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SXU - A Family Tradition: The Catanias/Wigsmoens


Saint Xavier University (SXU) legacy alumni family Susan Wigsmoen '86, '96, Alex Wigsmoen '22, '23, and the late Susan Catania '62 comprise three generations of Mercy-educated individuals guided by mission and values.  

Susan Wigsmoen enrolled at Saint Xavier College in the 1980s and enjoyed the small, close-knit community and individualized attention. She studied early childhood education during her undergraduate career and returned to pursue a master's degree in reading in the 1990s. Though Susan chose Saint Xavier for its high-quality academic programs, there was one important detail that stood out in her choice: the way the community treated her as an individual with epilepsy.  

"I didn't want to get lost in a crowd, especially with having active seizures. I needed professors who were going to help me through it, and that's where I found it. That wouldn't have happened at a larger university. The Sisters really took me under their wings and even encouraged me to spread awareness to other students about epilepsy," said Susan.  

After graduating, Susan immediately began teaching. She started teaching pre-school and kindergarten and later converted her early childhood education certification for K-12 certification, teaching fifth grade for 12 years. Currently, she's come full circle and is teaching pre-K, and she's been teaching the entire time since she graduated.  

As the oldest of seven girls, Susan has always loved children, so teaching was a natural career pursuit for her.  

"If you love your job, you never work a day in your life! Pre-K consists of the building blocks for one's education. My goal for my students is for them to be better when they leave and be productive members of society. I want to be the best teacher I can be," she said.  

She found that her love for teaching was enhanced while at Saint Xavier thanks to the Sisters, who helped her build a foundation for teaching younger children.  

"I especially enjoyed working with Sister Nancy. I got to participate in workshops with her at education conferences, and my work with her got me interested in teaching reading. I still use many of those techniques in my curriculum today," said Susan.  

Alex Wigsmoen studied computer science and minored in finance during his undergraduate career, and under the advice of his advisor Jean Mehta, D.A., enrolled in SXU's 4+1 program to earn his Master of Applied Computer Science in data science in just one year. 

Alex works full time as a quality assurance/support engineer at a small company called Changed, which offers an app that helps people manage and pay off debt. He works with data analytics and data science and uses many of the skills he gained at SXU each day. In fact, Alex pursued the job after finding an alumni tutor bio on one of the boards in the Warde Academic Center. He connected with the alum and began building his own app to stand out during the interview process. He enjoys being able to build on the job and feels like he's truly part of a team where he can share and implement ideas.  

Alex is grateful for the faculty at SXU, who prepared him for both success in his career and being a compassionate citizen.  

"The professors were so open to questions and career advice, and they gave us plenty of opportunities to connect with alumni, work together with peers, and get involved in high-impact projects like building our own software. They taught with their values and morals first and guided students to put their best selves forward," said Alex.  

"The Sisters of Mercy and the faculty who came after instill morals and values in students that lead them on the right path for the rest of their lives," added Susan.  

Mother and son have plenty of great memories from their time at Saint Xavier, both separate and together. Susan enjoyed hanging at the coffee house and living in one of the older residence halls, Regina Hall. Alex was a computer science tutor and made plenty of friends he's still close to today. The two especially enjoyed Alex's commencement ceremonies.  

Part of why each chose to attend Saint Xavier was due in part to matriarch Susan Catania, Susan's mom and Alex's grandmother, who encouraged them to attend a place close to home with a small student-faculty ratio and excellent teaching.  

"I think it's pretty great to have three generations graduate from the same institution. It's a testament to the University's endurance, and maybe my own kids will go there someday," said Alex.  

Susan Catania (née Kmetty), who passed in late 2023, was a chemistry major and was very involved on campus. She served as the editor-in-chief of The Xavierite from 1961-1962 and was a member of the newspaper staff for three years. She also contributed poetry to the literary magazine and won several awards for her poems, some of which were published in a national college anthology. Catania served as accompanist for the Glee Club and vice president of the junior class. She was also a member of Sigma Phi Sigma, the national honor society sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy and was featured in a volume of "Who's Who Among American College Students."

Susan was known as a trailblazer who challenged political, societal, and gender norms with a focus on women's rights. After graduating from Saint Xavier, she would go on to become an Illinois state legislator and later earned a master's degree in social work and worked for the Department of Human Services until her retirement. Throughout her tenure, she sponsored over 50 bills that became law. Like the Sisters of Mercy who led her, Susan fought fiercely for human dignity and the common good.