By Tim Gross
St. Bonaventure University graduates know that when their time has ended in the “Bona Bubble,” they bring with them knowledge, lessons, friendships and tradition to wherever they may go.
Alumnae Bridgette (Delaney) Mazza, ’92, and Lori (Anastasia) Lewicki,’92, both made the decision to stay right down the street from their alma mater to live and work.
These two born-and-raised Olean women have taken the values and lessons they learned at St. Bonaventure and continue to pass them on as teachers in the Olean City School District. Mazza teaches at Olean Middle School. Lewicki teaches at Washington West Elementary — the same school she attended as a child and where she had her teaching experience.
“How lucky could I have been to have been able to be close to my family, get a great education and get a super job that I love?” Lewicki said.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Lewicki taught in the Olean school district as a substitute teacher while also attending St. Bonaventure as a graduate student. She said this experience spent teaching in the local schools helped her find her way as a young teacher.
“I felt like I was better prepared by the time I did get hired to do the job that I needed to do for the kids, and I think that Bonaventure has helped me, prepared me for that, for real life, the real world,” she said.
Today, Lewicki invites St. Bonaventure students who are looking at going into teaching into her classroom to observe so that they can get a feel for what will be expected of them.
Mazza found a job at the Olean Middle School after receiving her master’s degree, which pleased her because she enjoys teaching students in a transitional phase.
“(The students) are old enough to be independent, yet they still need you,” she said.
Mazza said influencing the students’ lives means the most to her as a teacher.
“(Another) teacher will come up to me and say, ‘This person wrote an essay about you and how you changed their life or touched their life,’” she said. “That, to me, is just overwhelming. I love hearing that.”
Lewicki said she understands what she can do for students on a daily basis.
“Some days, they just want to talk. They just want you to listen to them,” she said.
Lewicki also notices a difference in students’ lives now compared to her own as an elementary school student.
“When I grew up, my dad was at work, and my mom was at home every day when I got home from school,” she said. “Now the parents have to work more, and the kids don’t know where they’re going to be.”
Mazza agreed. “They don’t have the family that we had growing up.”
She said part of her job involves carrying on the lessons and values. She brings in bags of clothes for students in need of clothing and said the responsibility St. Bonaventure faculty and staff taught helps her go above and beyond simply teaching.
While these two extraordinary women are immersed in the local teaching community and culture, they still find the time to connect with people who helped guide them on their own academic journeys.
“A lot of my co-workers are teachers I had in middle school,” Mazza said. “They make you feel right at home and I love it.”
Lewicki said she runs into teachers and professors often while out and about in the city.
“When you see them now, they still want to know how you’re doing and what’s going on in your life, not even just education, but personal, too,” she said.
In turn, neither has forgotten their connection to St. Bonaventure. They remain active on campus, attending basketball games and reading programs for children. And Bona’s hasn’t forgotten them either.
Lewicki was touched when the university supported her family while her nephew, Tyler Bihler, suffered an inoperable brain tumor. She said former basketball head coach Anthony Solomon, the club hockey team and ROTC cadets all held fundraisers for Bihler while members of the hockey team even visited him before he passed away in 2005.
“I was never so proud to be an alum of St. Bonaventure,” Lewicki said.
For Mazza, St. Bonaventure has always been a central part of her world. She cites her father, Thomas Delaney, Ph.D., a longtime professor in the School of Education, as the reason she attended the university. In 2000, Mazza and her husband were married in the university chapel and years later saw their quadruplets baptized there.
It should be a comforting thought to the recent class of 2009 graduates that they will be surrounded by their Franciscan brothers and sisters wherever they should go, and that the learning never ends and the “Bona Bubble” really never bursts. They can learn a thing or two from extraordinary alumni, like Lewicki and Mazza, and carry on the proud tradition of the brown and white.
About the University: St. Bonaventure is in the top 25 percent of institutions in U.S.News & World Report’s 2009 ranking of Northern Universities – Master’s. It has a history of accomplishment and service that extends back 150 years. At the heart of St. Bonaventure University is the Franciscan affirmation of the dignity and worth of the entire created order. Fundamental to this vision is an awareness that it is within relationships and community that individuals discover and develop their potential.