Inaugural Address

Image: President's Office

Carol Ann Mooney
Saint Mary’s College,Notre Dame, Indiana
January 15, 2005

President Mooney Thank you Debbie. This is a very special day for Saint Mary’s College. I want to thank you and other members of the Board of Trustees for being here today. I also want to thank our honored guests for their presence, including: Congressman Chris Chocola, Dr. Nathan Hatch, Cathy Frischkorn, Sarah Sullivan Bigelow, Susan Lennon, Father Ken Molinaro, and Sister Mary Louise Full. Professor Don Miller, who is a member of our Mathematics faculty, is the Marshal for this ceremony -- and when I graduated from Saint Mary’s, Don was a recently hired faculty member who served as Assistant Marshal for our Commencement ceremony.

I also want to thank the delegates from the various colleges and universities who have joined us for this celebration and recognize several special people who are with us this afternoon -- my friends and former colleagues from Notre Dame, President Emeritus Father Hesburgh, current President, Father Edward “Monk” Malloy, and President-elect, Father John Jenkins. I also want to recognize and thank my predecessor, Dr. Marilou Eldred. And Sister Alma Peter, C.S.C., who served as Acting President from 1970 -1972; she signed my Saint Mary’s diploma.

Many people at Saint Mary’s have worked long and hard to organize the events of this week. Let me thank just a few of them. Shari Rodriguez, Vice President for College Relations, has done an outstanding job as Chair of the Inauguration Steering Committee. Shari and the rest of her committee have not only organized everything but have, more importantly, extended warm hospitality to all of our guests. Saint Mary’s and the Sisters of the Holy Cross are known for their hospitality and I think you would all agree that they have outdone themselves this weekend... In addition to the many administrators and staff who have worked long and hard, we have had many student volunteers this week. Their willingness to assist us at every turn is most appreciated…

I want to thank everyone at Saint Mary’s -- members of the faculty, administration, and staff -- for the efforts they make everyday to maintain Saint Mary’s standards of excellence. Without each of their individual efforts, it would not be possible to serve our students or our community in the many ways that we do. Last, but not least, I want to thank my friends and family members who have traveled many miles to be here for this special time in my life, as well as in the life of the College. At this time I would like to have the members of my immediate and extended families stand to be recognized -- my parents, my sister, my in-laws, my cousins, and George, my husband of 28 years -- who is also my best friend and supporter -- and our four daughters. I want to thank each of them for their unfailing love and support.

One morning last fall, I spent time with 30 middle school girls from St. Joseph Grade School here in South Bend. They spent a day on our campus looking at various aspects of their human personalities -- an exercise intended to help them in their early teen years be more aware of various aspects of themselves -- physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. My assignment was to speak with them about “masculine/feminine.” Although I scratched my head for several days wondering why I didn’t have an easy topic like the need for physical exercise or the value of team sports, the girls and I had a good time together.

The conclusion we drew from our discussion was that the words “masculine” and “feminine” are adjectives that cause us a good deal of confusion. Those adjectives describe a certain set of qualities, but one should not fall into the trap of believing that feminine qualities are not possessed by men, or that masculine qualities are inappropriate for women. Indeed, we concluded that possessing both sets of qualities is important for a balanced personality. To drive the point home, we talked about the old nursery rhyme:

What are little boys made of?
Snakes and snails and puppy dogs tails;
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything nice.
That’s what little girls are made of.

The middle schools girls were in strong agreement that they would feel quite constrained if they thought that they must always be “everything nice.” In fact, they were quite certain that some of the qualities that Webster’s Dictionary called masculine -- such as strength and vigor -- were important for them.

This is a College dedicated to a woman, and named for her. This is Saint Mary’s College. Have you ever considered the other names that could have been chosen while keeping the Blessed Mother as our patroness? This could be Our Lady of Peace College, or Regina Coeli College, or Madonna College. But we are Saint Mary’s College. Having been an English major and a person who firmly believes that language matters, I believe there is significance to our given name.

When we think of saints, or at least when those of us raised in the 1950s or earlier think of saints, we think of their lives. We recall their actions that modeled for us the way to lead a Christian life. Usually we are struck by a saint’s strength, courage, and resolve, and we question our own ability to act similarly. It seems to me, however, that when we think of Mary, we do not think of her in quite the same way that we think of other saints. We tend to think of her as loving mother and we think of her gentle and soft qualities. But there are many events in the stories of her life that exhibit Mary’s strength and courage. Consider her “yes” response to God’s call to become the mother of Jesus, the mother of God incarnate. What a strange and frightening request. Her “yes” could not have come from a shrinking violet. Then as a young wife and mother we are told that Mary became a refugee. In order to protect her young son, she and her husband fled their homeland and journeyed over harsh deserts to Egypt, an alien country. That was a dangerous and heroic trip of the type taken by Vietnamese refugees in the 70s or those fleeing Darfour today. Jesus’ crucifixion was an execution by an occupying foreign government that basically had charged him with sedition. Mary’s act of standing at the foot of the cross was not merely a watching; it was itself a courageous act of accompaniment that could have had serious repercussions for her in the days and weeks following her son’s execution.

Saint Mary was certainly made of firmer stuff than just sugar and spice, and so are the women of Saint Mary’s, both now and for all of its 160 year history.

Let me begin describing Saint Mary’s women with the first four of them who were, of course, Sisters of the Holy Cross. Sister Mary of the Heart of Jesus, Sister Mary of Calvary, Sister Mary of Nazareth, and Sister Mary of Bethlehem were French women who made their religious professions in May 1843. The day following their professions, they were ordered to leave France and move to the University of Notre Dame du Lac in America. Sister Mary of the Heart of Jesus was in charge of the four and she was 19 years old. The chief purpose of the community of Sisters, not surprisingly for its time, was to provide domestic help for the Holy Cross priests and brothers. So, four Sisters of the Holy Cross -- maids, cooks, and laundresses -- crossed the North Atlantic and traveled on to the wilds of Indiana. Within a year of their arrival, the Sisters found themselves living just over the state line in Bertrand, Michigan, learning English, and teaching local children. And thus Saint Mary’s Academy was born. The very first Saint Mary’s women recognized the needs of those around them and responded to those needs. They stretched themselves and found the personal and communal resources to assume and fulfill ever increasing responsibilities. Saint Mary’s women are prepared to do not only what is required of them, but to move beyond and do that which will enrich their communities.

The program of study at Saint Mary’s has always been rigorous. From the beginning, the academic program was based upon the trivium and the quadrivium, or the seven liberal arts -- a program that was imported from France by the Sisters. I suspect that more than a few members of this audience remember the trivium from their much later days here. The trivium, which encompasses the liberal arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric, continued to be a crucial and explicit element of the Saint Mary’s curriculum into the second half of the 20th century. In the first years of Saint Mary’s, there were 2 five month sessions each year which concluded with oral examinations. The questioning for the examinations was typically done by the Sisters. But in July 1855, Father Sorin, the founder of Notre Dame, announced that for the oral examination of Saint Mary’s students, which was scheduled to take place the following day, he had asked some of his best professors at Notre Dame to question the advanced students. Professor Denis O’Leary began the examination the next morning with Mathematics. Professor O’Leary gave problems of his own devising to each girl. An account of the proceedings relates that “the girls, warming to the work, forgot fright and for two hours professor and pupils became so interested in the various branches of Mathematics that all forgot entirely that other studies had been ignored” until the noon angelus bell rang. One of those 1855 examiners told Father Sorin that the Saint Mary’s students were “an honor to the thorough teaching” they had received. Saint Mary’s faculty continues to be thorough and to demand high performance, and the students continue to be an honor to that teaching.

I have had so much fun reading through archival material in preparation for this address, that I could tell detailed stories from each decade of the College’s history. My family, however, has repeatedly reminded me of the virtue of brevity. So, I will add just a few highlights.

By 1861, Saint Mary’s Academy had moved from Bertrand, Michigan, to this location and seven southern states had set up the Confederate States of America. In the fall of 1861 the Sisters of the Holy Cross responded to a request for nursing services. Before the Civil War came to an end, the Sisters had provided the nursing staffs for military hospitals in Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Saint Louis, and Washington, D.C. They also staffed the famous Red Rover, the first United States hospital ship. The Sisters of the Holy Cross and the women of Saint Mary’s have always been aware of the needs of the wider world and responded with bravery, and they continue to do so.

Scientific study has long been a strength of the College. In 1896, within a year of the fundamental discovery of the X-ray, Saint Mary’s had an X-ray apparatus. In 1899, Sister Antonine, a Saint Mary’s physics professor, worked with Professor Green of Notre Dame to complete transmission of the first wireless telegraph message across land -- a message was sent from Notre Dame to Saint Mary’s. In 1903-04 Saint Mary’s catalog mentioned a course in bacteriology -- the first record of such a course being offered in the State of Indiana. Saint Mary’s continues to excel in the preparation of women for scientific careers.

International recruitment of students began quite early here. I am not certain exactly when it began, but last summer I was given a copy of a 1904 Saint Mary’s catalog that was written entirely in Spanish. The catalog, which I have given to the archives, even includes a tiny envelope with samples of the cloth to be used for the required uniforms. That same year, the famous Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, gave two lectures at Saint Mary’s. Saint Mary’s women have never had a narrow horizon.

In 1915, when many of us would think of Saint Mary’s as being firmly ensconced in the “white glove and hat” era, Mary Callahan began her infamous class in auto mechanics, using a Studebaker car -- of course. Saint Mary’s has always been contemporary.

In 1924, Mother Pauline forged ahead with her long dreamed-of construction project; she did so without adequate funding and against the advice of her more pragmatic colleagues. Her tenacity brought forth the College’s signature building, Le Mans Hall. Saint Mary’s women have big dreams and the boldness to make them come true.

In 1944, our poet president, Sister Madeleva, established a Graduate School of Sacred Theology at Saint Mary’s. It was the first school in the country to offer graduate training in Catholic Theology to women. The College conferred 76 doctoral degrees in Theology -- 56 to religious women, 19 to lay women, and 1 to a religious man -- between 1946 and 1966. The impact of the program was tremendous. Previously, only priests had taught Theology in Catholic colleges and universities, and predominantly in high schools. The Saint Mary’s program gave women the credentials needed to permit them to stand at the front of those classrooms. The school closed when other graduate programs opened their doors to women. Saint Mary’s women are responsive to the needs of their times and pioneer change.

In 1953, Marguerite Edwards became one of the first African American graduates of Saint Mary’s College. Ms. Edwards came to Saint Mary’s from Raleigh, North Carolina. Her story is important not only because of her personal courage, but also because her presence was born of student initiative. Ms. Edwards was the first recipient of the Martin de Porres Scholarship which was organized at the suggestion of a student in 1949. The students operated two-committees: one concerned with financing the scholarship; another with the social integration of the scholarship recipients at the College. Saint Mary’s women, like Ms. Edwards, are willing to go first and, like those who organized the scholarship, are aware that their academic community is at its best when it is widely representative.

In 1961, Professor Rita Cassidy was hired to direct a program in African Studies. Rita was a single woman whose letter of initial appointment took some time to reach her in Basutoland. Following her first year on the faculty, Dr. Cassidy took a three month solo trip through eleven African countries to enlarge her knowledge of the continent and its history. One newspaper article said that Saint Mary’s was the first college in the United States to pioneer a study of Africa. Although I doubt the accuracy of that statement, our program was certainly among the early ones in this country. Like Professor Cassidy, Saint Mary’s women are undaunted and they continue to be so.

Of course, the history of Saint Mary’s is not just a history of women. There have been male partners in the great adventure of building this special place, and none so beloved as Professor Bruno Schlesinger, one of the European intellectual émigrés of the 1940s. Bruno started the Humanistic Studies Program at Saint Mary’s and concluded his 50 year teaching career here just this past December.

But, my stories should not be limited to those from the past; the Saint Mary’s women of today are every bit as impressive.

_ Today there are four Saint Mary’s alumnae in the United States Congress.

_ Leslie Wilson graduated in 1976. She worked at Saint Mary’s for 8 years following graduation -- in a residence hall, as an Admission Counselor, and finally as Director of Alumnae Relations. At age 35, she left her job in Alumni Relations at Northwestern University Medical School because she realized that she needed to do more with her life. She joined the Peace Corps and served in southern Thailand. Since then, she has worked with the American Refugee Committee and with UNICEF. Today she is in Afghanistan as the Director of Communication, Advocacy, and Program Support for Save the Children.

_ Christine Bodewes of the class of 1987 graduated from the University of Illinois Law School in 1990. For the following eight years she worked in a Chicago law firm doing securities litigation and made partner. In 1998, she followed 2 of her Saint Mary’s friends into Maryknoll. She now lives in Nairobi, Kenya where she provides legal services to the poor.

Of course many of our best stories will never reach the archives but are nonetheless a part of what makes this College such a special place. There is no way for me to pay tribute to all the women and their stories, but let me add just one more:

Last fall Doctors Gail Mandell, from Humanistic Studies, and Becky Stoddart, from Psychology, taught tandem courses for first year students. Like all Saint Mary’s faculty who teach tandem courses, they each worked on two related courses while being credited for only one. They take on the additional work for the joy of collaboration; they do it for the stimulation of working in an interdisciplinary setting; and they do it for the love of their students. One evening last fall, they showed me a bit of how they work the magic that turns the 18 year olds who come to us into the confident and able young women who leave us at Commencement. Maxine Hong-Kingston, a very highly respected contemporary novelist, visited the campus last fall. Mandell and Stoddart’s students had read Ms. Hong-Kingston’s book, The Fifth Book of Peace, and the students had been required to write a reflection on peace. Following Ms. Hong-Kingston’s reading, in this auditorium (before a packed house), three students from the tandem took the stage and read their work. In great Saint Mary’s style, we had confidence enough in our newest students to have them not only meet with Ms. Hong-Kingston but to take the stage with her and share their words with the assembled audience and the students’ work was marvelous. Ms. Hong-Kingston loved that addition to the evening. She has been a guest on many college campuses and she noted that at no other school had students also read their work.

Like our patroness, Saint Mary, the women of this College have continuously displayed intelligence, courage, fortitude, boldness, generosity, and dedication. They have been intellectually rigorous and academically adventurous.

For me and for many other women, Saint Mary’s College is a powerful symbol. It is a place built by women for women -- not in the last 40 years, when women have talked more about their power -- but over the past 160 years. Our students come here seeking a first rate intellectual education and something more. That something more is the support and encouragement of a faith-based community that prepares our graduates to respond “yes” to the use of their God-given talents. That something more is an education that sensitizes them to see the needs of their communities and their world. That something more is an education that prepares them to take up the challenges they will face during the course of their lifetimes.
Something special happens to young women in the course of four years spent at Saint Mary’s College and it is a sacred trust to accompany those young women during their time here. It is a sacred trust to play a role in the continuation of the work begun 160 years ago by those 4 brave young Sisters.
As I begin my presidency, you have my promise that I will work hard, be faithful to our heritage, and work with all of you to shape its meaning for both today and tomorrow.

Thank you.