"All In" With Our Mission
March 3, 2021
Dear Saint Mary’s Friends,
As I write in this first week of March—Women’s History Month—I am reflecting on our own long history as a Catholic women’s college and on the many ways the Sisters of the Holy Cross and their lay collaborators have been all in with our mission: to educate women who change the world by responding to the complex needs and challenges of contemporary life.
Women’s History Month started as Women’s History Week in 1978; it was actually a local celebration of women’s achievements in Santa Rosa, California. By 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation making the dedicatory week a national event. The week was intended to coincide with March 8—International Women’s Day. Over the next decade, the focus on women’s contributions in American life continued to grow, and since 1995, every U.S. President has proclaimed the month of March as Women’s History Month. We celebrate what March brings every year, but we can also revel in the fact that Saint Mary’s has been animated by the mission to build ethical women leaders 12 months of every year since 1844. I think you know that I am all in with our mission.
Certainly, over our entire history, we have been concerned to give women access to a Saint Mary’s education. Much of that access comes through scholarships and financial aid. But often students still experience a gap between unanticipated needs and the College’s formal assistance. As a new President, I have loved reading the stories of students who, in different eras, were “seen” by the faculty and the leadership of the College: somehow, a Mother Pauline or a Sister Madeleva recognized a new student who hadn’t realized she would have to buy books, or noticed one who discovered she would require a little extra spending money to participate fully in the life of the College. So many alumnae have gratefully acknowledged that those necessities were met in gracious and confidential ways.
We continue to enroll students whose tuition and fees are accounted for, but who cannot afford the total costs of the full Saint Mary’s experience. Many of these students are first in their families to attend college, and they do not have the benefit of a parent who can anticipate their challenges or answer their questions about college life. They are simply under-resourced in a variety of ways, and this is a barrier to their academic and social success.
So, today, I am thrilled to announce that we have received a transformational gift from the Wilson Sheehan Foundation to support these students. Founded by Lorraine Sheehan Wilson ’85 and her husband Chris Wilson (ND ’85), the Wilson Sheehan Foundation seeks “to help people elevate their quality of life in enduring ways.” Education is one of the engines of lasting improvement in people’s lives. With the investment from the Wilson Sheehan Foundation, Saint Mary’s has created the Office for Student Equity to enable a stellar educational experience for all students. Recognizing that $7 million will endow the work of this office in perpetuity, the foundation has made an outright gift of $3 million. In addition, they have issued a challenge: they will give up to $2 million in additional support if we can raise a match of $2 million. Obviously, this formula will get us to the $7 million in endowed support for the Office for Student Equity! We are calling this challenge All In.
I am so moved by Lorraine and Chris’s support—they have already endowed generous scholarships at Saint Mary’s. Now, they are inspired to consider the gaps that might still exist, even for their own scholarship students, and to create this office dedicated to offering wraparound services. This is today’s version of Mother Pauline or Sister Madeleva reaching out to a particular student in need. I’m delighted to announce that we already have several leadership gifts to support this endeavor. To learn more about the Office for Student Equity and the All In match, please visit our website.
As I announce this exciting news, I also salute each of you who made a gift to the 24-hour Donor Challenge last week. Thank you! What an incredible day! It was my first Donor Challenge at Saint Mary’s, and I was amazed by the energy and the enthusiasm that marked the entire day. Each time I left my office, I met someone in the hallway who commented on the growing numbers on the Leaderboard. I spent time over both lunch and dinner in the Noble Family Dining Hall, and students were having fun donating sums connected to their class years (think $2.21, $2.22, $2.23, $2.24) and registering to win door prizes. I took pictures with dozens of them, and I was even whisked away for a photo opportunity with the Saint Mary's College Investment Club: they gave $1,000 from the interest they have earned on their investments! The outpouring of support all day long from alumnae, parents, faculty, staff, students, and friends was exhilarating. We had outstanding participation, and we raised over $1.2 million for the College, including the Saint Mary’s Fund, which supports every area of our campus. We are grateful to everyone who made this day such a success. It is obvious that, in terms of generosity, Saint Mary’s is peerless.
In other news, we are pleased to announce that the Class of 2021 Commencement ceremony will be on May 22, in person and on campus. Graduates will be allowed to have three guests attend the ceremony in person. The celebration will also be viewable via live stream. Saint Mary’s will follow all COVID-19 protocols, including face masks and proper physical distancing for all attendees and guests visiting campus. And, of course, we will stay up-to-date with our state and county public health officials; their guidance will inform our decisions as Commencement day draws closer.
As we begin this 2021 Women’s History Month, I invite you to reflect on the impact Saint Mary’s has had on generations of women—women who, in turn, have used their education to lead, to serve, and to make a difference in the world. I am so grateful that our graduates are all in with Saint Mary’s. They and our extended community continue to support us as we carry out our great mission.
Katie Conboy, Ph.D.