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Lifelong Learning

Hall of Honor Inductee

Moorhead High School

Phone: 218-284-2300
Fax: 218-284-2333

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School Hours: 8:25 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

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Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen

Inducted Saturday, September 26, 2009


Mary Nilsen graduated from Moorhead High School in 1956. Her involvement at Moorhead High included band, orchestra, Spud staff, Cho Kio staff, Language Club, Debate, Declamation, Writers’ Club, National Honor Society and Quill and Scroll. She earned her bachelor’s degree in speech and socio/psychology from Concordia College, Moorhead, in 1960 and a master’s degree in literary non-fiction writing from the University of Iowa in 1985. In 1994 she earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. She also is a certified Enneagram instructor and spiritual director.

From 1983-85, Nilsen was editor of Iowa Woman. From 1986-92 she worked as an editorial assistant for Philological Quarterly. In 1990 she established Zion Publishing. She has also been a spiritual director since 1999 and an Enneagram workshop leader for church staff and personal development since 1997.

Nilsen has published inter-denominational education curricula and also articles and book reviews in a variety of journals. In 1985 she wrote her first novel, When A Bough Breaks, about alcoholism’s effect on the family. Her book of meditations, A Time for Peace, is used daily by Christian and Jewish readers. She co-authored with her family For Everything a Season: 75 Blessings for Daily Life. Nilsen’s recent works include a book-length personal portrait of her mother, titled The Power of One, and collaboration with her sister, Kristi Ylvisaker, on the art exhibit, “Nude Truths: An Odyssey in Poetry, Painting and Prose.” Nilsen is listed in the International Authors and Writers Who’s Who, 10th, 11th and 12th editions.

Since 1981 Nilsen has taught writing courses: rhetoric, expository writing, prose style, metaphor, fiction and non-fiction writing, first at the University of Iowa and then week-long writing courses for the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. Currently teaching at the Collegeville Institute, Nilsen has also taught literary writing at Luther Seminary, Columbia Seminary, The Graduate Theological Union and Princeton. 

Nilsen has been a lecturer on spiritual direction, Enneagram and religious pluralism, a retreat leader, and a speaker for local civic groups. In 1986 Nilsen created a 12-step program called Shalom, which she led until 2004. Mary and her husband, Rev. Roy C. Nilsen, live in Des Moines, Iowa. They are the parents of five children, Per, Kai, Linnea, Solveig and Erika, four of whom are Lutheran clergy, and have 11 grandchildren.

Mary Nilsen accepts her Hall of Honor plaque from Gene Boyle, Moorhead High School Hall of Honor committee member.
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