For more than 40 years, the Rev. John Smyth was the face of Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, but those who worked with him knew who his driving force was: Loretta Mroz, his longtime assistant.
Mroz, who lived in Des Plaines, died on Nov. 14 after succumbing to lung cancer. She was 79.
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"We were quite a team," Smyth, now president of Notre Dame College Prep in Niles, said Friday. "She made it easy for me. She was the one who was organized and efficient, and I wasn't. She took everything as it came and never got excitable."
Mroz came to Maryville after spending most of her career as a corporate secretary in Chicago. Smyth said that she brought that attention to detail and skill at working on multiple projects to Maryville.
He pointed to her role in organizing the Chuck Wagon fundraiser every summer on Maryville's campus. The picnic-style event included games, live music and plenty of food and it attracted politicians, union leaders, professional athletes and many others, to support children in need.
"It was all donated," Smyth said. "It grew to be one of the largest fundraisers in the state, and everyone thought I was a genius. But it was really Loretta that organized it all."
Dan Griffin, a former special education teacher at Maryville, remembers spending time in Mroz's office, waiting to see Smyth and watching how the two worked.
"(Smyth) never could have been as efficient as he was without the invaluable organization and the input she gave to him," said Griffin, now retired and living in Chicago. "Loretta was really an indispensable and crucial part of the workings of the whole Maryville program."
The Rev. David Ryan, former assistant director of Maryville, described Mroz as being "devoted to Father Smyth and to his work among the children."
"She was always positive and upbeat, and saw the good in everyone," said Ryan, now pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church in Lake Zurich, "especially when we were dealing with children who had had so much pain inflicted on them from adults."
Mroz never married, but friends say she came to think of the children at Maryville as her extended family.
"Her life was fulfilled at Maryville," Smyth added. "She dedicated her life to our work there and she felt great fulfillment from that."
Mroz was preceded in death by her parents, Piotr and Joanna, and six siblings. She is survived by many nieces and nephews.
Visitation will take place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Notre Dame College Prep, 7655 W. Dempster St. in Niles.