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A portrait of philanthropy: Alumni couple supports restoration of Mary Lucretia and Sarah Emily Creighton paintings

Katie Wadas Thalken, BA’04, has committed much of Creighton University history to memory. She and her husband, Mark Thalken, BA’12, will both enthusiastically share the Creighton story and the stories of its founders with anyone who asks.

Katie says those who know her and Mark know they are passionate about their alma mater, and that includes the history of the founding family.

“I’ve been known to tell students and fellow alumni that because neither Creighton couple had children who survived past the age of 5, we are the descendants of the Creightons and must help live out their legacy,” Katie says.

In 2016, Katie and Mark were presented with an opportunity to support an archival project that would do just that. In collaboration with other members of the Creighton community, Katie and Mark have funded the restorations of the portraits of Creighton University forebears Mary Lucretia Creighton and Sarah Emily Creighton.

Amy Turbes, senior director of strategy, research and development at Creighton, first approached the graduates about the project. Turbes says she knew Katie and Mark would want to contribute at some level. “Katie has never been shy about her love for Creighton’s history and its preservation.”

Katie and Mark say they were aware of the existence of the Mary Lucretia painting. The portrait has been on display in the Rare Books Room in the Reinert Alumni-Memorial Library.

University Archivist, David Crawford, uncovered the portrait of Sarah Emily in storage at the Creighton University Medical Center. The portrait had been punctured and needed cleaning. The painting of Mary Lucretia was showing signs of deterioration.

“After hearing the story of how the Sarah Emily portrait was discovered, Mark and I knew we wanted to help cover the cost of its restoration,” Katie says. “The University had painted portraits of our other founders, but not one of Sarah Emily.”

Mark says he and Katie value the contributions Sarah Emily and Mary Lucretia made in both the Creighton and Omaha communities. “Creighton University wouldn’t be here without their work.”

They believe both women lived out the Jesuit mission and that the effects of their efforts are felt today. When Katie and Mark determined that they could fund only one portrait restoration, Katie reached out to her fellow committee members on Creighton’s Committee on the Status of Women (CSW). Katie says both portraits are of equal significance, and she is thankful the committee agreed to fund the restoration of the Mary Lucretia portrait.

According to Tami Thibodeau, CSW chair, the committee agreed unanimously to be a part of the project.

“It’s because of their vision and their passion that we are all here,” says Michele Bogard, PhD, CSW committee member. “And these portraits are an entry point into a conversation for students and for future generations.”

During this year’s 36th Annual CSW Luncheon Award ceremony, Katie and Mark, Crawford, and the CSW unveiled the fully restored portraits to the Creighton community. The renewed images of Sarah Emily Creighton and Mary Lucretia Creighton now hang on campus in the Rare Books Room.

Crawford credits Katie and Mark with the success of the project and says he is grateful that many other individuals are devoted to telling Creighton’s story.

“Without Katie and Mark’s passion, and without their relationships in the Creighton community, these portraits wouldn’t have been restored,” says Crawford. “And the CSW played a major role in the project. Creighton is a part of all our heritage, and we are blessed to have art that has deep and personal meaning.”

For Katie, the portraits are a reminder of the philanthropy and care Mary Lucretia and Sarah Emily demonstrated in their lives.

Mary Lucretia Creighton executed the bequest of her late husband, Edward Creighton, to found Creighton University. Sarah Emily Creighton was instrumental in founding Saint Joseph's Hospital. Both women were active in works of charity in the Omaha community. To many, Mary Lucretia was known as an angel of mercy and when Sarah Emily died, the poor lined the streets and wept when her funeral passed.

“My hope is that the portraits will be enjoyed by our community, and serve as a reminder that we must continue educating students to be change agents and live as women and men for and with others,” Katie says.

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