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Sr. Mary Karita Ivancic: Educating and Living Theology and Music
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Sr. Mary Karita Ivancic: Educating and Living Theology and Music at Notre Dame College

When Sr. Mary Karita Ivancic, SND, ’71 became a Sister of Notre Dame, she took on a new name in the tradition of many women religious. Karita comes from the Latin word, caritas, which translates into “love” or “charity.”

“In the Biblical tradition, a change in one’s name signifies a change in one’s destiny, taking on a new identity as a person who is publicly consecrated to God and who is working full-time for God,” she said.

True to her new name, Sr. Karita has ministered in charity as a dedicated member to the Sisters’ Chardon, Ohio, province for 45 years and has taught love through theology and music at Notre Dame College for more than four decades. She has directed the College choir for 12 years.

One of the choir’s first performances of the 2013-2014 school year will be during Founders’ Week, which honors the Sisters of Notre Dame and others who have helped build and grown the College. The vocal group will present an original piece about Notre Dame’s signature ARCH Curriculum─focused on academics, responsibility of self, Catholic social justice and humanities─written by Sr. Karita.

In addition to her work as director of the choir and associate professor of theology and music at the College, Sr. Karita also serves as liturgy and pastoral music coordinator at Notre Dame Educational Center. And in spite of her more than full-time work schedule, she is ever mindful of living and teaching a life of prayerful discernment and compassion.

Always positive, always praying for people she has just met as well as those she has known, Sr. Karita said benevolence from and through Christ, and a strong sense of Catholic morality instilled by her parents, keep her going─and help her keep students going─on the most trying of days.

While she has dedicated her life to God by means of teaching theology and living out a religious vocation, Sr. Karita said everyone struggles to understand their experience, sometimes especially students. And she teaches that this humanity─reflected on through prayer and oftentimes the arts─can only lead people closer to Christ.

“Doubt is never a bad thing,” she said. “Doubt usually is a growing pain. It’s a very good thing, actually, because it enables us to recast questions that we need to wrestle with in order to grow deeper into our own faith.”

The only child of John and Kathryn Ivancic, she was born Kathryn Mary in Cleveland. In addition to raising her with a strong sense of faith, her parents also nurtured her passion for learning and love of music—all of which have definedher professional path.

“My dad’s idea of a family vacation was to go to a different cultural location and immerse ourselves in it, whether it was the orchestra or museum or playhouse,” she said. “I always remember my dad was passionate about learning, too: going to night school, teaching himself to sing by sight to be better in the church choir. Both of my parents came with a great love of music.”

Sr. Karita, who studied piano and voice throughout her youth, has taught music as well as theology for nearly 40 years, including 27 at the high school level, where she also was a German instructor. During summers from her secondary school position, she often would work as an adjunct instructor at Notre Dame.

Her first teaching assignment at Notre Dame—immediately upon her graduation from the College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in music education and German in May 1971—was a class on musical fundamentals for elementary school teachers.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “I got to work with these really dedicated, serious students, elementary teachers, who wanted to master fundamentals of music.”

She continued to teach the College course for several summers and was inspired to earn her master’s degree in music education from Indiana University and her Doctor of Ministry degree from St. Mary’s Seminary & Graduate School of Theology.

Then in 1995, Sr. Karita received a call from the College inquiring as to whether she would be interested in re-starting Notre Dame’s disbanded choir program. She graciously added it to her ministry and lovingly refers to the College’s first group of student singers in decades as the “Nine Re-founding Mothers.”

Sr. Karita, who left her career teaching high school in 1998 and joined the College as an assistant professor in 2001 in addition to her role with the choir, is proud that many of her Notre Dame students have gone on to worship through music and Scripture as liturgical, youth and adult faith formation ministers.

“As a teacher, you become a little tiny piece in the mosaic of students’ lives,” she said. “I lay a little stone and with God’s grace and the students’ cooperation, I have been blessed to see how they have flourished.”

In addition to receiving a President’s Appreciation Award from Dr. Roth, Sr. Karita has received two awards from the College for her instruction of students. One was the Outstanding Teaching Award in 2005, and the other was an Academic Support Center Teaching Award in 2008.

“In a sense, these awards were affirmations that I had made a good choice in moving from high school to this level,” she said.

But Sr. Karita’s connection to the College goes back well before she started as an adjunct instructor, and even before she started as a student at Notre Dame. As a youth, she attended Regina High School, which now serves as the College’s Regina Complex.

At Regina, Sr. Karita first uncovered her passion for educating others─when one of her high school choral instructors asked her to become a student director for her high school’s choir. Then, she realized she wanted to pursue teaching music as a career.

While a student at the high school, Sr. Karita also first learned about the Sisters of Notre Dame, who often taught her classes. She said she was drawn to their happiness and contentment.

“I was very impressed with their spirit,” she said, “and I decided that I would really like to join them.”

Because she was an only child, however, one of her high school guidance counselors suggested she attend college for at least a year, so she could get used to being away from her parents─and her parents could get used to their only child being away from them.

Following her high school graduation, Sr. Karita attended the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati. She only stayed for a semester, though, because by mid-year, she still felt a strong calling to join the Sisters. So she returned to Chardon to enter the order and continue her undergraduate education at Notre Dame.

She initially entered the order as a postulant─a beginning stage of religious formation where no official commitments are made─in February of 1967. She studied as a novice for two years, made her first vows in 1969 and professed her final vows in August 1974.

“I have been a Sister of Notre Dame, ministering in many of our institutions at the high school and college level ever since then,” she said.

With regard to the next stages in her life, Ivancic said she looks forward to continuing to teach students at Notre Dame in a way that advances the College’s mission and her personal philosophy of education. Her motto is reflective of her life─and name. It represents the Sisters of Notre Dame and their foundation in a God of goodness, as well as her family upbringing and career studying and teaching Scripture through the wonder and delight of the arts.

“I educate students to know a God of truth, goodness, beauty and love,” Sr. Karita said, “which I hope to do as long as God gives me strength.”