Educating for Leadership

In the current edition of Washington Monthly, Kevin Carey tells the fascinating story of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur that founded Trinity College (now University) in Washington, D.C. Opened in 1900, Trinity was intended to serve women who could not attend all-male Catholic colleges and universities. They were barred not because they lacked promise, qualifications or resources, but because they were women. As a result, Trinity recruited and educated some of the best and brightest Catholic women in the United States. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the erstwhile Speaker of the House of Representatives and now House Minority Leader, is perhaps Trinity’s most-mentioned alumna. But the article surveys a truly remarkable array of former students who have risen to leadership in academia, medicine, government, business, and the religious life. In fact, Carey observes, only Princeton University has more alumnae on the Forbes Magazine list of 100 most powerful women in the world. 

The history of Trinity is closely linked to that of the Sisters of Notre Dame, who first fought to open the school in the face of ecclesiastical and civic resistance and later demanded the highest standards of excellence from the women they educated. Sister Margaret Claydon, named president of Trinity in 1959 at the young age of 36, occupies a prominent place in the history of the school. At a news conference after her appointment, Claydon noted, “The modern world needs more people – including girls – who think for themselves.” She continued, “We’re not in the business of training committee women or bridge players.” As time and Carey’s article have shown, this was not just a slogan – it was the truth. Trinity has formed generations of students with the same character of the very sisters who founded the school: passionate, dedicated, savvy, and tough. And though Trinity has faced challenges in recent decades, including the dwindling number of Notre Dame sisters, the school continues to do the work for which it was begun: forming young women for leadership.

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Timothy O'Brien, SJ

 

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Anne Chapman
6 years 10 months ago


 ''Trinity was intended to serve women who could not attend all-male Catholic colleges and universities. They were barred not because they lacked promise, qualifications or resources, but because they were women.''

A sadly familiar story.

The men of the church couldn't stop the women when it came to providing education, providing medical and human care, or any of the other jobs  the women of the church, especially religious women such as the Sisters of Notre Dame, have successfully undertaken in spite of severe obstacles and challenges - generally obstacles  from the church's all male clerical system - not just at the hierarchical level but often at multiple levels. All depends on the personal whims of the male - whether an ordinary parish pastor or a pope - the man decrees, the women are expected to obey. Now the men in Rome are fighting tooth-and-nail to preserve their last bit of all-male turf - the priesthood itself. Even mentioning women's ordination is enough to get a bishop sacked - while bishops who protected the worst of the worst of pedophiles are given cushy jobs in Rome, along with all the luxeries Rome can give them (paid for by the people in the pew). It may soon surpass aboriton as the RCC's most heinous sin. Yet even opponents to women's ordination such as Cardinal Policarpo agree with countless theologians that there is no theological reason to bar women from a sacrament "because they are women."  

Why do the men of the Roman Catholic church so fear and abhor women who do not choose to quietly accept the subservient roles the church defines for them?
6 years 10 months ago
While my class were all scared of our 8th grade nun, in truth she was also scared of us.  She was a kid, only 24 when she taught us but we learned and this ''kid'' who instilled in us a love of learning then went on to get a Ph.D. in psychology working with a world famous psycologist and to teach young Catholic women in college  Years later when I saw her again she was one of the more gracious women I have ever met.


The Church has put forward a lot of its women to high intellectual levels and it has helped us who were fortunate to be exposed to them.  I hope it continues because in this world, young Catholics sure need it.
Anne Chapman
6 years 10 months ago
Perhaps, David, you could explain specifically what you mean by "the communal spirit that nourished it".  Thank you.
Anne Chapman
6 years 10 months ago
Unfortunately the religious sisters were somewhat exploited by the bishops in charge. They ran the schools, with little pay, which is why parochial schooling was so affordble. Now the teachers and staff must be paid at living wage, even if hardly generous.  And the male-run official church refuses to help the religious women who sacrificed in the spirit of community and who are old now - instead of helping them directly through the millions and millions they reeive from the people in the pews in every diocese every year, they direct the parishes to have a special collection for support of the elderly women religious.

Your statement that
 ''The second problem probably can't be addressed at all, because the spirit of sacrifice to community that existed in the first half of the past century and long before has gone.  In the West, at least, we're all individuals now.''
has become  conventional wisdom these days (along with regular laments about too much ''individualism'', although I dont' really understand why individualism is seen as such an unmitigated evil, as opposed to a trait that can be used both positively and negatively), but the more I think about it, the more I think the conventional wisdom that we are not longer willing to sacrifice for community may not be on target.

 The great wars produced a lot of sacrifice - I suspect that if there were another war on the order of WWI and WWII, fought in the same manner, the people would sacrifice just as willingly today as then.  I look back to my childhood in the 50s, and question the spirit of community - it was there, but it was very closed.  It was very much ''my community'' - my parish, my family, my race, often my ancestral ethnic group.  In the east coast, many parishes still reflect that ethnicity - Irish Catholic, Polish Catholic, Italian Catholic etc.  I grew up in Calif and my parish was from-everywhere-white parish, and I don't recall from that era witnessing an outpouring of community spirit to those not of one's own ethnic/religious/racial/demographic community.  It seems now in the age of instant communication, the Americans, more than any other national group, respond instantly and generously to help communities far from their own whenever the need is great - Hurricane Katrina, or disaster in Africa.  Americans respond and generally without concern for race/religion/poverty or non-poverty level, or nationality generally. Has community ''spirit'' really disappeared, or has it simply changed along with everything else?  I see an open generosity in the US national spirit that was not as apparent 60 years ago, when supporting community meant supporting one's own community.  Maybe things aren't as bad as you think. If the men of the church can no longer exploit the women religious, this is a good thing, not a bad thing.  If people now see the faces of those suffering in other cities, countries, continents and respond, if only with a check, that is a good thing.  Every weekend in my ''community'' (the Washington DC metro area), there are races and walks and marathons and other events held to raise money to support worthy causes - they close the streets and avenues, and hundreds to thousands of people gather in the suburban towns and in the city itself to support efforts to help a wider community of people. Perhaps it's better if we have learned not to depend on the ''religious'' people to do this work - and perhaps it's better if we have learned that ''community'' doesn't stop at our front door, our family reunion, our small town, our relilgious group, our ethnic group.  And individualism is a trait that is often used for good - our challenge is to channel the individualistic energy.
Anne Chapman
6 years 10 months ago
Sorry about the typos - I'm running out to work, and can't fix now!
Anne Chapman
6 years 10 months ago
I did not think that you were simply addressing religious communities when you said that individualism has triumphed over community spirit. I thought you were saying it is part of a trend, because many others say just that. And I disagree - yes, writing checks is not enough. But, I have no memory when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s of the kind of community spirit we see now - I have no memory of our parish having groups of people who participated in a range of ministries, including those that serve the least of us. No soup kitchens, no community service projects for the kids and teens, much less for the adults. I don't remember our communities banding together regularly to have fundraising events to help various causes, nor to help individuals within the community. I think there is a far greater spirit of community now than then, when everything was so closed to anyone ''other.''  I also think it's not a bad thing that the religious women are able to go out to serve where they are most needed - few lay Catholics are willing to serve in the homes for AIDS patients, in homeless shelters, setting up clinics for the poor, etc, but it's not hard to find lay Catholics willing to be teachers and administrators in the schools. No, the religious women listened to the Holy 'Spirit and went where they were called - more needed there than in most parochial schools, serving without even a living wage or benefits.  The clerical church is loathe to pay its lay staffs that, but it has to at least do the minimum and maybe it will just slightly take one step closer to understanding the real lives of real Catholics.  Since they are supported from the day they enter seminary until they die without worries, and withour worrying about being able to care for their families, they tend to exploit people financially.  The individualistic spirit that has always been so associated with America and Amerians is part of what propels this country - inventiveness, imagination, risk-taking - not as often found in peoples whose main characteristic is ''communitarist'' (not communist, but cultures like many found in Asia, for example).  Individualism is not bad unless it's taken to the extreme of hurting others..
Anne Chapman
6 years 10 months ago
David, the isolation you talk about is probably more common among priests, especially diocesan priests. It's been cited as a major cause of all kinds of problems - ranging from sexual impropriety (not child abuse, a different category) to alcoholism.  Priests once had housemates in their rectories - less isolated, but also maybe more trying at times, if living with only one or maybe two people that you don't like. In a larger community (lke a college dorm!) there are more choices. And the average parish priest is hugely overworked - most without a housemate or associate to help with all the work, and some handling more than one parish alone..

 Religious women often live alone or with one or two others doing the same work - it seems to work out because of their shared interests and ability to have more choice and control over their work and living - BUT, they also still have communities, and they return to those larger communities at times, sometimes to live for a long time, sometimes just for short periods. And they are still called to obedience - I knew one sister who had done wonderful work establishing a spirituality center at a local parish that impacted the spiritual lives of many in ways that went far deeper than the average Sunday Mass attender's experience.  She was called back to her community after a few years - she did not want to live what she had built here, but she did so because that was her call.  And she welcomed the chance to be with her sisters at the mother-house again. So, I think the religious sisters have worked it out pretty well, a very healthy and wholistic balance.

In recent years, I have become aware of a growing movement of non-vowed communities - sometimes both lay and vowed, sometimes mixed gender, even ecumenical. THey seem to be in Europe. Taize is famous of course, but there are smaller communities. I know of one in Italy, one in Spain, in France. They do much the same kinds of work as vowed religious and priests/brothers, but they are lay and people aren't committed for a lifetime. Thus, if they are ready to move on to something else, they can without feeling they have betrayed a vow or a community nor are they looked on as pariahs, as are priests and religious who decide to leave that life. Perhaps it's a model that will grow and expand.  Women's religious communities started in the very early church partly as a legitimate option for women who did not wish to enter an arranged marriage. This motivation for some lasted probably up to the 20th century. Some did not wish to marry, but the culture wasn't hospitable to single women - jobs were scarce and poorly paid, living alone was often illegal, etc.  Religious life often offered educational benefits that were hard for ordinary people to achieve (true of the priesthood also, and still true in third world countries for both women and men who choose religious life) as well as vocational opportunities.  A former professor of mine, a religious woman with a PhD left the order at one time, but continued to teach at the university. When I saw her years later I asked her why she had left - she said that she could now do things that at one time were hard for a woman to do if she was not part of a religious community (such as teaching at a Catholic college when other colleges and universities still discriminated against women as professors.)   Anyway, that's all for now. It has been nice talking with you.

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