From left, 2021 Somerset High School graduates Abigail Skramstad, Hannah Thoreson, Emma Larkowski and Katherine Schroeder were recognized for receiving the 2021 Sr. Jennifer Marxer Scholarship at a baccalaureate Mass on June 5 at St. Anne’s Church. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Since 2006, 20 graduating seniors from St. Anne’s Parish in Somerset have been awarded the Sr. Jennifer Marxer Scholarship. The scholarship, established in memory of the parish school’s former teacher and principal, sought to carry forth Sr. Jennifer’s educational philosophy.

“Her vision and ministry was education with a mission,” Sr. Juli de Tarnowsky, Sr. Jennifer’s good friend, explained during the eulogy for the 58-year-old nun, “building the Kingdom of God through academic excellence, Christian values and discipline.”

Sr. Jennifer’s funeral was celebrated at St. Anne’s Church in Somerset on Aug. 16, 2006, five days after her death in Rochester, Minnesota, after battling amyloidosis. Born in West Saint Paul in 1948, she graduated high school in 1966 and entered the Congregation of St. Joseph that same year on Aug. 15. She died just days shy of 40 years of religious life.

Between 1970 and 1990, Sr. Jennifer spent about 15 years as an educator at St. Anne’s, with the last three years as principal, before being asked to lead a school in El Paso, Texas.

Kay Walsh, a parishioner and former St. Anne’s School parent, has chaired the scholarship committee since its inception in 2006.

Kay and her family had a close connection with Sr. Jennifer, as she had taught all five Walsh children. The youngest son, Brian, kept in touch with her over the years, and Srs. Jennifer and Juli drove from Texas for his wedding in 1990.
“We considered her a part of our family,” Walsh said.

She shared that during a trip to Texas, she and her husband visited with Sr. Jennifer and were again, with Brian, able to visit her in her last days in the hospital.

The scholarship has been a way for Walsh, committee members and others who knew Sr. Jennifer to honor her memory and share her spirit.

Fundraisers were held initially and over the years to maintain an annual award of $500 to $600; in some years, the committee named two recipients if their applications had tying scores. It was estimated that 2022 would be the year the fund ran out.

“We’ve always had outstanding applicants,” Walsh noted, adding that for the 2021 scholarship, the committee found themselves in a bind.

When they met to score the four applications received (which are scored and discussed without applicant names for fairness), while there was one clear winner, the other three were not far behind and within points of each other. The decision was reached to offer $600 to the winner and $500 to the other three students.

This total was more than the remaining funds, but a member of the Walsh family stepped up to donate the difference and help close out the memorial scholarship’s run with a grand finale.

Appreciative of the opportunity to remember and honor Sr. Jennifer and the role so many religious have played in Catholic education and the transmission of Catholic values among young people in the diocese, Walsh shared the four young women’s applications.

Each applicant had long and varied listings of community and parish service and co-curricular involvement. They participated in parish and diocesan programs, such as Totus Tuus and Extreme Faith Camp, with some also taking on leadership roles in those and St. Anne’s Vacation Bible School as they got older.
Following are quotes from the scholarship winners.

Abigail Skramstad, winner

Skramstad will attend UW-Madison with an intended major of management and human resources.

“From a young age, I was always reminded of the Catholic message to go above and beyond to help those around me … Through pictures and stories, I saw Jesus working through the hands and feet of these individuals to make a wonderful impact on the lives of others …

“When Jesus is at the center of your actions, it makes a world of a difference in your attitude and outlook on life …

“When it became time to consider my career and college major, it was a clear choice that I wanted to do something where I could honor my Catholic values and help ease stress and problems within the lives of others.”

Hannah Thoreson, runner-up

Thoreson’s goal is a career in physical therapy and will study kinesiology as a pre-professional track at UW-Madison.

“Going to St. Anne School, I was taught that I can achieve any goal I am truly inspired to reach for. I was never told to lower my goals or my expectations, I was simply taught to take the time to put in the necessary effort and dedication to succeed …

“My Catholic faith has aided me in academic endeavors … providing me with values critical to staying dedicated to my schoolwork and undistracted by outside influences … Having a well established faith has allowed me to overcome these challenges and pressures and remain dedicated to and true to my academics and to myself.”

Katherine Schroeder, runner-up

Schroeder will study psychology at UW-Madison, with the goal of later obtaining a master’s degree in clinical psychology to help people struggling with eating disorders.

Service involvement and have been faith an incredible influence, “Both motivating me to continue doing such things as well as being able to see God in the people I was helping. I think that my faith has made me see that at the end of the day all people are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and if my brothers and sisters are suffering, I should do what I can to support and help them …

“The Catholic faith has had an immense impact on my life and my intended career.”
Losing a best friend in a tragic hiking accident her freshman year of high school, Schroeder learned to lean on her faith in times of need. “This awful experience taught me that even in the darkest of times God is the light that shines through and lights the way forwards.”

Always drawn to healthcare field, she wanted to be a direct help to people and influence their lives in a meaningful way. “I have spent a lot of time praying for guidance as to what to do with my life, and I truly feel that God has placed helping those who struggle with mental illness on my heart.”

Emma Larkowski, runner-up

Larkowski plans to study business and public relations/marketing at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“The Catholic faith has impacted my life in every possible way. It has taught me patience, selflessness, service to others, positivity and how to love others unconditionally …

Her Catholic faith and community involvement help her navigate daily life: “When any minor inconvenience occurs, I look at it with a positive mindset. Everything happens for a reason, and everything is part of God’s plan. God puts challenges into our lives to teach us lessons and help us grow. The Catholic Church has taught me to see challenges as blessings in disguise rather than problematic situations. Through each and every challenge, I turn to God and trust in his plan …

“The phrase ‘What Would Jesus Do’ has stuck with me ever since Pre-K … Every decision I am faced with or predicament I am in, I evaluate in my mind ‘WWJD?’ and if I respond to every situation that way, it never fails.”