For StMU alumni Mary-Jean (MJ) Ritchie and Candice Parish, St. Mary’s University holds a special place in their hearts as the place that brought them together, sparking a life-long friendship and blossoming into a business partnership. These two friends clicked from the start, and what started as a passion for teaching, turned into an entrepreneurial dream that became a reality in March of 2022.

MJ is a record-setting Lightning athlete.

MJ and Candice met in the Bachelor of Education (BEd) program and graduated in 2018. Prior to enrolling in our esteemed Bed program, MJ received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in General Studies and left behind a remarkable Lightning Athletics legacy.

Starting her post-secondary athletics career by playing for two years at Medicine Hat College, MJ spent three years as a Lightning athlete where to this day, she remains the fourth all-time scorer in StMU history, leading rebounder in StMU history, and third all-time in the ACAC. She is also the second all-time steals leader, fourth all-time assist leader and third all-time block leader at StMU.

If that isn’t impressive enough, to top it all off, she has won two ACAC silver medals and made it on a trip to Nationals.

“My experience as an athlete overall was beyond amazing. I had support from Coach Steve throughout my whole athletic career in my educational pursuits. The faculty was amazing at supporting and accommodating me while I juggled my first year of Education and last year of basketball. My most memorable moment overall was punching our ticket to Nationals for the first time in the school’s history in 2016,” recalls MJ.

For Candice, her most memorable moments surrounded her passion of event planning and family. “One of my most memorable moments is when my sister and I worked with a team to plan and execute a Wine and Scotch Tasting and silent auction in order to raise money for the Humanities 101 Program. The event was such a success and so much fun to plan. Another memorable moment was getting into the Ed program. It was such an amazing moment that I will always remember.”

Immediately after graduation from the BEd program, MJ taught for one year at Saint Joseph’s Collegiate in Brooks and Candice subbed for one year and then taught for another two years at Peter Lougheed School before the two friends launched their own event planning and custom décor business called Peonies & Lace.

“We knew back in our second year of our Education degree that we wanted to start our own business. We were walking through a Chapters together while discussing what to do about a lesson (at that time we had actually been placed in a co-teaching practicum where we got to teach together) and we were daydreaming about starting this and how big it could become,” explains MJ. “We were inspired by the idea of being our own bosses and helping others dreams of their perfect day come true. We also wanted to have something that would allow us to spend time with our families. We knew we had the organizational skills and passion for it, we just needed the push to do it and strangely enough COVID was our push.”

Candice in the classroom.

Candice adds, “I knew I wanted to start my own business for a while. I have always been really passionate about event planning. I have planned and executed many events in my past as well as volunteered with many organizations to run events such as The Make a Wish Foundation. However, what really inspired me to start my own business was my daughter, Aria. I wanted to build something successful that I could one day pass onto her.”

Candice and her daughter, Aria.

“I always wanted to create a life for myself where I could be present for my daughter while also pursuing my passion in events. Being an entrepreneur and owning my own business allows me to create my own schedule and be with Aria as much as possible; I am able to plan events and build my business while still being a present mom,” says Candice.

And while this unstoppable duo is no longer working in the education field, our StMU Bachelor of Education programs provide students with a diverse and transferrable skillset that empowers them to not only be a successful teacher, but explore and find success along other career paths.

“I feel like the practicum experiences in the Ed degree definitely helped me to gain the necessary skills I needed to be a teacher. I am a big believer in life experiences teaching us what we need to succeed. I think the classes I took at St. Mary’s really helped me understand who I wanted to be as a teacher and my own personal philosophy of education,” explains Candice.

MJ adds, “You learn so much when you’re taking your BEd that is outside of the scope of ‘teaching’ and you get to develop those skills even more when you’re in the classroom. While I was only teaching for a year, that year taught me so much when it came to developing those skills. Time management was something I got a whole new perspective on because I had been used to managing sports and school but I now had to switch that to time management in the classroom which bring a whole new meaning to the term.”

“The competitiveness of playing on the women’s basketball team really translated into my business as well. It’s given me a drive to push through some of the tough spots and helped when we have issues with vendors and venues. It has also contributed to my ability to problem solve when we run into a bit of a wall and come up with solutions to our problems,” says MJ.

MJ pictured in her time as a Lightning Athlete.

There are also qualities that teachers have that can also be used in management and planning events. Candice notes, “In order to run your own successful business there are many necessary skills such as: organization, timeliness, leadership, confidence, communication, resourcefulness, quick decision making and relatability. I truly think my time at StMU and in the classroom really helped me to build and refine these skills and I now use them daily while running my business, planning, networking, executing events and communicating with clients.”

So what exactly is Peonies & Lace? This StMU alumni business specializes in weddings, charity events and galas and works closely with clients to plan the day of their dreams and turn the vision in their heads into reality.

“We talked about starting this business together for so long and being able to not only bring it to life, but watch it take off so quickly, has been such a blessing. We poured our hearts and souls into this business and have put in countless hours of work to make it happen. We already feel so successful and are booked well into next year.  It’s an amazing feeling to watch our dreams grow and see our hard work pay off; however, working with my best friend doesn’t feel like ‘work’, it is so much fun!” says Candice.

If you are looking to book in an event, make sure to check out Peonies & Lace! You can visit their website HERE and find them on Instagram and Facebook.

We are very proud at St. Mary’s University to hear and share stories such as these about our alumni. We would like to thank MJ and Candice for allowing us to share their passion and business successes. If you would like to share your story please reach out to or We would love to hear what you’ve been up to since graduating at StMU!