Maggie Gunn Fowler, a 1964 graduate of Fontbonne University with a bachelor’s degree in speech and drama who is this year’s Founder’s Award recipient from the university has an unwavering commitment to the school.
Fowler is a charter member of the Fontbonne Community Connection, a women’s giving circle. She has held several leadership positions, including chair, and currently serves as a co-chair of the membership committee.
Fowler’s experience at Fontbonne led her in a number of directions. A Jesuit priest, Father Leo Weber, who was with the Papal Volunteers program, spoke about British Honduras (now Belize) and volunteer opportunities there. She already was attracted to volunteer service, and after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in speech and drama she jumped at the chance, spending two years there as a high school English, religion and sewing teacher.
On her application, she listed sewing as a hobby. She was no expert, but was scheduled to teach it anyway. Students worked with sewing machines powered by a foot pedal, which she’d never used, and they had no patterns. Her mother sent her a large box of materials. She taught enough to the students that they held a fashion show at the end of the school year. She also did after-school activities with high school girls that did plays, including at a one-act British drama festival that won first place both years she was there.
“I love teaching, and I love students,” Fowler said.
She returned home to teach speech and drama at her former high school, St. Joseph’s Academy, which also is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph. She directed plays and musicals and was chair of the speech and drama department from 1966-1970.
She and her husband, Ed, married on July 4, 1970. She didn’t renew her contract at the high school because she and her husband wanted to start a family and she wanted to stay home with the children. In the meantime, though, she worked as an administrative assistant in the public relations department at the St. Louis Public Library, helping lead a campaign to raise funds. Her father’s political activity helped prepare her for that.
The Fowlers attended Christ Prince of Peace Parish, then went to St. Monica Parish, where she was active in the parish and school. She organized an enrichment remedial volunteer program at the school, working one-on-one with students. She was active with the mother’s clubs at her children’s high schools and served as co-chair of Saint Louis University High School’s annual Cashbah auction.
She also was president of the mother’s club at St. Joseph’s Academy when her daughter was a senior. Later, she also did some substitute teaching.
Fowler’s career in fund development included a stint as the first paid development director of Our Lady’s Inn. She later worked in development with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. She was director of development at Fontbonne from 2004-05. It was a pleasure to be back at the university, she said, but she stepped away so she and her husband could care for a grandchild.
Now members of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis Parish, where her husband’s grandfather was part of the crew that constructed its dome, the Fowlers have five children and 11 grandchildren. Those who live in the St. Louis area go to their house every Sunday for dinner. Her husband is the cook, and the gathering is similar to the multi-generation Catholic family dinners on TV’s “Bluebloods.”
Fowler’s dad was a Saint Louis University student who performed in plays at Fontbonne with her mother before they were married. Her parents had nine children and more than 100 descendants so far.
Schools operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet run through Fowler’s blood. An aunt, Catherine Gunn Dye, was the first to enroll as a college student at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Motherhouse in 1923. Fowler’s mother, Loretto Hennelly, was in the first freshman class at the new Wydown campus of Fontbonne College in 1925.
Fowler has a devotion to St. Ann, and sometimes attended Visitation/St. Ann Church before it closed. “My Catholic faith is me,” she said. “I am so entrenched in the CSJ mission. That’s what formed me.”
Maggie Fowler comes from a long legacy of Fontbonne alumnae. Fontbonne graduates include her sisters Kay Gunn Martin ’55, Sister Donna Gunn ’61, CSJ, and Bridget Gunn Calcaterra ’72, plus sisters-in-laws Lee Hynek Gunn ’63 and Kate Toohey Gunn ’65. Fowler’s mother, Loretto Hennelly, was in the first freshman class of Fontbonne’s new campus in 1925.
Several members of the Gunn family have also received the prestigious Founders Award: Loretto Hennelly Gunn (1986) Donald Gunn, Jr. (1989), Sister Donna Gunn, CSJ (1996), Thomas M. Gunn (2004) and Kate Toohey Gunn (2015).