and Purpose

Marilou Eldred Inaugurated as

Tenth Saint Mary’s President

The inauguration of Marilou Eldred as tenth president of Saint Mary’s College on Monday, October 6, was a unique experience that embraced the entire Saint Mary’s community.  And it included several different — and widely diverse — kinds of public activities.

A pre-inaugural procession, with students, faculty and representatives of nearly 100 colleges, universities and learned societies, all in full academic regalia, echoed the many graduations which have graced the broad lawns of Le Mans Hall.  The inaugural ceremony itself evoked religious tradition, as all present raised their hands in blessing over the new president.  But it had the feel of contemporary pop culture as well, with the flashing of camera strobes throughout O’Laughlin Auditorium helping to ratchet up the level of excitement.

The Church was present, both in the day’s pageantry and in the seriousness of purpose behind this key moment in Saint Mary’s history.  The Most Reverend John M. D’Arcy, bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, launched the proceedings by celebrating a Mass of the Holy Spirit in the Church of Our Lady of Loretto.  Later, he concluded the inaugural ceremony with a blessing.

Other activities surrounding the day’s main functions added to the variety and heightened the festive quality of the celebration.  A special exhibit in Cushwa-Leighton Library traced the College’s history and displayed official greetings to the new president, while tours showed off the campus for visiting dignitaries and the public.  An art exhibit in the Moreau Galleries featured unique fabric and ceramic works by artists Susie Brandt and Charles Johnson.  And a luncheon and post-inaugural buffet (complete with ice sculptures in the shape of the Saint Mary’s fleur-de-lis) capped the event with hospitality and good fellowship.

“Jubilee” was the theme of the weekend.  On the eve of Monday’s events, students had gathered for Sunday dinner with the new president and her family.  They received answers to their questions about plans and priorities of the Eldred administration, then participated in a “Send-off” session of song and blessing at “Mary’s Place,” the newly re-landscaped prayer garden by McCandless Hall.  The women of Saint Mary’s prayed for the College’s first laywoman leader with an intimate sense of personal concern.  And representatives of each class placed bouquets before the statue of the Blessed Virgin to honor the College’s patroness.

This inauguration demonstrated the prominence which Saint Mary’s has achieved in the Michiana community as well as in the world of higher education.  The South Bend Tribune featured a profile of Marilou Eldred on its first page the day of the ceremony, followed by page-one coverage of the event the next morning.  And the mayors of South Bend, Elkhart and Mishawaka issued a joint proclamation declaring October 6, 1997, Saint Mary’s College Day in their municipalities.

Father Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, and Brother Richard J. Gilman, C.S.C., president of Holy Cross College, spoke during the ceremony, reflecting Saint Mary’s position as one of the nine, world-renowned Holy Cross educational institutions.  And Sister Catherine O’Brien, C.S.C., president of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, represented Saint Mary’s sponsoring congregation and provided the introduction to the new president’s inaugural address.

Dorothy Feigl, vice president and dean of faculty, welcomed the impressive assemblage of scholarly representatives and all the other guests, and Sister Rose Anne Schultz, C.S.C., vice president for mission, gave an invocation.  Additional greetings were offered by Nicole Milos ’98, Saint Mary’s student body president, and Patricia Sayre, chair of the Faculty Assembly, along with Susan Shouvlin Caldwell ’68, president of the Alumnae Association Board of Directors, and Colleen and James Ryan, chair-couple of the Parents Council.  Finally, Anita Pampusch, president of the Bush Foundation and former president of the College of St. Catherine, offered a personal reflection on her long association with Marilou Eldred at that St. Paul, Minnesota, women’s college.

Bishop D’Arcy set the tone for the day’s proceedings at the morning Mass, when he observed that Eldred’s inauguration was occurring “at a moment of faith and of history” during the advent of Christianity’s third millennium.  He related the significance of Saint Mary’s taking a new direction in leadership — with its first laywoman as president — to the emergence of women into increased prominence in the life of the Church.  Recalling his attendance, as a young priest, at the Second Vatican Council, he quoted from a conciliar statement:

“The hour is coming — in fact, has come — when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in all its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect, and a power never hitherto achieved.  That is why, at this moment, when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with the spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.”

D’Arcy noted the personal characteristics he had observed in the new president which he believes suit her well to assume her leadership responsibilities in the “spirit of the Gospel.”  “All of us who have met you,” he said directly to Eldred during his homily, “have been impressed with your humility, with your openness to the mission which you are taking up these days...[with your] spirit of inclusion...[and with your approach to this work] as a vocation.”

He also observed that Eldred’s understanding of the relationship between religion and scholarship is consistent with the vision set forth in Ex corde ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education.  “Not only is there no separation between faith and reason,” he quoted from the document issued in 1990, “but one without the other is incomplete and lacks the ability to transform society.”

“This college,” the bishop said, “has always been dedicated — and our new president is dedicated — to the centrality of the unity between faith and learning, even more between faith and higher learning.”

Sister Catherine O’Brien echoed the bishop’s sentiments, noting that Eldred has “a heart filled with compassion” and is someone “willing to stand at the foot of the cross of a suffering world needing women who will be compassionate today.”

Dean of Faculty Dorothy Feigl underscored the importance of the challenge facing the tenth president by quoting from a convocation address by Saint Mary’s third president, Sr. Madeleva Wolff, C.S.C.  “A student enters college for one legitimate reason: to learn, to practice, to become perfect, that is, to become a saint in the intellectual virtues, to lead the intellectual life.... This life of the mind is a holy thing.”

Feigl noted the diversity of academic institutions participating in the inaugural celebration.  “In this auditorium today,” she said, “are representatives from undergraduate colleges not much different from Saint Mary’s in mission or size or even religious affiliation.  But here, too, are representatives of state schools, of private research universities, of community colleges, of professional schools — the whole panoply of schools that make education in the United States so distinctive.  What we have in common is our central enterprise: the development of minds.”

Board of Trustees Chair Mary Lou Gorno ’72 administered the oath of office and then invited all present to join in a blessing over the newly installed president.  “Spirit of wisdom,” she prayed, “gracious teacher, assist with counsel and fortitude the president of Saint Mary’s College.  Grant that her administration is conducted with integrity and compassion.  Give her new life and strength of spirit, so that the power of your love will enable her to teach by word and example.  Guide her and all of us in the ways of justice and peace, so our horizon will stretch far beyond the third millennium toward life and Christ forever....”

Saint Mary’s

New President is a


“People Person”

Friends and colleagues of Marilou Eldred are consistent in describing an openness and a spirit of hospitality which they say are dominant characteristics of Saint Mary’s tenth president.  And indeed, such qualities were on display in all the festivities of the inaugural weekend, as Eldred moved from event to event, greeting all those in attendance and making everyone — including students, faculty, staff, alumnae and visitors — feel welcome.

That highly personal touch is typical of Eldred, according to Colleen Hegranes, vice president for student affairs at the College of St. Catherine, where they were colleagues for 18 years.  “Marilou is a task-oriented person who is also a ‘people’ person,” Hegranes said.  “And you don’t often find those two qualities working together.”

Hegranes recalled how Eldred was “always willing to share herself with others.  She made sure to call people by name, and she was always taking time to chat about how their kids and husbands were.  There’s a real sense of camaraderie about Marilou — and her husband, Don, as well — that invites people to be part of their lives.  Marilou sees people as important.”

Sister Jackie O’Hara, chair of St. Catherine’s French Department, noted that Eldred was not only open to people, but open to new ideas.  “As academic dean, Marilou always stood behind the faculty.  Whenever I would suggest new things that should be done, she always supported me,” O’Hara said.  “She was always ready to listen and ready to share.”

Tom West, chair of St. Catherine’s Theology Department, noted that Eldred does not see people as “simply representing political forces and constituencies.”  He reflected that “she has many political skills, more than people would, on first impression, give her credit for — and you want your president to have political skills.”  But he stressed that she is not someone who would tend to be “into elaborate political scheming.  The Saint Mary’s community should trust her.”

Throughout the years of their association, West was impressed with Eldred’s personal humility and common touch.  “Marilou is very smart and stays current with trends in higher education,” he said.  “In talks, she will often make reference to something she has just read.  Yet she is not overwhelming erudite and makes no claim, to be such.  You won’t find her clogging her speeches with quotes from Plato, Aquinas and Nietzsche.  What she is is an avid and humble learner.  Last summer I attended a workshop for teachers of our core course, “The Reflective Woman.”  There she was, the academic dean — the boss — among at least 30 faculty members, and she was more willing than anyone to confess gaps in her knowledge.  She is secure enough to admit her insecurity.”

Anita Pampusch, former president of the College of St. Catherine, called Eldred a “reconciler.”  She noted that at St. Catherine her long-time colleague was frequently in the position of “bringing people together” and that “her personal qualities put a very human face on the notion of ‘the administration.’  She was known as sympathetic, a listener, a problem solver, and frankly, the most organized person on campus.”

Pampusch described Eldred’s ability to reach solutions to contentious issues that deflected controversy and met the needs of competing interests.  “Marilou could see her way through a lot of these knotty problems,” Pampusch said, “and she could find a solution that provided something for everyone.”

Eldred’s problem-solving aptitude and political skills proved especially important in tackling two formidable challenges at St. Catherine: a merger with another school and a thorough revision of the core curriculum.

Mary Broderick, who is currently serving as St. Catherine’s acting president, recounted how Eldred “coordinated the work of five task forces and the blending of two entire faculties,” when the College of St. Catherine absorbed the Minneapolis-based St. Mary’s Junior College in 1986.  Broderick noted that the merger resulted in creation of several joint programs and expansion of graduate education on the combined campuses.  What Eldred brought to the effort, Broderick explained, was “her ability to mobilize people.  People believe that Marilou has the best interests of the institution at heart — and their best interests as well.”

Hegranes observed the same abilities at work in the development of St. Catherine’s new core curriculum.  “It was like trying to herd cats,” Hegranes recalled humorously.  “Everyone had their own ideas of what the curriculum should be, and there were no complete winnings for anybody.  Marilou nudged the process along.  It took three years, but she built a consensus.  Now, in a very real sense, the whole faculty owns that core.”

Broderick observed that Eldred’s people skills extend to her relationships with students as well.  “Marilou was able to engage with students,” she said.  “She was always able to tune into what they were feeling and experiencing — where they were in the developmental process.  She could relate very directly.  If anybody was in distress, she could read the signals immediately.  And she was able to stimulate students to take the next step, try that hard thing.”

Faculty members at Saint Mary’s College are already taking the measure of their leader.  Patricia Sayre, chair of the Faculty Assembly, underscored Eldred’s open, approachable nature.  Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, she welcomed the new president on behalf of the faculty, noting that it seemed “a bit of an odd task, because many of us on the faculty feel we’ve already got the welcoming business done long ago.  The ‘President Eldred’ who arrived last June is now the ‘Marilou’ who’s well on her way to being one of our own.  She’s been to many of our homes; we’ve been to her home as well.  She’s been part of many many small group discussions with faculty, talking about the future of Saint Mary’s, and much of it’s been a very passionate kind of talk, a very good kind of talk.”

One person who has a singular perspective on Marilou Eldred is her husband, Don.  A management consultant specializing in computers, he described his wife of 23 years as a “collaborative person” who “loves to work and get things done.  She’s patient, and she knows how to organize, to make things happen.  But she loves to see her team work.”

He observed that she has a good sense of humor and an overall positive outlook on life, “even when things are bad.”  And he made special note of her persistence.  “Marilou will keep working,” he said, “until her body forces her to shut down.”  When that happens, she “likes time to be alone, to think abut things.”

The new president’s colleagues were unanimous in noting her love of entertaining.  They cited numerous gatherings in the Eldred home in Minnesota, and Don Eldred insisted that their new home will be open to everyone in the Saint Mary’s community.  He noted, in particular, that faculty and student artwork is being displayed in the presidential residence.

He also stressed his delight at this new opportunity for his wife, and his eagerness to be involved in the life of Saint Mary’s.  “When someone accepts a position like this, the spouse is highly visible,” he said.  “As soon as Marilou was appointed, it was clear this was a family endeavor.”

The remaining member of the Eldred family has her own perspective on Saint Mary’s new president.  Twenty-year-old Sarah, a photography major at Chicago’s Columbia College, knows her mother’s “management” style well.  And while she might acknowledge the new president’s affinity for the “collaborative” approach, she knows that, with an educator, there are limits.  “In high school,” Sarah recalled, “we would fight over the importance of doing homework and getting good grades.  She won.”

• • •

Special-Event Documentation

Late 1990s

Portions of an extended report on the inauguration of the College’s new president, included in a special issue of the alumnae magazine

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