VOLUME 44 NUMBER 2
Hanging in a doorway of her Milwaukee apartment is the purple jumper that once transformed Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart ’79 into the sword-wielding school mascot at basketball and football games.
“I was a Holy Cross Crusader,” she says, proudly pointing out the giant white cross on the front. “That’s what I wore. It’s too precious to get rid of.”
The costume is not all that Calderone-Stewart retained from her days on the Hill: At Holy Cross, she learned the Jesuit values that would illuminate her life as an educator and provide the strength to accept her approaching death.
This determined advocate for youth leadership and author of 20 books “hit a brick wall,” she says, when diagnosed last summer with lymphoma and, then, bile duct cancer. Treatment was ineffective—and doctors told her in the fall that she had perhaps six months to live. Since then, the 51-year-old mother of two—whose father died unexpectedly at age 53, and whose mother fought a long battle with cancer—has sought to devote her time to connecting with and assisting others.
“I’m dying at the perfect rate,” she observes. “It’s slow enough so I have time to write all my notes to all my family and friends, and fast enough so I know it’s urgent.”
Calderone-Stewart’s main concern is assuring the survival of Tomorrow’s Present (tomorrowspresent.org), the central city leadership ministry she created at Milwaukee’s House of Peace and The Leadership Center at Cardinal Stritch University. Started in 1998, Tomorrow’s Present follows its mission of “empowering youth and adults to transform their communities through learning, reflection, leadership and service,” by means of five core programs.
A small group of friends and supporters has been meeting regularly with Calderone-Stewart to learn all they can about exactly how she reaches young minds. “I have a committee of people working to help my dream come true, ” she says. “That’s an amazing blessing. Who gets that? How can I feel unlucky or cheated?”
Looking back on her school days, Calderone-Stewart says that her father offered to pay for any college her siblings and she selected, so long as it was Jesuit.
“And we all had to take logic because of the way the Jesuits make you think,” she explains. “He insisted that thinking and making good decisions and understanding what you believe was so essential, and that no one could do it like the Jesuits.”
The New Jersey native was a senior in high school when she came to campus to visit her brother, Joe Calderone ’78, then a first-year student. Calderone-Stewart says she immediately fell for the small school on the hill and remembers being particularly impressed by how well all the professors knew her brother. (Lisa-Marie and Joe’s brother Steve Calderone followed them to Mount St. James a few years later, earning his degree in 1981.)
A psychology major, Calderone-Stewart also had time for acting classes, theater productions, the swim team and, most importantly, SPUD—Student Programs for Urban Development. She signed up to work at a daycare center attended by many disadvantaged children, and the experience of making a difference helped her career goals come into focus.
After Holy Cross, Calderone-Stewart went on to receive her master’s degree in education from Lesley College in Cambridge, a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University in Chicago and her Ed.D. in leadership from Cardinal Stritch University. Always she held fast to the Holy Cross tradition of service to others, a sense of purpose and an emphasis on giving glory to God. “If you’re doing something, and you start to feel like, ‘wow, I’m pretty impressive,’ then you’re no longer doing it for the glory of God,” she remarks. “That’s something I’ve tried to impress upon young people.”
“When Lisa was a student at Holy Cross, I would occasionally offer a course in Philosophy of Education,” says Special Assistant to the President Rev. Paul F. Harman, S.J. “I remember Lisa as an excellent student in my class. Her enthusiasm for teaching and offering encouragement to young people was very evident. It is humbling to realize all she has accomplished.”
Calderone-Stewart has devoted her life, and trained countless others, to find God in both joys and in struggles. Though her energy is waning, she remains a crusader for good.
Jim Stingl is a local columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its Internet site jsonline.com