"Women's colleges create the atmosphere that empowers women and inspires leadership," Sister Kathleen Feeley wrote in a letter to the editor last September. As president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland for the past 21 years, Sister Kathleen has been in the forefront of making this statement a reality.
On Saturday, Sister Kathleen presided over her last crop of graduates. She was also the commencement speaker for the 275 students who receive diplomas from the small liberal arts college in Homeland. The college she leaves behind is remarkably strong and vibrant even as the number of women's colleges continues to shrink.
Notre Dame is one of only 93 colleges in the United States programmed primarily for women. During the Feeley era, major new buildings and new courses have made the school's education more relevant to today's women. The latest is the Women's Institute, a program designed to help women develop their full potential. Another major success has been the Weekend College, which Sister Kathleen started in 1975 and which has grown in popularity ever since as an alternative to night school for employed women and men seeking undergraduate degrees. And on weekdays, the same area of the school is turned into the Renaissance Institute, where courses are offered for individuals ages 55 and older.
This school of 600 full-time undergraduates and 1,500 students in the weekend degree program has managed also to connect its mission as a small Catholic liberal arts institution to the concerns of the city. Sister Kathleen has been an active player in city civic activities and has encouraged her institution to do likewise.
When Sister Kathleen turns over control of Notre Dame July 1 to Sister Rosemarie Nassif, it will mark the end of a nearly 50-year relationship, starting when Sister Kathleen attended Notre Dame's prep school. She's not retiring, though. Soon she'll be touring Europe and the Mediterranean before introducing female authors to students as a professor of American literature at the University of Madras in southern India. Empowering women and inspiring leadership continue to be Sister Kathleen's goals. The thousands who felt her influence at Notre Dame can attest to that.