with Marinell Harrison

by Charmaine Daniels

Marnell Harrison

“I followed my husband to eight states and one territory for his career. After always putting obligations first, it’s my turn. I feel really blessed to be able to do this.”

Marinell Harrison of Eureka Springs, Ark., enrolled in the online theology program last year at age 74. She took her first courses at summer session, took four courses over the winter, and came back this year for her second summer. During the June session, she and her husband camped in their RV six miles from campus. After that, they visited their children in New York and came back for the July summer session.

What led to choosing this path at this point?

I was inspired by a news story on NPR. I heard about a woman who graduated from the University of Kansas in her late 90s. Asked by the broadcaster what she hoped to do with her degree, she replied smartly, "Be a storyteller on a cruise line." I liked that she put the interviewer in her place and thought, "I could go back to school."

How did you find Saint Joseph's?

I was looking at schools online with my husband. We came across the St. Joe's web site, and my husband said, "That looks like a nice place. Let's go there."

Had you taken college courses at all?

I had taken a few extension courses 47 years ago, but basically I was a stay-at-home mom. I have four children and 10 grandchildren. My husband made me stick with a college algebra course 47 years ago, and the University of Hawaii still had the transcript.

You live in a retirement community. What's that like?
Everyone golfs or plays cards. I don't do any of those things; I just read. I've always loved to read and thought I might as well get credit for it. I've stopped everything [else] ... you can volunteer yourself to death. Sometimes I get a guilt pang, but not often.

What are some of the challenges you face as a student?

I was completely computer ignorant, except for e-mailing my kids. My husband, who is very supportive, saves me when I have computer issues. This summer, he's the chief cook and bottle-washer. Retaining knowledge is also a challenge. My memory is bad. I read a lot, I retain a little. Sometimes I'm trying to recall the name of a book or reaching for an author's name. I know where my car keys are, though.

Any other challenges?

APA. (American Psychological Association citation standards for research papers.) Learning that was my low point. I wanted to quit. My husband said, "Oh no, you're not."

Tell me about your studies.

I've always been interested in theology. And I'm enjoying it a great deal. Plus I don't have to train for a career, so I can just concentrate on what I'm interested in.

How did you get interested in theology?

I was living in the Marshall Islands and there wasn't a thing to read. I was going crazy, reading cereal boxes. I met a Jesuit priest who opened his library to me. By the time I left, I was a Catholic.