Why I Give: Professor Emerita Mary Jo Pierantozzi ’72
This spring, Mary Jo Pierantozzi ’72 MS retired as a professor and program coordinator of GMercyU’s undergraduate Education programs. She had been with the University full-time for 21 years. To everyone’s good fortune, she is still very much engaged with GMercyU. She hopes to continue to teach a Capstone class and 400-level class for the next couple of years as an adjunct professor, to see her now sophomores and juniors through their time at GMercyU. Beyond that? “As far as I’m concerned, I’m an adjunct as long as they need me,” she said.
Pierantozzi also has rejoined the Voices of Gwynedd, serves on the Alumni Board, and hopes to continue working with prospective Education students. A long-term supporter of the University, she has also created The Future Teachers of PA Annual Scholarship to help make tuition more affordable to Education majors.
A Legacy of Creating Confident, Capable Educators
Pierantozzi believes GMercyU’s Education program is primed for continued success. Sister Cathe Shoulberg '73, a former teacher and administrator, echoed this sentiment during a visit to campus this past spring. Sister Cathe has supervised GMercyU student teachers over the last four years.
“The students’ knowledge, their willingness to learn, their willingness to give of themselves and their time is absolutely mind-blowing to me. It makes me feel so good to know that these are students coming from Gwynedd Mercy University, and they are beyond prepared. They’re doing exceptional jobs. And almost all have been given full-time jobs in both the private and public sector,” Sister Cathe said at graduation time.
Pierantozzi, a friend and former colleague of Sister Cathe for 40+ years, credits her students’ focus and drive for their success.
“Our students are quite resilient. They have their eye on the prize and know what their goal is – their goal is to be teachers, excellent teachers. For some of them, that’s been their goal since they were five years old,” she said. “They are well prepared to take their place in any educational setting, and we’re always proud when they make their mark on the world. They can hold their own against students from any education program across the state.”
That resilience helps ease the challenges of teaching in modern times, from the pandemic to social media to other school-related stories making headlines today.
“There are so many challenges facing teachers today that those of us who have been around for a long time would never have even dreamed of having to encounter,” Pierantozzi said.
One of the requirements of the Education program's Capstone class is for students to attend a local school board meeting. Later, students share their thoughts on the meeting and sometimes, if they feel the school district would make a good place to launch a career or not.
Her Journey to Becoming a Teacher
Some may be surprised to learn that Pierantozzi didn’t always want to be a teacher; she wanted to be a lawyer. “I’m an accidental teacher. I didn’t choose teaching, it chose me,” she said.
In order to go to law school, Pierantozzi needed to earn a degree. But first, she needed a job to pay for that degree and earn enough money for law school. She couldn’t afford to remain in college, and financial aid barely existed in the late 1960s, so when a local school needed to hire a teacher, she applied and landed the job in February 1968.
“I had to be the only person who ever went into teaching for the money,” she laughed.
Once becoming a Catholic school teacher, she applied to the archdiocese’s cadet teacher program. At the time, Catholic colleges in the diocese were offering discounted tuition to Catholic school teachers in programs like these. Gwynedd-Mercy College offered the greatest discount in the area, 50%.
She set foot on GMercyU’s campus for the first time on June 18th, 1968. “Our first summer session every year was very vibrant – all the Catholic school teachers were here! We had a great sense of community,” she said.
While she can’t pinpoint exactly when she fell in love with teaching, when it happened, it changed her career path for good.
Over the years, Pierantozzi taught at Catholic schools and was one of the first lay principals at a Catholic school in the early 1980s. She then transitioned to teaching in Philadelphia public middle schools.
Working with young students all those years, naturally she has dozens of touching and hilarious stories from the classroom. She often suggests to her GMercyU students that they keep a journal and spend a few minutes a day documenting experiences from the classroom once they become teachers. “I wish someone had told me that,” she said. “I tell my students, ‘you think I have stories now – imagine if I had kept a journal.’”
Pierantozzi began at GMercyU in 1996 as an adjunct professor when a friend recommended her for the position. In 2002, after seeing the job listing in the newspaper, she came on board full time and the rest is history. She describes working in higher education as the best-kept secret in town.
The Future Teachers of PA Scholarship
The Future Teachers of PA Scholarship is awarded to a new student for two years, beginning this fall. It will be awarded to a student from a charter or public school in Philadelphia, where Pierantozzi taught for so many years. The selected student will be entering into Gwynedd Mercy University’s Education Studies Program.
The scholarship is to encourage students from various backgrounds to become teachers. We cry out for that. My hope is that by giving, I am in some small way helping to support current and future students with the opportunity to gain a quality education and carry the Mercy charism into their professional lives. This also is my way of giving back to the college that gave me my profession.
The Gwynedd Mercy University Future PA Teacher Scholarship is an endowed scholarship given in memory of Ned and Pasquetta (Polly) Pierantozzi, parents of Mary Jo. This scholarship will be awarded in perpetuity to honor the commitment Ned and Polly had to their daughters educations.
More about Professor Mary Jo Pierantozzi’s Time at GMercyU
Originally published in the 2023 Commencement booklet
For Professor Mary Jo Pierantozzi, education and service go hand and hand. Her 55-year career as an educator is defined by her service to her profession, her students and Gwynedd Mercy University. For the past 21 years, her service leadership has impacted countless programs across the University including the Student Government Associate, Campus Ministry, and the Mercy Leadership Academy, just to name a few. Professor Pierantozzi’s dedication to the Mercy Mission has defined her tenure at Gwynedd Mercy University.
Shortly after joining the faculty, Professor Pierantozzi was invited to present to members of the Student Government Association at their Fall and Winter Leadership weekends. When Campus Ministry first instituted the student led retreats, Let Your Light Shine, she was invited to be involved with the planning and implementation of these annual retreats.
Ms. Pierantozzi led Alternative Spring Break trips for more than 12 years, and was awarded several Presidential Mini-Grants through which she developed an immersion experience for Education students. Her reach became international when she co-led students to attend the Young Mercy Leadership Conference in Dublin, Ireland.
Additional service highlights for Professor Pierantozzi include her role in helping to develop the Griffin Student Leadership Institute (GSLI) and the invitation to serve on the planning committee for the Mission Leadership Academy in 2011. In 2020 Professor Pierantozzi achieved the Steward level in the Mission Leadership Academy and in 2022 she was honored for her 10 years of service to the GSLI. Other areas of involvement, over the years, have included Freshman Service Day, Fall Fest, Finals’ Breakfast, Faculty/Staff Basketball game, faculty mentor for the Volleyball team, ASB Bingo, advisor for Best Buddies and Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society, as well as service on multiple Faculty Committees, task forces, and search committees. In her retirement, Professor Pierantozzi will continue her service to the University as a returning member of the Alumni Board.
Professor Pierantozzi’s services reaches beyond the University as she serves as a member of the Student Experience Committee of the Board of Trustees for Gwynedd Mercy Academy High School and as an Associate in Mercy, having made her initial covenant in September of 2006.
Prof. Pierantozzi is a true servant leader focused on building a more just and positive world one service opportunity at a time.