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SLU Alumna Remembers School of Social Work in Trust

A nun, a social worker, a traveler, a scholar, a peacemaker. Genevieve O’Hara Bruggemann, a three-time alumna of Saint Louis University, passed away in April 2017.

Genevieve O'Hara Bruggeman attending a DuBourg Society Dinner
A photo of Genevieve O'Hara attending a DuBourg Society Dinner, date unknown.

Bruggemann worked for nearly three decades as a social worker in St. Louis inner city public schools, going “way beyond” her required duties, constantly looking for additional resources to help her clients–clothing, bedding, part-time jobs and food, remembers Mary O’Hara Wyman, her younger sister.

But social work was a second career for Bruggemann, who joined a convent, Precious Blood of Ruma, IL, at the age of 17. Following Vatican II, the landmark reforms that reinvigorated the Roman Catholic Church, Bruggeman left the convent when she was 34 years old to start a new life that included higher education, helping people and international travel.

Not satisfied with a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in Latin, Bruggemann applied to SLU’s Master of Social Work program in 1972. On her application, she noted that, financially, her funds would be depleted by her second year of study, but she hoped for a scholarship, a loan “or, as a last resort, to borrow from relatives.”

Before passing, Bruggemann set up a scholarship foundation at Webster University, and donated to St. Louis College of Pharmacy, the St. Louis Zoo, and Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work to help students who face similar financial uncertainty.

“She thought education was very important. It was a way of enhancing an individual’s life, giving them empowerment,” said David Burkhardt, her son-in-law.

Burkhardt remembers her generosity, which could come out in nontraditional ways. One time, at a silent auction fundraising event, Bruggemann won a couple of items. Instead of taking her bounty home, she asked Burkhardt give them to the people who had come in second place.

“They were complete strangers!” said Burkhardt, with half-hearted grumbles that “I was the one that had to go around and find them.” She was a little competitive, but mostly, very giving, he added.

Bruggeman was also passionate about traveling, which she did extensively after retirement, from the Greek Islands and an Alaskan cruise to riding on the 1995 Peace Train, as part of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, across 6,000 miles from Helsinki to Beijing.

Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work will use Bruggeman’s gift to fund peace and social justice initiatives in honor of her lifetime of advocacy work.

Saint Louis University School of Social Work was founded in 1930. In its most recent ranking, U.S. News & World Report ranked SLU's Master of Social Work  in the top 20 percent graduate programs nationally.

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