The Louise F. Hegarty Award for Excellence in Teaching is given each year to a full-time faculty member whose teaching has had a marked influence on the lives of Stonehill students.  The Committee on Excellence in Teaching, representing the Students, Faculty, and the Alumni Council, selects the outstanding teacher from those nominated by students and faculty members.  The recipient stands as a symbol of the entire faculty’s commitment to academic excellence. At Convocation 2009, Stonehill College is proud to bestow the Hegarty Award on Professor Mary Joan Winn Leith. 

Professor Leith’s commitment to Stonehill’s mission is abundantly clear in the words of those who nominated her.  We will let them speak for themselves. 

Professor Leith has the most amazing passion for teaching.  Not only did she do a wonderful job with her class, but she also allowed students to see her true personality and relate to her on many different levels. 

I was, quite frankly, shocked by the professor who stood before me on my first day of GR100.  She began the semester by asking a question that was nearly as unconventional as her bright pink tights: “How would you feel if your grandmother was buried in a trash can?  Our class had absolutely no idea how to respond.  However, our confusion quickly turned to intrigue and excitement as Professor Leith discussed rites of passage, sacred spaces, and the human impulse to be religious.  In the glorious weeks that followed, she continued to dazzle and challenge our minds with sides of religion that we had never before considered. 

In my four years as a faculty member at Stonehill, I’ve talked with many of my students about their favorite Stonehill courses; the name Mary Joan Leith keeps coming up.  Some of the best and brightest students I know have flocked to her classes, enthusiastically studying Biblical Hebrew and the iconography of the Virgin Mary—and more.  The words I’ve heard most often in conjunction with Professor Leith: brilliant, passionate, caring.  

Inspired and inspiring, Prof. Leith really illuminated the finer points of the New Testament.  She helped me to look at the Bible through a completely new lens, and also boosted my critical thinking skills beyond measure. 

Our learning community culminated with a trip to Rome and Naples. I’ve never felt such a sense of accomplishment or epiphany as when I was able to identify the symbolic meanings and historical impulses behind the early Christian art on dusty catacomb walls and in beautiful churches.  Leading us through temple ruins, ancient prophet’s caves, and Etruscan villages, Professor Leith shared her knowledge while also looking to us for insight.  As our class discussed the art, she scribbled down some of our observations in a little black notebook.  Seeing how much she valued our ideas, I felt like I was part of an important community and dialogue of scholars.   

And so with deep pride we today recognize Professor Mary Joan Leith for exemplifying Stonehill’s commitment to academic excellence. 

Given this thirty-first day of August, 

Two thousand and nine. 

Rev. Mark T. Cregan, C.S.C.