Marilyn Jancewicz is the 2018 recipient of Dominican University’s O’Keefe Outstanding Volunteer Achievement Award.  

The O’Keefe Award is named for Ruth McGrath O’Keefe, Class of 1935, and is presented each year to a dedicated alumna/us for their lifelong support of Dominican University.

Jancewicz came to what was then called Rosary College in 1964 and has never left the area. She has lived in River Forest for 20 years, in Oak Park for 22 years and now in Forest Park for the last 12 years.  Really a resident of the tri-village area, she said, “I know it like the back of my hand.”

She received the honor partly because of her volunteer work at Dominican, which includes terms on the President’s Advisory Board and the School of Education’s Advisory Board. She also spearheaded the creation of two endowed scholarships and served on the planning committee for her class’s 40th and 50th reunions. Finally, she served her alma mater in a paid position in the Education Department, helping place students in field education experiences and partnering Dominican with other schools. 

“We are proud to call Marilyn Jancewicz an alumna and incredibly grateful for all that she has done for Dominican University,” President Donna Carroll said in a statement. “She is a fitting example of Dominican’s mission in action and, through her life-long advocacy of the university, Marilyn is a great role model for our students, alumnae and volunteers.”  

But perhaps more importantly, Jancewicz received the honor not because of what she did but because of how she did it in her long career as a teacher in an inner city school, a school in the working class village of Broadview, and a school in the affluent community of Oak Brook.  

Jancewicz remembered Sr. Colleen McNicholas, who was the dean of the School of Education at the time Jancewicz was working for Dominican, saying of her, “I was glad that Marilyn was in the field of education to represent the university, because she not only understood education but she also understood Dominican.”

Jancewicz explained that by “understood Dominican” McNicholas was talking about the university’s values. The school’s motto, she said, is Caritas et Veritas, or “truth and love.”  

“You can be schooled but not educated,” Jancewicz declared. “Dominican gave us more than just schooling. They gave us an education that included those values.”

“We used to complain,” she recalled, “why do we have to take all this philosophy and theology for?”

“We didn’t realize it at the time,” she continued, “but that kind of foundation spreads itself out.”

In the current climate of sometimes contentious handwringing over the issue of equity, Jancewicz boiled it down to “I loved teaching no matter where I was. All kids are the same. When you strip it all down, they just want to be cared about and respected.” 

A member of St. Edmund’s Catholic Church in Oak Park, she admitted, “I am currently struggling with issues of my Catholic faith rooted in the rich Dominican values passed down to me versus the institution of the Catholic Church in light of the current scandals.”

This month, the retired educator will begin a new volunteer assignment working with the McGreal Center whose mission is to promote “the research and writing of the history of the Order of Preachers [aka Dominicans] in the United States. The Center facilitates opportunities for serious research related to the Dominican family’s significance in the life of the Order of Preachers, the church and the nation,” according to its website. 

During the four years Jancewicz studied at Rosary College, only four of her professors were lay people. All of the rest were sisters. When one of her classmates returned to the campus in River Forest this spring, after an absence of 50 years, she exclaimed, “Where are all the sisters?”

So there’s a sense of urgency in the work she is beginning.  “As everyone knows,” she explained, “the order has fewer and fewer members and most of them are older, so they are working hard to preserve the great work the sisters have done.”