Marywood is blessed to count among its graduates many “legacy families”—those who have several generations of Marywood graduates among them. Few have ties
as distinct as the family of the late Germaine O’Neill-O’Neil ’33, however. Preceding her was her aunt, Mother M. Germaine O’Neill, IHM, Marywood’s first President. Following her were her daughters, Mary O’Neil Dunkerly ’63, Sister Katherine O’Neil, IHM ’64 (M.S. ’74, M.S. ’84)—formerly known as Sister St. Germaine O’Neil—and Margaret Ruth O’Neil ’65. Her son, the Reverend Thomas O’Neil, is a graduate of St. Vincent’s College.
When she stepped onto Marywood’s campus in the fall of 1929, the quiet, unassuming Germaine was held in great esteem, yet held to a high standard of excellence, by the IHM Sisters living and teaching here. Her aunt’s larger-than-life footsteps were difficult to follow, but the Western Pennsylvania native had inherited her grace, love of music, and unwavering desire for an education.
In the absence of interstate highways in the early 20th century, she traveled two long days to arrive at Marywood’s campus as a freshman to study music. Her revered aunt—a poet, a musician, an educator, and an educational administrator—had died nearly a year before Germaine became a Marywood student.
While at Marywood, Germaine kept a beautiful diary that her daughters recently discovered, which chronicled her days at Marywood in the early 1930s. “Whereas most students were probably glad to finish college and leave, my mother was a bit
more melancholy about it,” explained her daughter, Mary O’Neil Dunkerly ’63. “She absolutely loved every day that she spent on this campus, which is clear from her diary writings.” Additionally, Mary donated her mother’s beautifully preserved engraved table service set, required for resident students at that time, to Marywood’s Archives.
After graduation, Germaine O’Neill went on to marry Lawrence O’Neil (thus the progression of her maiden name to a married name with one “l”), and they settled in Washington, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, to raise their family. As a graduate, Germaine was active in Marywood’s Pittsburgh Alumni Chapter, for which she served as president several times. She championed Marywood at college nights, card parties, and dinners. Germaine taught in Catholic schools for several years and taught private piano lessons. Additionally, she was very active with the Christian Mothers Choral Group at her church. She went on to earn a master’s degree in library science from the University of Pittsburgh in the late 1960s, after her children had graduated from college. She and her husband were founding members of the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh, and Germaine started a library of Irish history at the Centre.
Additionally, Germaine wrote a book about her German ancestry, but could not find the vital records to do the same for the Irish side of her family.
Always an enthusiastic supporter of Marywood, Germaine returned to campus in 1993 for her 60th college reunion, and, three years later, she attended the 1996 Scholarship Dinner to establish a scholarship in her aunt’s name—The Mother Germaine O’Neill Scholarship for music students. Her daughter Mary recalled,
“She didn’t want her aunt, who was such an important part of Marywood’s history, to be forgotten.”
Now, it is Germaine’s turn to be recognized and remembered for her contributions to education and to cultural pursuits. Her family believes that Germaine would be “very proud and honored” to have a scholarship given in her name to a worthy student.
“She would be grateful that a student would have the benefit of a Marywood education, just as she did,” said her daughter, Mary.
The Germaine O’Neill O’Neil ’33 Scholarship benefits students who demonstrate academic achievement and financial need, with preference to students majoring in education. Mary expressed gratitude for her mother and acknowledged, “She inspired us. She gave us the world of music and a sense of ourselves, as well as the confidence to become educated in areas that interested us. My mother never lost sight of her talent or her love of learning.”