GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Sister Mary Aquinas Weber is more than familiar with calling.
It has become her life’s work to express the passionate dedication she has for her namesake college. The Dominican Sister works for the school nearly every day, whether it’s picking up the phone to drum up donor support or sitting in on meetings to lend her expertise. She never tires of the work to promote Aquinas College.
On Tuesday, she turned 100 years old.
“There’s always something to do and it’s something I like to do. So I say to myself, ‘If they still want me, I’ll continue,’” Weber said with a laugh as she answered why she’s unsuccessfully retired five times.
Being called on at Aquinas College is nothing new to Weber. After getting her undergraduate from the school and taking her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, she spent two and a half decades teaching and leading schools across Michigan before leaders at Aquinas called on her to come back and get her master’s degree in German.
“Then I got an assignment from the leadership at Marywood to go to the House of Studies, which is now Hruby Hall,” she said. “That was to be in charge of 75 young sisters who were here at Aquinas to get their degree.”
The calls to lead kept coming for the Kingsley, Michigan native. She was elected prioress of the Dominican Sisters in 1966, the youngest to ever have the role and the first to reject the title “mother superior.” She navigated the order through the Vatican II changes and helped guide them through more freedom of dress, travel and work.
After six years came a new calling and a new answer.
“Then I came back (to Aquinas) at the head the request of Dr. Norbert Hruby, who was the president,” Sister Aquinas said. “He said, ‘I want you to take on Eastown.’ Eastown was dying at that time and he said, ‘What happens to Eastown can affect the college.’”
She got a master’s degree in urban studies and became an integral part in helping form the Eastown Community Association and revitalizing some of the surrounding area.
“Finished that, moved on and the next position I had, what was called emeritus, which is called OLLI today,” she said about being named director of the Emeritus College.
When she felt called to help start the Emeritus College for learners over 50, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, there were around 10 students. Today, it has grown to over 1,000.
She was once the head of the Development Department and vice chairperson of the Board of Trustees for Aquinas. She has worked with all nine presidents in the school’s history.
She currently serves as chancellor emerita.
“Anything I’ve accomplished, always with somebody else that’s helping you, I never can claim I did this all by myself,” Weber said. “What I do, I want to do for the sake of somebody else benefiting from it.”
She spent years on boards all over West Michigan; the YMCA, Saint John’s Home, the Gleaners of West Michigan, Porter Hills Presbyterian Village, the Hugh Michael Beahan Foundation, the Porter Hills Foundation, the Salvation Army, the Hospice of Michigan, the Greater Grand Rapids Housing Authority and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. She was the first woman to serve on the board at Old Kent Bank.
“I was never ambitious for any roles. Some of those just came your way and if something needed to be done, I’d be happy to do it if I could,” she said.
When she graduated high school, Weber felt called to see more of the world. Her brothers worked in Detroit during WWII and she thought it was different enough. That led her to Grand Rapids, two years later, following the passion of pursuing more from life.
She does not boast about her lengthy list of distinguished awards or the presidents or dignitaries she’s locked arms with. She doesn’t talk about the work she’s accomplished or the community she’s helped build and impact. But bring up Aquinas College and the centenarian leader won’t miss the opportunity to talk about the education offered and the students encountered.
“I think we offer a very good education. We meet all the standards that the state has and we give the students, the old and the young, what they really need if they want to move onward,” Weber said about wanting to see the school thrive. “I find our students here very courteous, very thoughtful.”
When she took her vows, she was allowed to submit three names she’s like to take. All three of hers were rejected she was instead given the name Sister Aquinas after Saint Thomas Aquinas, perhaps cementing her calling for the Saints.
With time as the context for perspective, 100 years in the eyes of Sister Aquinas, has had more of an impact on the school and community than it has on her. She says it’s just a number, yet she has made it much more than that. Through her dedication to educating and growing with humility, kindness, gratefulness, and getting the job done, she has made it a calling.
The school will privately celebrate Sister Aquinas’s 100th birth at an Emeritus Evening Thursday night with more than 600 people attending. The public is welcome to celebrate Wednesday from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. for a musical performance at the school’s Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel.
— Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Hruby’s last name. We regret the error, which has been fixed.