A Tribute to Sr. Margaret Claydon, SND, ’45
Hundreds of alumnae and Sisters of Notre Dame gathered in Notre Dame Chapel during Reunion Weekend in June to honor Sr. Margaret Claydon ’45. Sr. Margaret was surrounded by her family when President McGuire ’74 gave the following tribute.
Among all of the Sisters of Notre Dame, our guiding star, greatest exemplar of Trinity’s ideals and role model beyond compare is the greatest of all Trinity presidents, Sr. Margaret Claydon, Class of 1945.
Beginning her remarkable journey from New Rochelle to Trinity as a freshman in the Fall of 1941, Margaret Claydon from the start embodied the wit, charm and sophistication of the ideal Trinity Woman, a large intellect with a penetrating sense of purpose, an inquiring mind dissatisfied with the rote, the superficial, the easy way out. She was the English major whose command of language and literature was always a thing of beauty for others to read, to hear, to listen to her cadence. For many of us, hers was the first voice we heard giving life to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Her choice to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame in the year after her graduation revealed the true power of the dialogue of faith and reason in her life.
Her leadership ability was so clear and compelling that not too many years elapsed before she received the call to high office at age 36, becoming one of the youngest college presidents in history in 1959. She led Trinity’s great era of modernization in the 1960s and early 1970s through times of great change and frequent unrest in the Church, in Washington, on college campuses everywhere.
Sr. Columba Mullaly writes of Sr. Margaret’s tenure, “Her long administration spanned years of expansion, of significant change in the city, in the country, in the church, in higher education, and problem years of worldwide unrest reflected in college life by student unrest, of constant financial needs, of radically changing trends in enrollment and in curricular development, and in administrative and faculty organization.” (Trinity College: The First Eighty Years, p. 99)
Sr. Margaret built the library, led the conversion of governance to the lay board, revamped the curriculum, earned the distinction of securing a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter for Trinity, and became a national spokesperson for women’s colleges, women’s education and advancement. She served on the great boards in higher education, and was the only woman on a significant delegation of Catholic college leaders in Rome in the late 1960s when Catholic colleges and universities were undergoing a period of dramatic transformation in governance.
We have received many messages of tribute for Sr. Margaret, and we will deliver those to her after this liturgy today. I did want to share these words from Bryn Mawr College President Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Trinity Class of 1968, who could not be here today for her own reunion because she is presiding over Bryn Mawr’s alumnae reunion:
“Sr. Margaret was president during my years at Trinity, her influence on my own understanding of effective academic leadership cannot be overestimated. I vividly remember a speech that she made to students in the mid sixties that spoke about leadership as service. I don’t recall if Sr. Margaret used the phase “servant leader” but that was the thrust of her remarks. For the first time, I heard about leadership as a collaborative, consensus-building and empathetic exercise. It was about building capacity in others rather than asserting one’s own dominance. While her exact words are lost to memory, her ideas have remained with me for decades.
“As I continue to reflect on them and on how they were embodied in her extraordinarily productive presidency at Trinity, I realize that they were a natural extension of the vocational dedication of the Sr.s of Notre Dame. What a privilege it was to witness the lives and to be blessed by the generosity of these wonderful women! In the rush and preoccupations of our college years, my classmates and I probably did not think about this much but at some level of consciousness we knew that many of our teachers had given their lives for us. They were devoting themselves to our intellectual and spiritual formation in the hope that we would carry on their tradition of leading by example in our own adult lives, both professional and personal. Their legacy is one that nourished us all and from which, as Trinity graduates, we draw enduring benefit.”
I can only add, personally, to my sister President Jane’s words, a great AMEN.
To honor Sr. Margaret Claydon on this occasion, I am pleased to announce that Trinity is establishing the Sr. Margaret Claydon Scholarship Program for talented students in our women’s college who excel in writing, leadership and the liberal arts. I am pleased to announce as well that on this occasion, the Sisters of Notre Dame of the Ohio Province have made a special gift in honor of Sr. Margaret Claydon and this gift will help to launch the Claydon Scholars Program.
We can all also agree that we want to be sure that the words and wisdom of Sr. Margaret continue to hold a place of honor at Trinity for future generations. I was struck by the phrase in Jane McAuliffe’s message that Sr. Margaret’s ideas remain with her, but the exact words may be lost to memory. We want to fix that for all succeeding generations.
To ensure that Sr. Margaret’s legacy of leadership and service is known to all those who will inhabit this campus in the future not only through remembrances of others but in her own voice, I am pleased to announce Trinity will undertake a project to organize and publish Sr. Margaret’s speeches and writings, and along with that to commission an oral history and biographical project that will make her story, her words, her philosophy and achievements accessible to Trinity’s future students, faculty and staff as well as to the world of Catholic higher education and educators around the globe.
Sr. Margaret: you have been the voice, the face, the spirit and soul of Trinity across more than a half century of Trinity Women. Today we stand together to honor all that you have meant to each of us, and to the Trinity we all love and cherish. And with you, we pray, that the power, wisdom and love of the Trinity will be your constant companions, now and forever.
Thank you, Sr. Margaret Claydon!