Sunyoger: example to students of living a joyful vocation in classroom


Photo by Ulises Iniguez

Say the name Mary Ann Sunyoger and any English major will perk up. Her challenging and rewarding classes are one of the hallmarks of an English education at Franciscan University. But English majors are not the only ones who have benefited from Sunyoger’s dedicated teaching—so has anyone who has taken one of her many writing or literature classes. They are a common bond between students past and present, as alumni frequently reminisce about their time spent with the veteran English professor.

Sunyoger, who holds a doctorate in English education and writing literacy, has taught at Franciscan for over thirty years, but her journey with the university began much earlier. She attended the university when it was known as the College of Steubenville, and eventually, as a professor, saw it through its transition to become Franciscan University of Steubenville.

“Oh, I love Franciscan,” said Sunyoger. “I love the faith. I love the freedom to talk about faith. I love being able to always focus on, for my students and for me, how God works through our vocation.”

And Franciscan seems to love her—after all, the university approached her when looking for an English professor. After teaching at Catholic Central High School for ten years, Sunyoger decided to take a break from teaching when her son was born. Her life took a different turn, though, when Franciscan’s dean of faculty asked her to teach at the university part time. Sunyoger said she was hesitant because of her young son, but agreed to teach one class.

“They asked me to teach one class, and it turned out to be three,” she said with a smile. “Thank God I had family to help. But I’d do it all over again.”

After being asked three times to teach full time, Sunyoger said she finally agreed at the urging of her mother. Sunyoger credits her parents for helping her become the educator she is today. She said, “I thank God every day for giving me parents who understood the importance of an education.”

Sunyoger’s dedication to both education and faith is evident both inside and out of the classroom. The two go hand in hand for her, she said, as she believes learning brings one closer to God. This view reflects her dedication to using her vocation to help students grow. Her desire to help others grow is why she believes God called her to Franciscan, she said.

“We can take a book and read it, but to grow in who we are and what we are called to do, and being in a family community in a classroom, that’s what teaching’s all about, in addition to learning what’s in the textbook,” she said. “The whole person, that’s what I teach.”

This is reflected in her book “Life Lessons: A Connection of Souls throughout Life’s Journey,” in which she shares lessons she has learned from students over her years teaching. According to Sunyoger, teaching is a connection of souls, and she loves being connected with her students.

Sunyoger’s passion for teaching shows in every smile she gives to students and faculty. Seeing her enthusiasm, it is easy to believe that she loves waking up to teach eight o’clock morning classes. For Sunyoger, coming to school is never a chore. She said that the challenges of teaching bring excitement and motivate her to grow as an educator.

“I always love waking up to come to school. And I never say I have to go to work; I always say I have a class in the morning or I’m going to school tomorrow,” said Sunyoger. “I never say work, because it’s not. It’s not. It never was.”

It takes true passion to say that grading piles of papers is not work. Sunyoger’s passion continuously inspires students to develop their vocations with greater passion for the glory of God.