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A Busy and Fulfilling Life for a 'News Nun' : Sister in Charge of Putting Out the Good Word on Activities at Mount St. Mary's College

November 28, 1985|ZAN THOMPSON | Thompson writes a column for the Sunday View section. and

She doesn't take meetings. She has never had her foot in the Polo Lounge or the Bistro Garden. She doesn't use any of the publicity patois that fuddles the conversations of those who work in publicity.

She does, however, do lunch, although she doesn't put it like that.

Seated in the Bishop's Dining Room on the Brentwood campus of Mount St. Mary's College, Sister Anne Marie was explaining to her lunch guest that she does not do interviews about herself and thinks it poor judgment to call attention to herself.

Woman of Enthusiasm

She is a tall, slender St. Joseph of Carondelet nun with a fluff of red-gold bang over her blue eyes. She is a woman of enthusiasm and charm, and before long she was doing an interview, not because she wanted to but because she has such excitement about her work that she likes to talk about it.

(It's not really the Bishop's Dining Room, but it has been called that for 45 years, ever since His Excellency John J. Cantwell, archbishop of Los Angeles and San Diego, sat in that room with the tall-back tapestry chairs to lunch grandly alone. Bishop Cantwell was a ducal procession all by himself, so the name for the dining room stuck.)

Started in 1967

Sister Anne Marie talks like a woman who has always been excited about whatever was coming next. She has been the "News Nun," as she calls herself, since June 10, 1967, when the then-president of the college, Sister Cecilia Louise Moore, asked her to come to Mount St. Mary's campus to act as news office director. She had a hand-me-down camera and one roll of film, which she shot of the college president, Cecilia Louise, a pretty woman who was young to be a college president. That roll of film was her entree to Los Angeles newsrooms. She introduced herself, told them she was new to the job, which they already had guessed, and gave them a picture of Sister Cecilia Louise.

She has been in charge of the news office for the college ever since and has managed at least her share of space and air time for the 60-year-old undergraduate women's college with a student body of 1,100.

Sister Anne Marie is a hometown girl who visits her sister and five nieces and nephews often. She went to St. Mary's Academy, an elementary and high school that the St. Joseph nuns built before they founded Mount St. Mary's College on a mountaintop above Chalon Road.

The college now has two campuses. In 1958, Estelle Doheny presented her magnificent enclave at Figueroa Street and Adams Boulevard to the archdiocese, which asked the St. Joseph nuns to use it as a community services college. They established the college in the Victorian buildings in mid-town Los Angeles.

Physical Therapy Course

Two-year students receive an associate of arts degree within a liberal-arts framework. The students are offered business courses, and there is a highly regarded course in physical therapy. The great preponderance of Doheny campus students goes on to four-year colleges (including Mount St. Mary's).

Because a number of the master's programs are now at the Doheny campus, and the nursing students have classes at both campuses, it's a chancy thing to estimate the student body at each campus. This year, there will be about 125 two-year graduates, 65 more receiving master's degrees and credentials in teaching and administration. The Chalon campus is projected to graduate 210 with bachelor's degrees. Sister Anne Marie spends a good deal of time commuting from campus to campus to be sure that each event receives its attention.

Sister Anne Marie is also selling the hometown product. She is a graduate of Mount St. Mary's College.

Years of Teaching

After receiving her master's degree in English in 1955, she moved up and down the coast and into Arizona, teaching in almost all of the 10 St. Joseph of Carondelet high schools--Prescott, Oxnard, San Diego, Los Angeles, Tucson. She taught journalism, graphics, speech, debating and, for a touch of academic class, she taught Chaucer during the summer session at the Chalon campus.

"I thought I'd live and die teaching," she said. "It was what I wanted to do."

When she was in Prescott, Ariz., she was principal of a co-educational school, a full college prep high school.

'Kids Got Scholarships'

"One boy took advanced math at the college level. Almost all the kids got scholarships. The tuition was $3 a month. I finally had to raise it to $5, and it almost killed me. I didn't lose a kid, though. They got it somehow.

"I learned how to score a track meet and coach six-man football."

She also wrote a daily column in the Prescott Courier, just to fill those yawning hours. (And, while she didn't mention it, others say that she has been known to play a respectable game of tennis, too.)

It was Sister Anne Marie's background in journalism, graphics and photography that led Sister Cecilia Louise to ask her to help out with public relations at the Mount in 1967. "I've been here ever since," she said.

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