75th anniversary celebration kicks off this October

By Kary Feick

Student success, faculty memories, and 75 years of shining moments are just a few of the things Madonna will celebrate in October.

Next month, Madonna will celebrate its 75th anniversary at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth. The gala, also known as the Diamond Jubilee will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct., 27.

“For 75 years Madonna University has remained true to its mission and Franciscan values, and that commitment is evident in the brilliant shining moments and magnificent milestones that comprise Madonna’s history,” said Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, President of Madonna University.

Madonna University’s history dates back to 1937, when the Felician Sisters of Livonia founded the Presentation Junior College. In 1947, Madonna became a four-year liberal arts college, changing the name to Madonna College, followed by nine Felician sisters graduating in 1948.

In 1965, the campus was dedicated. It included the completed main academic building and the residence hall for students, with a wing for religious faculty. During the 1970s, Madonna admitted men, enrollment topped 1,000 for the first time, the first deaf students were admitted, and air conditioning was installed in the main academic building, permitting expansion of the academic calendar and educational services on a year-round basis.

From 1937 to the present, Madonna has been a place for academic, intellectual, and spiritual growth. Throughout the years, a variety of historical events have taken place, resulting in many cherished memories among faculty and staff.

“We had an extremely heavy rainfall and I went up to my ankles in water one time,” said Peggy Downs, Receptionist and Switchboard Operator at Madonna. “Sister Lauriana’s secretary happened to mention it to her, how wet my feet were, so she ran out with a pair of sweat socks for me because she wanted me to take off my wet shoes and my wet socks. I just thought it was kind of cute.”

After 40 years of service at Madonna, Sister Mary Lauriana Gruszczynski passed away on February 7, 2011 at 89 years old.

“I think probably my favorite memory is the compassion and concern of faculty and staff whenever someone loses someone to death or has a family crisis. The fact that everyone is very supportive reminds me of the family I have at Madonna,” said Edith Raleigh, Dean of the Graduate School at Madonna University.

Raleigh is not the only faculty member who enjoys the sense of ‘family’ Madonna creates.

“One of my favorite memories is Christmas with Madonna faculty,” said Maria Kegg, Payroll at Madonna. “I enjoy the kids during the Christmas party and I love picking out a family to go shopping for. We used to get together as a whole office and go shopping for food, gifts, and even wrap the gifts for children. It made the spirit of Christmas so much more.”

Beyond family, philanthropy and friendship, Madonna has reached many important milestones throughout its history.

Dr. Richard Sax teaches English in 1992.

A few pieces of Madonna’s history can be broken up into decades based on important University accomplishments and developments.

In the 1980s, the graduating class topped 500 for the first time and the dedication of a new library, lecture hall, classrooms, and other related facilities took place.

In the 1990s Madonna College became Madonna University (1991), followed by a renovation of the Academic Computer Laboratory and establishment of a Computerized Writing Lab. Madonna also acquired the Maertens Building in 1995 and equipped a distance-learning classroom for two-way interactive video instruction.

In 2001, Sister Francilene Van de Vyver, CSSF, stepped down and Sister Rose Marie Kujawa, CSSF, became the sixth president. The Ford Motor Company Technology Wing was also built.

Madonna continues to make history as recent as 2009, when the LEED-Certified Science and Media Center opened. The new Franscican Center became a home for science classes and the Broadcast and Cinema Arts program.

“My first visit to the Madonna campus was back in the summer of 1968,” Derry said. “In the early ‘60s, I had directed a TV show at University of Detroit ‘starring’ Sister Lauriana, who in 1968 was the Academic Dean at Madonna – and my student!   When I met Pat, my future wife, in the summer of 1968, who was a student at Madonna and a member of the Fine Arts Club, she brought me to the Dean’s Office to talk about a movie and there was Sr. Lauriana!

“The Club wanted to make a short film for the Fine Arts Festival and asked for my help. Using a 16mm film camera and actors and extras including students, staff and even Sr. Danatha, the president at that time, we put together the film titled ‘The Happening.’ 

“I couldn’t have guessed that this would be the beginning of a very long association with Madonna, and that some 40-plus years years later, I’d still find myself at Madonna, as the Director of BCA, and still working with Pat.  Of course, the best memories come from my students who I’ve been so fortunate to have in my classes over the years.  I’ve been blessed to have such wonderful people to not only teach, but, to learn from as well, and the excellent faculty and staff to work with.  Madonna has been my second home, my family, and a big part of my life.”

Following the Franciscan Center Dedication in 2009, the Cardinals Square Garden was also dedicated in 2010. The Green LEED Ceremony, unveiling of the cross in the Cardinals Square Garden, and presentation of Douglas Semivan’s sculpture all took place in October 2010.   

There are now more than 75 undergraduate and 27 graduate programs to choose from, in the colleges of nursing and health, education, science and math, arts and humanities, and social sciences, and the school of business.

Throughout the many important ceremonies and events that have taken place at Madonna over the past 75 years, the University’s success proves just how special the Diamond Jubilee celebration is.

The VIP reception and Jubilee dinner is priced at $150 (dinner only $75) and participants can sponsor the event for a range of perks, including many advertisement opportunities. Sponsorship opportunities are themed based on different types of gems, ranging from Presenting Diamond Sponsor ($75,000) all the way to Sapphire Sponsor ($2,000.) 

To register for the event, visit, and click on the 75th anniversary graphic.

In October Madonna will look back on the past 75 years and realize what a special place the University has become.