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Feature Articles

A Legacy of Mercy
By Megan Moore


Stephen Ling as a student at St. Thomas Grade School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, in 1973.

The year was 1973 and Jerry and Carol Ling were looking for a way to help their oldest son, Stephen, reach his potential as a reading student. “He just didn’t seem to be where he should be,” Carol explained. “I think that it was an issue of confidence.”

They found exactly what they were looking for at the Reading Lab at the College of Mount St. Joseph, where he worked directly with S. Helen Miriam Gunn, the director of the lab from 1967 to 1995.

In his sessions at the Reading Lab, Stephen’s test scores improved greatly. In the beginning, Stephen scored a six on the reading portion of the test, which was listed as an average score. By the end of the sessions, Stephen had scored a nine on the same portion, the highest score that could be received.

“The change in his reading was huge,” said Jerry. “The scores alone will show you that.”

But the mark of Stephen’s accomplishments have gone far beyond his test scores as a sixth grade student. Stephen, a recently retired colonel in the Cyber Security Wing of the Air Force, openly owes much of his success to his mentors, including S. Helen Miriam.


Stephen Ling recently retired as colonel in the Cyber Security Wing of the U.S. Air Force.

In a letter Stephen sent to his family, friends, and mentors to announce his retirement after 30 years in the Air Force, he said “It’s been a privilege to have been led, mentored, coached, and taught by each one of you.” The Lings reached out to the Sisters of Charity in order to contact S. Helen Miriam, to thank her for what she had done and to show her how far he has come.

Unfortunately, S. Helen Miriam passed away in November 2013, but it is clear that her teachings and her legacy continues through Stephen.

Test scores may be an efficient way to measure improvement, but they are by no means the only way. Stephen’s passion not only for learning, but for helping young people learn to love reading has come through even during his time in the service.

Jerry Ling mentors two third grade boys in a literacy program at Newport Intermediate School in Newport, Kentucky. Stephen often communicates with these boys through letters, encouraging them the way that he was once encouraged, no matter where he happened to be stationed, no matter what he may have been assigned to do.


S. Helen Miriam Gunn was director of the Reading Lab at the College of Mount St. Joseph from 1967 to 1995.

“He admits to the boys that he had trouble with reading himself and encourages them to continue,” Jerry explained. “That is what S. Helen Miriam did for him, she encouraged him. He saw how important that was to him, now he’s doing it for my students.”

In one of these letters to a student, Stephen wrote, “Reading is the absolute building block to everything you’ll ever do in life and if you can master it now, everything else will make more sense and become easier for you.” It was S. Helen Miriam that instilled in Stephen this mentality and it is her mercy that is still being passed down to future generations of readers.

It is clear that the mercy S. Helen Miriam showed in her 28 years of ministry at the Mount has left a lasting impression, one that inspired Stephen Ling and continues to affect new students each and every day.