Saint Mary's Mourns Loss of Sister Elena Malits '56

The following is a letter to alumnae sent by Vice President for Advancement Holly C. Johnson.

Funeral Mass for Sister Elena

March 17, 2022

Dear Alumnae of Saint Mary’s, 

Please join us in prayer for Sister M. Elena Malits ’56, CSC, who entered her heavenly home on March 10, 2022. She was 87 years old.

Sister Elena Malits '56Sister Elena was a beloved professor of religious studies at Saint Mary’s College for more than 25 years. Born in 1934 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Sister Elena obtained her undergraduate degree in philosophy from Saint Mary’s in 1956. Having been greatly inspired by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and receiving a clear call to serve, she entered the novitiate after graduation. She received her master’s in theology from Saint Mary’s School of Sacred Theology in 1959,  then taught theology at Cardinal Cushing College. She earned her Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University in 1973.  

Sister Elena joined the faculty at Saint Mary’s in 1972, teaching religious studies and theology until her retirement in 2000. Her students spoke of her passion for scripture, her encouragement of inquiry, and her quest for truth. Sister Elena was energetic and intelligent, and always sought the best in her students. She often brought her beloved Corgi to class, to her students’ great delight. Living for many years in an apartment in Holy Cross Hall, she was a welcomed part of student life, her bright eyes and smile greeting students as they walked across campus. 

On April 28, 1988, Sister Elena received the Spes Unica Award from Saint Mary’s. Honored for her service on the board of directors of the College Theology Society and her contributions to the enhancement of Saint Mary’s, she was recognized as a “warm, enthusiastic woman with an infectious sense of humor, a life-long learner and teacher, and perceptive theologian.”

“Sister Elena’s passion for approaching the mysteries of faith with academic rigor has left an indelible mark on the many Saint Mary’s alumnae whose lives she touched,” said President Katie Conboy. “Her dedication to teaching and to religious life have set a vibrant example of a life of faith and action.”

Sister Elena was known for her writings and expertise on the contemplative American Trappist monk and mystic, Thomas Merton. She chronicled his life in her book, The Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton’s Transforming Journey, which was published during her time as a professor at Saint Mary’s. One of her former students, Libby Gray Koultourides ’93, remembers: “Sister Elena graciously created an independent study for me on Thomas Merton during the summer of 1992. Each week, she would meet with me for discussion and reflection. What a blessing to learn one-on-one from someone who knew Merton's work so intimately. Her enthusiasm for theology was contagious and encouraged my spiritual journey as a young woman.”  

Even after she retired, she continued to teach a popular, one-credit discussion-based course, Theology and Film, until 2020. Reflecting on her experiences teaching this course in 2019, Sister Elena said “What I’ve learned best about teaching, I’ve learned in the film course…the important thing is the questions you ask, not the answers you give.” 

Interim Vice President for Mission, Molly Gower remembers Sister Elena as a wonderful friend. “Sister Elena and I met when I was new to the Saint Mary’s community and South Bend. She had deep wellsprings of experience and wisdom, and she offered them generously. She was a teacher through and through, and I learned a lot from her.”  

Private services for Sister Elena were held on March 15 at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto. An obituary honoring Sister Elena can be read online, lovingly written by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. 



Holly C Johnson

Holly C. Johnson
Vice President for Advancement

Funeral Mass for Sister Elena


About Saint Mary's College: Celebrating over 175 years of empowering women to make a difference in the world, Saint Mary’s College is recognized as a pioneer and continued force in the education of women. A Catholic, liberal arts institution in Notre Dame, Indiana, the College offers more than 50 undergraduate academic programs and also offers co-educational master’s degrees.

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