A Legacy of Friendship

D’Youville friendships run deep – and sometimes span generations. This past September’s Reunion and Family Weekend brought together a special quartet of friends who have not only been friends for more than 50 years, but also have the distinction of each being the daughter of a D’Youville alumna.





Jean “Patsy” Bisantz Caldiero, Mary Alice “Mimi” Higgins Donius, Eileen Sullivan Herlihy, and Kathleen “Kay” Ryan Reilly, all Class of 1969, became a tight-knit group during their years at D’Youville. But in some ways their friendship goes back even furtherto their own mothers’ friendships, in fact.


Patsy’s mother, Anne Jordan Bisantz, and Mimi’s, Elizabeth “Lee” Conroy Higgins, graduated together in 1930, only 22 years after D’Youville was founded and at a time when higher education for women was much less common than today.


“Mimi’s mother and mine were D’Youville classmates and dear friends from then on,” Patsy says. “I met Mimi in elementary school, when her family moved a block away. Continuing our mothers’ history, our friendship developed through long bus rides to and from Holy Angels Academy in North Buffalo, and of course through our incredible D’Youville experience.”


“We would take the Elmwood Avenue bus and transfer to the Hertel Avenue bus and get off at Holy Angels,” Mimi says. “We shared many a story on those bus rides!”


Eileen Sullivan Herlihy shares, “My mother, Mary Hennessey Sullivan, Class of 1935, grew up in Holy Angels Parish at 96 Fargo Ave., in D’Youville’s front yard. Her family had a strong connection to Holy Angels Parish and D’Youville, including a sister, Eileen Marie, who became a Grey Nun (Sr. Paula Marie) and a brother who became an Oblate priest.”


“The Grey Nuns were certainly a common link in our mothers’ lives,” says Patsy. “Eileen’s mother’s family lived on the West Side and belonged to Holy Angels Parish, as did my father, Gene Bisantz. The Hennessey/Bisantz connection eventually led to Mary and Anne becoming great friends. They had the D’Youville experience to cement things even though they graduated five years apart.”


Although Eileen’s family moved to South Bend, Indiana, early in her life, they returned to Buffalo every summer to visit family, and her friendship with Patsy grew. “The blending of church, school and neighborhood was so strong in those days that I feel all of our families were aware of each other, as well as having ties to one another,” Eileen says.


Kay Ryan Reilly met Patsy and Mimi when they were freshmen at Holy Angels Academy. “My mother, Ellen Drescher Ryan, Class of 1939, was the youngest of all our mothers so she did not know them at D’Youville, but she spent her early years at Holy Angels Parochial School and knew the Hennessy family,” she says. 


“My mother met Kay’s mother when Kay and I were classmates at Holy Angels,” says Mimi. “She was a ‘student’ at Mrs. Ryan’s knitting shop and made a number of knit suits and ultimately sweaters for my daughter, Elizabeth (named for my mother). My mom and Kay’s became better friends through the knit shop.”


Patsy, Mimi, and Kay went straight from Holy Angels to D’Youville, and Eileen returned to Buffalo to attend D’Youville as well – each following in their mothers’ footsteps.


“My mother always valued education and I remember having great pride in the way she spoke, her knowledge of literature, history, and her use of French,” says Eileen. “There was always a grace and demeanor about her that I also attribute to her family, her education, and her friends.”


“My parents believed in education for their sons and daughter. All their children graduated from college or more,” Mimi says. “My mother was a true leader, which I believe came from her Grey Nun education based on values and faith. My mother had a deep and abiding love for the Grey Nuns and all they taught and modeled.” 


Throughout their years at D’Youville, the friends’ bond grew with each other and each others’ families. When Mimi visited her boyfriend (now husband), who went to Notre Dame, she would stay with Eileen’s family. Kay had a brother at Notre Dame and he and his college friends from Buffalo would also visit the Sullivans in South Bend.


The classmates’ friendship continues to this day, even though Mimi now lives in Westchester, New York, and Kay in North Carolina, while Patsy and Eileen remain in Buffalo. They join each other every summer on vacations and at D’Youville and Holy Angels events, along with winter excursions to Florida.


“Even though we tell the same old stories, we never tire of each other’s company!” Kay says.


Mimi says her experience at D’Youville was life-changing, in terms of her educational preparation, “but it also was transformative in terms of my faith and trying to live a life of purpose and meaning that I saw modeled in my mother, her friends, and my friends.”


Eileen sums it up: “Amazing, what almost a century of learning, sharing, and friendship can create.”


By Cathy Wilde