Though Xanadu and Volunteer Coordinator Mary Rhodes didn’t become an official employee until Nov. 2010, her work for the school and Abbey started well before that, when her oldest son Matt started school at Priory in 2004.
“I volunteered from the beginning of Matt’s time here, and served as Mothers’ Club president his senior year (’09-’10),” she says. “When our first boy went off to college, I had a void to fill time-wise. I told Julie (Lohr, our development director) to let me know if she knew of anything opening up, and it turned out this position was available. The rest is history!”
Mary never expected to take on a job like hers, though. “I always said I would do anything but Xanadu,” she joked. “Fortunately we have some amazing women who have chaired Xanadu, and they are the ones who make it a fantastic event. It’s a great gift to the community.”
A native of Columbia, Mo., Mary’s mother and father were both educators. Her father was a faculty member at Stephens College, and her mother taught foreign languages at Hickman High School. Mary graduated from Rock Bridge High School and went on to Notre Dame, where she studied in the Great Books program. While at Notre Dame, one of her professors was none other than Abbot Thomas! This, coupled with the fact that her father took simple vows at Conception Abbey near Maryville, Mo., leads her to the conclusion that “the Benedictine tradition runs deep in my blood.”
After Notre Dame, Mary attended law school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She practiced law for 15 years before becoming a stay-at-home mom when her children started school. During her legal career, she argued appellate cases, including several cases before the state Supreme Court.
Mary’s work for Priory is a change from arguing cases and preparing legal briefs, but her love for her job is obvious when you talk to her. “It’s been great,” she says. “All the knowledge I gained serving as a volunteer at Priory helps me to do my job in the Development Office. I just love working with the Priory family.”
The people are her favorite part of her job, she reports, saying that the school and Abbey are fortunate to have such “amazingly talented” parents, faculty and staff members, and monks. “It’s tremendously gratifying work.”
For Mary, there’s no typical schedule on any given day. “The days fly by — they’re always full. I never have to sit at my desk waiting for something to happen.” Xanadu preparations are cyclical in nature, she says. Right now, she’s gearing up for “high season,” the busiest part of the year which begins in January and ends with the event itself. After Xanadu, she helps clean up, distribute items, and wrap everything up, then in March the whole process starts over again with selection of the Chair and Section positions.
“I’m always looking for new ways to engage parents throughout the process,” she says. “The boys have their own unique experience here, but there’s an equally rich experience a parent can have at Priory. I want to help facilitate that however I can. Our parents bring us such a diverse talent pool, and they’re always so generous with their time and resources.”
Mary and her husband, Jim, met at the first law firm she worked for in St. Louis. They have four children: Matt, ’10, a senior at Notre Dame; Andrew, ’12, a sophomore at the College of the Holy Cross; John, ’14; and Mary Clare, a sophomore at Visitation Academy.
Between her family and her work, it might surprise you that Mary manages to find free time — it certainly surprises her sometimes! “I love, love, love to cook,” Mary says. “One of the things I miss most about being a stay-at-home mom is having time to watch the Food Network.” She also spends time with a group of fellow alumni moms from Immacolata school who call themselves the “Coffee Cartel,” because they started getting together for coffee after all-school masses when their children were younger. A singer, she cantors at Immacolata and says one of her favorite experiences was performing with the Archdiocesan Choir when Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in 1999.
Mary’s role at Priory is an integral part of keeping our biggest fundraiser of the year afloat. For her, though, it’s also a way of giving back. “We really can’t thank Priory enough for everything it’s done, both for our boys and for us as a family.”
As someone who started as a volunteer, Mary Rhodes can personally attest to the value of chipping in at school events, particularly the Xanadu auction. She encourages everyone to get involved as a volunteer and to attend. If you have any questions or would like to share some of your time, you can contact her at 314.434.3690 ext. 361, or