A Visitation Academy education prepares young women to accomplish incredible things in life. Visitation alumnae have gone on to achieve high-ranking positions in government, business, and science. We encourage you to read the stories below and hear how their years at Viz gave our alumnae the knowledge, virtues, and skills to succeed in a diverse array of careers around the world.
Have a story of your own to share? We’d love to hear it.
Marianne Muellerleile ’67 is a distinguished actress well regarded for her vast range of comedic and dramatic work in film, television, and stage. Perhaps best known for her role as “Gloria” on LIFE WITH BONNIE and “Norma” on PASSIONS, Marianne credits number well over 500 and continue to increase as she remains one of the most sought after character actresses in Hollywood.
Mary Engelbreit ’70 is a well-known artist and the owner of Mary Engelbreit Studios. Mary has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Wendy Wiese ’79 is a well-known local radio and TV host.
Alicia Fronckiewicz Elsner ’91 is the President and General Manager of KSDK NewsChannel 5.
Christina LoNigro ’91 is the Press Secretary and Communications Advisor for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Bonnie Beracha Micheli ’94 co-founded the Shred415 gym franchise.
“Viz has had an incredible impact on who I am today. It taught me to work hard and hustle to get what you want. Viz taught me to be a strong woman because, at Viz, I was surrounded by so many strong, smart women. Viz taught me about community and how important it is. At Shred415, we have such a strong community of Shredders and that concept existed for me at Viz with the teachers, the staff, the sisters, and all my amazing friends. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without my six years at Visitation Academy!” – Bonnie Beracha Micheli ’94
Sunny Unnerstall ’08 is the Director of Development at the World Bird Sanctuary.
“Viz had a major impact on who I am; most notably through the friendships and community. Whether it’s maintaining connections with my best friends despite huge distances, catching up with classmates or teachers every now and then, or encountering a random girl who recognizes my crescent at an event, my Visitation community and relationships have remained a constant. Witnessing fiercely supportive, driven women pursue their dreams prepared me to be a woman in leadership and to thrive under the guidance of other strong female leaders. The outstanding education I received at Viz truly gave me the foundation to which I apply everything I have learned since. Whether acting or building sets for the school plays, overcoming adversity through teamwork in field hockey and lacrosse, or learning algebra equations that do, in fact, end up being useful in business, every aspect of life at Viz taught me something valuable.
And then there’s the constant reminder that rings in the back of my head, ‘Be who you are and be that well.’ Though it took an interesting journey to get to where I am, most who knew me during my time at Viz are probably not surprised to hear what I do now. That token of wisdom from St. Francis de Sales has been invaluable, and I am proud to say that what I do for a living honors his advice. Viz gave me the space to be myself, and my career path has and will continue to be a journey to fulfill being that well. The importance of giving back to my community and making a positive impact in the world was reinforced at Viz and has shaped my career. I will forever be grateful for my six years at Viz and the lifelong impact it has had on me.” – Sunny Unnerstall ’08
Kelly Ferguson Prunty ’97 co-founded the nonprofit Addiction is Real, Inc., where she currently serves as Executive Director.
“My time at Viz has definitely influenced who I am and where I have landed in my career. If you’d asked me ten years ago, I never would have imagined that I’d co-found a nonprofit! This was not a conscious goal of mine that I’d studied or planned for throughout my education or early career. I was busy raising four amazing kids and running a small creative business online. But God had bigger plans for me. The faith and trust in God that I developed during my time at Viz truly allowed me to open my heart and mind to God’s plan, in an effort to Live Jesus in my everyday life. I am so grateful for the faith and trust in God that I developed during my time at Viz, as well as the leadership skills and solid academic foundation that has allowed me to confidently step into the Executive Director role.” – Kelly Ferguson Prunty ’97
Jenny Heebner Seitz ’97 runs her own floral design business Blooms, LLC in St. Louis. Read about Jenny’s path to starting her own business:
“I am a floral designer. I started my career almost fifteen years ago when I realized I was not happy in my first job out of college. I knew that I wanted to utilize my passion for creativity in some capacity. After working and learning alongside my aunt and other local florists, I knew that floral design was what I was meant to do. We specialize in weddings of all sizes as well as corporate and school/university events. My time at Viz definitely helped me hone the work ethic needed to start your own business. Because of Viz’s rigorous academics, I was motivated and dedicated in making sure I succeeded during my time there. I put in countless hours and studied very hard in all of my classes and as a result, I built a very strong work ethic to which I have carried over into my career today. I loved my experience at Viz. It pushed me to be a self-motivator, to develop a hard-working nature, and to be dedicated to success; all of which gave me the courage to start down this career path that I still love doing today.” – Jenny Heebner Seitz ’97
Colette Bottini Peck ’94 lives in the Washington, D.C. area and works for the USAID – US Agency for International Development. The USAID leads the U.S. government’s international development and disaster assistance through partnerships and investments that save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people emerge from humanitarian crises and progress beyond assistance.
“I’m working as a Senior Advisor on Orphans and Vulnerable Children in the Office of HIV/AIDS at the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID). In this role, I provide technical assistance and management of our U.S government foreign humanitarian assistance programs addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic globally, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Sr. Marie Therese Ruthmann recommended Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton in my senior year of English at Viz, and I have been hooked on Africa ever since! It led to my concentration in African studies in college at the University of Virginia, joining the Peace Corps, and my current career in international development. More generally, Viz gave me a great education, confidence to pursue my interests, a high school experience I cherish deeply, and lifelong friendships with strong, wonderful women!” – Colette Bottini Peck ’94
Morgan Howard ’16 has visited 50 countries throughout her studies in college and beyond. Read about her global adventures below:
“I recently graduated with my Bachelors of Arts in Communication Studies from Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain, and my undergraduate experience was not your typical path. I was able to study in several countries (and seas) around the world. My studies began in Paris, France, where I spent my weekdays in classrooms and weekends in other European countries. I then returned to St. Louis where I attended Saint Louis University. After spending two semesters back in St. Louis, I decided to spend a semester living on a ship where we studied on board while traveling to several countries around the globe. We embarked in California then sailed to Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and Portugal. Students had the opportunity to take courses in a variety of subjects ranging from Oceanography to Business Ethics. When we were in port we had the opportunity to travel within the country and explore all that it had to offer.
While on Semester at Sea (somewhere in the Arabian Sea between India and Mauritius), my “travel bug” was telling me there was so much more to see and explore in this world. I decided to transfer to Saint Louis University – Madrid Campus, where I would spend my third and final year of undergrad. By the time I graduated, I had traveled to 50 countries just in those three years.
Ultimately, my travels are what have led me into the next chapter of my life and into my future career. I will be continuing my travels and education in London, England, attending Coventry University to pursue my Masters of Science in International Hospitality and Tourism Management. I am incredibly excited and blessed for this next chapter and to see where life takes me!
My gratitude towards Visitation is more than words can describe. Viz played a crucial and instrumental role in the formation of who I am today through their endless support and the valuable life lessons learned during my time there. Viz goes beyond just being an academic institution, it truly is one giant family. The faculty and staff not only care about your academic success but about you and your personal life. When they ask “how are you doing,” they truly do what to know. They help guide you into becoming strong, independent, successful women of the world. That is what makes Visitation Academy so unique and personal and why I will forever be proud to call myself a Vivette!” – Morgan Howard ’16
Mary Ann Clancy Schwartz ’83 serves as the moderator of the St. Louis Visitation Association of Christian Faithful. Hear about where Mary Ann’s path has taken her and what Viz means to her below:
“As a Viz girl, I loved knowing that the Sisters were near in the Monastery…even when we were working late on a play, or decorating the halls for Spirit Week, the Sisters were there, praying for us, and the mission of the school was a constant. My first job out of college was at Children’s Hospital at Stanford, a 59 bed hospital for chronically ill children, in the Development Office. The dedication of the doctors, nurses, and staff to the children reminded me of the Sisters’ devotion to their students. The work of caring for the children was constant, like Viz’s work of teaching and praying for students, alumnae, and their families. My career in advancement was inspired by my days at Viz and the Salesian spirituality which emphasizes our relationship with God and one another. As a development officer, I loved developing trusting, lasting relationships with families, learning about their interests, and creating unique opportunities for them to make a profound impact on an institution they cared very deeply about. This work was very meaningful to me! I still keep in touch with the supporters I worked with!
Today, I am a member of the Association of the Christian Faithful (ACF). The ACF was created by the Sisters in 2003 to serve as the Catholic sponsor of the school (maintain the Canonical relationship) when there are no longer Sisters in active ministry. In 2015, the ACF became co-sponsors of the Academy at the request of the Sisters and by approval of Archbishop Carlson. Along with sponsoring the school, ACF members are dedicated to living the Visitation Salesian charism, serving as a prayerful presence within the Visitation community, and serving side-by-side with the Sisters.
You may see me around Viz, at mass, in Jane’s Place, chatting with friends about Salesian spirituality, or meeting with the ACF. It is an honor and a privilege to do this work. Every day I am in awe of the wisdom of our Sisters and ACF members. They are the most loving people I know. I am grateful that I am able to be present during a time in our history when Viz is bursting with innovation in curriculum, teaching, leadership, and JOY. The administration, faculty, staff, and students are remarkable. Viz is a house that love built. It is led with love, and by love. How truly blessed I am to be a part of this community!” – Mary Ann Clancy Schwartz ’83
Mariclaire Rebman Lane ’07 is currently working at Oracle as an Application Sales Manager. Read about her story in her own words:
“I’m currently an Application Sales Manager at Oracle selling Oracle’s back office cloud applications (finance, HR, Supply Chain, IoT apps) to Midwest companies with $500M-$2B in revenue. I’ve been in software sales for the past six years and absolutely love it. I love learning about different industries and how our software solves many different business needs.
Viz has played a huge role in my life and has influenced who I am today (16 years of my 30 years in life were spent at Viz!) It’s hard to put into words how much Viz has made me who I am today and where I am in both my professional and personal life. Viz taught me from a young age to be myself and to be that well. It has helped me to become a confident professional woman in a male dominated tech industry. I am so thankful for my 16 years at Viz and the Visitation community!” – Mariclaire Rebman Lane ’07
Liz Charnowski ’07 was recently named a “2019 Rising Star” by Illinois Super Lawyers. Hear about Liz’s career path and the role her time at Viz played in her life in her own words:
“I am currently an attorney at Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP in Chicago. I am an associate in the firm’s Construction and Real Estate Advocacy practice group, and I focus my practice on construction, real estate, and other commercial litigation matters. I have been a practicing attorney in Chicago since 2014 when I graduated from Notre Dame Law School, and my practice since law school has included a wide range of litigation matters.
Although I did not decide until my senior year of high school that I wanted to be an attorney, I can trace my interest in the law all the way back to the eighth grade. A teacher at Viz, Mrs. Scarpinato, motivated me to apply to the Youth in Government program (YIG) and that jump-started my interest in the law. I joined YIG in eighth grade as a page and continued to be on an attorney team for four years and a judge for three of those years. I still have very vivid memories of arguing cases in the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City, staying up late with my three teammates to work on a case, and judging the moot court finals in the Missouri Supreme Court building from the bench where the Missouri Supreme Court justices listen to oral arguments. Not only did Mrs. Scarpinato and other teachers mentor me to become the person I am today, but my teammates and other Viz girls pushed me to excel and to pursue my dreams. Although, I am the only one of my team that pursued a career in law (the other three girls have great careers in private equity, medicine, and accounting, respectively), I know I would not be where I am today without the support of the Viz community!” – Liz Charnowski ’07
Laura Iffrig Feldmaier ’02 works for Barry-Wehmiller Design Group while simultaneously managing her own small business and passion project, Lola Louie Paperie. Here is what she had to say about her career and the role Viz played in her life:
“I am currently a Corporate Recruiter at Barry-Wehmiller Design Group, where I’ve been since shortly after I graduated from Mizzou in 2006. I specialize in full-cycle recruiting from entry to experienced engineering professionals. I truly love working for a people-centric company like Barry-Wehmiller and being challenged every day to recruit top talent in such a competitive field. I earned my MBA from UMSL in 2013, which I completed while working full-time and starting a side business, lola louie paperie. While planning my wedding, I couldn’t find the exact invitations and wedding paper goods that I wanted, so I decided to make them on my own. Shortly thereafter, I started selling some of my designs on Etsy, and since then it’s truly grown into a passion project for me. I have several Viz alumnae as clients – both for wedding invitations and everyday cards! I can confidently say that Viz deeply influenced who I am as a woman today. The tools I learned at Viz allowed me to find the confidence to succeed in a male-dominated industry and pursue my personal passions at the same time. I know that nothing is off limits – I can do anything I dream of with a little faith, hard work, and determination!” -Laura Iffrig Feldmaier ’02
Jennifer Bourneuf Carrera ’86 has worked in Clinical Oncology Social Work and Oncology Programming with a special interest in adolescent and young adult ”AYA” cancer survivors for the past 16 years. She provides programming and counseling to cancer survivors and their loved ones who may be having difficulty coping or adjusting to the illness. Jennifer was recently recognized as a 2018 Health Care Hero by the San Antonio Business Journal, as well as being the 2018 Thrivewell Healing Hearts Gala honoree, in addition to receiving many other accolades in her career as a social worker.
“I knew that I wanted to be a social worker at age 11 whether it was volunteering in a nursing home, caring for my two grandmothers, or raising money for philanthropy. I feel strongly that Visitation helped validate my desire to become a social worker. Whether it was providing opportunities such as senior apostolic day to serve the community, fostering a sense of gratitude for all that the we have been given, or instilling the mantra to “Live Jesus” and help those less fortunate. What better way to Live Jesus than to help the marginalized, the impoverished, the disabled? Sister Karen Mohan’s enthusiasm and joy in serving others was contagious.”– Jennifer Bourneuf Carrera ’86
“One of my most poignant memories of life at Viz was having Sister Margaret Mary talk to us about choosing a vocation – which I always interpreted as finding gainful employment that was much more than a job, but something I could invest my whole self into.”
-Tracy Roberts-Pounds ’93
Tracy Roberts-Pounds ’93 is a United States Foreign Service Officer who has served at U.S. Embassies in the Middle East for the past decade. She currently works as the Director for International Media in the Bureau of Public Affairs at the Department of State in Washington, DC. On her professional experience, Tracy wrote “I’m so fortunate that I found my way to the State Department – a career I never ever imagined myself doing when I was sitting in Sister Margaret Mary’s class. It has been so rewarding to serve my country as a Diplomat – the work we do is much more than a job, it is truly a way of life. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve with my family in countries like Syria, Kuwait, and Bahrain, advancing U.S. interests and promoting peace and security.”
“Throughout the nine years I attended Viz, I was constantly taught to think out of the box and was able to bring many of my creative ideas to life. My teachers and mentors encouraged me to dream big!”
– Caroline Wright ’09
I graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas with University Honors with a BBA in Marketing and a minor in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs. After interning in the Marketing Department of Lilly Pulitzer, I was ecstatic to accept a full-time offer from my favorite fashion brand and headed to work at their corporate headquarters, The Pink Palace, in Philadelphia! While an intern with Lilly, I created a Greek Ambassador program to help promote their Sorority Collection that I managed from school. Click here to read the full article. Caroline currently serves as the Director of Marketing at Victoria’s Secret.
“Visitation has impacted my life in more ways than I could have imagined. My teachers and classmates challenged me in class, and I was never afraid to share my opinion. My classmates contributed to my own intellectual development, and I truly experienced a very active academic environment where girls wanted to learn.”
– Kiley Hunkler ’09
Kiley Hunkler ’09 was named a Rhodes Scholar and joined 31 other American representatives at the University of Oxford in 2013 to pursue a master’s degree in their chosen field of study. Click here to read the full article.
“I could see God all around and everything the Sisters at
Viz ever stood for, in my mind, came to the forefront in my life and it all started to make sense. My entire life I was being shaped by God and the Sisters were clearly his stewards”
– Jill DiSalvo Rose ’81
Jill DiSalvo Rose ’81 left Visitation Academy uncertain about what direction her life would take her. Even though she excelled in her collegiate studies and was at the top of her career, she still felt an emptiness that led her to follow her lifelong dream to travel to Africa. That is where she finally understood the call from God and chose to pursue missionary work. She credits her time at Visitation for laying the groundwork that has led her on this journey and has made her the person she is today. Click here to read the full article.
“Visitation gave me the confidence I needed to pursue my passion for aviation. I had some great teachers who inspired me to always believe in myself and gave me the courage to do whatever I set my mind to. I always believed that Viz was not just a “college prep” school, but also a ‘life prep’ school.”
– Robin Jones Shields ’75
Robin Jones Shields ’75 was recently promoted to the captain position on the American Airlines Boeing 777, which carries 247 passengers, a crew of 15 and weighs 648,000 pounds when full. Robin is now traveling to destinations in Asia, Europe, and South America. She has been flying as a pilot for American Airlines for nearly 28 years and have been a captain for more than 21 years. Click here to read the full article.
“I had amazing teachers and received an incredible education…I also had a lot of confidence in myself and my intelligence.”
– Clare Brady ’06
Clare Brady struggled with an eating disorder during high school. That eating disorder would spark a fire in her that has led her from a career in business to an entirely new path. It was the confidence that Viz instilled in her which gave her the courage to take the leap.
Click here to read the full article.
“My Visitation education set me on a path for success in multiple areas of my life. Spiritually, it helped deepen my Catholic faith. To this day, I still think about living Jesus, no matter where I am in the world or what I am doing. Academically, it has helped me to succeed in college and in my time in the Navy. It helped me achieve acceptance at a top-ranked university. Not only was I accepted, but I graduated with honors.”
– Lt. Mary Lowell ’98
I graduated from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in 2003. I earned a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) scholarship to attend Georgetown which covered all tuition and academic fees. Click here to read the full article.
“One of the Visitation Sisters is the reason for my vocation.
It was her gentleness and kindness that made me think if Sisters are like this, I want to be one of those who can help others like she does.”
– Sister Madonna Buder ’48
Sister Madonna Buder graduated from Visitation Academy in 1948. She is also fondly referred to as the Iron Nun. Sister has competed in 45 Iron Man triathlons even though she did not begin her running career until she was in her late 40s. Sister Madonna is well known in the triathlon community for her many age-group wins. In 2005, at the age of 75, she became the oldest woman to ever complete the race.
Click here to read the full article.
“Our class motto was ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ My education, both spiritual and academic, at Viz gave me the confidence to travel the world, to appreciate different cultures, and to be a leader for change in some of the most under-served parts of the world.”
– Tricia Wilbur Akers ’06
Tricia Wilbur Akers ’06 served in the Peace Corps as an environmental health volunteer in Panama. She constructed composting latrines and trained her community’s water committee on health and sanitation issues, while also helping to coordinate a youth leadership seminar that addressed issues such as self-esteem, self-image, HIV/AIDS prevention, and teen pregnancy. Since returning from Panama, Tricia has continued to work with water and sanitation in developing countries. Now working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, she has traveled to Ethiopia, Ghana, and Burkina Faso to evaluate latrines and water quality testing methods.
“Attending Visitation Academy for high school was a wonderful experience, and many things stand out about my Viz education. Of course the outstanding education I received is something I am appreciative of. The friendships I formed with some truly amazing, intelligent, driven women I cherish dearly. Viz’s inspiring and nourishing environment had a large impact on my desire to pursue a career in medicine and more importantly instilled in me the courage to become a physician. I greatly value the gentle virtues emphasized in my Visitation education most importantly kindness. The confidence that a Viz education gives its students has fueled me to be the best advocate I can be for my patients, and for that I am incredibly grateful.”
– Dr. Bailey Hunkler ‘09
Bailey graduated from the University of Missouri Kansas City six year B.A./M.D. program with a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Doctor of Medicine, Magna Cum Laude. She was awarded the School of Medicine Garcia Memorial Award and Scholarship, Missouri State Medical Association Scholarship, Intern Primary Care Resident of the Year, Alpha Omega Alpha National Honor Society, Mortar Board National Honor Society, Golden Key National Honor Society, and Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity. Bailey is currently finishing her internal medicine residency at Emory University in Atlanta.
“I have a large heart full of love and appreciation for Visitation Academy! My time at Viz prepared me so well for my collegiate experience, and above all helped me to learn and grow into the young woman that I am today. I cherish the values that my Viz education, family, and experiences afforded me, and could not be more proud to call myself an alumna.”
– Rachel Wilhelm Lamey ’09
Rachel graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Creighton University, where she was awarded Freshman Scholar (Top 5% of freshmen for first semester), Dean’s List (2009-2013), IGGY (Freshman Mentor) Award, an Academic Scholarship, and a Service and Leadership Scholarship. She is currently the Strategic Partnerships Manager with Delta Delta Delta.
“I am extraordinarily grateful for my Visitation education. I was a Viz student for 13 years…Many year’s later I met some Minneapolis Visitation sisters in Collegeville, Minnesota. I told them I was a graduate of Viz in Saint Louis. They asked me what I valued about my Visitation education. I paused for a moment and responded ‘they helped me to recognize my gifts and talents.’ In reflecting this year about my journey in ministry as a chaplain, I realized that it was as a high school student at Viz that the gospel mandate of living for and serving others was first crystallized. It was in visits to the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home as a student that those seeds were planted and later bore fruit in my years of chaplaincy. “
– Mary Lou Matteuzzi O’Gorman ’59
Mary Lou Matteuzzi O’Gorman ’59 was honored for her career as a hospital chaplain with the Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC). She began her career as a Catholic elementary school teacher in St. Louis, briefly lived in Belgium, and then eventually took classes at a seminary while living in Denver where she discovered her gift for working with the sick. Click here to read more about her ministry.
“Viz instilled self-confidence in my knowledge and skills. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start my own practice straight out of school without Viz.”
-Kate Wagner ’10
Kate Wagner ’10 received a B.S. in biology from Maryville University and now teaches biology there as a professor. She then earned her Doctorate of Chiropractic from Logan University and then completed her clinical internship at the Scott Air Force Base Clinic. Upon finishing school, she immediately opened her own clinic in O’Fallon, Missouri. To read more about Kate, click here for the full article.
“Viz’s culture helped me develop strong values and build both a career and a life based on service and compassion for others.”
-Elise Hastings ’09
Elise Hastings ’09 is the Managing Director of Givable, a charitable giving platform that encourages individuals and businesses to make direct, daily donations to nonprofits in the St. Louis region. Givable creates an engaged and informed community of lifelong givers. They believe that everyone can weave a giving rhythm into their lifestyle that positively impacts local nonprofits. As the first employee, Elise helped build the platform and bring it to market. Elise has spent her career working in the technology and nonprofit sector. She is a Professional MBA candidate at Washington University in St. Louis and serves on the board of Launch St. Louis. Elise credits Viz’s culture of service and compassion for others for helping her build strong values!