doherty (1992); Helen Vinton (1999); Marie Kevin Tighe (2002); Kathleen Desautels (2010); Denise Wilkinson (2011); and Carol Nolan (2016).
According to SMWC officials, the award is in recognition of the “value-based educational legacy of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin established at the college.” The Alumni Association gives out the award annually as it seeks to honor individuals of “like purpose, devotion, community vitality and leadership.”
The award is presented to an alumna/alumnus who “embodies the spirit and virtue of the college and Congregation foundress.”
Sister Ellen graduated from SMWC in 1961. She entered the Congregation on July 22, 1959.
The River Forest, Illinois, native made a natural transition to the community as her aunt, Sister Francis Lucille Cunningham, was also a Sister of Providence.
After joining the Congregation, Sister Ellen ministered as a high school teacher, instructing English, French, chemistry and religion. In 1974, she began a 38-year ministry on the SMWC faculty, teaching mathematics, which included 12 years as a department chair and time as an advisor.
Sister Ellen has also spent four years as a volunteer at the college as she officially retired from SMWC in 2012.
“My current duties in the advancement department could probably be summed up as assistance with correspondence,” Sister Ellen said.
In her current volunteer role, Sister Ellen reaches out to alumni as an alumni ambassador for all events. She also worked on the Catholic Identity Committee for the college’s Aspire Higher Strategic Plan.
She said she is quite honored to receive the award.
“Many of the recipients, both Sisters of Providence and non-Sisters of Providence, are among my most honored women,” Sister Ellen said. “I am honored to be in their company.”