The influential role of the Sisters of Notre Dame in shaping Trinity and educating the graduates who pursued public service and other leadership roles is the focus of a feature article in the July/August 2011 issue of Washington Monthly magazine. In the article, “The Trinity Sisters,” author Kevin Carey notes that “many of America’s most powerful women” graduated from Trinity, including House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi ’62, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ’70, former member of Congress Barbara Kennelly ’58, U.S. District Judge Claire Egan ’72, Susan Burk ’76, U.S. ambassador for nuclear nonproliferation, and many others.
- Read the full article in the Washington Monthly.
- Listen to President Patricia McGuire’s interview on NPR’s “Here and Now” inspired by this article.
The article chronicles the courageous sisters who founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in France in1804 and then moved to Belgium, and the SND commitment to educating girls and women. The author describes the challenges that the sisters faced in founding Trinity in 1897, and notes that “the charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame… entails a spirit of ambitious enterprise and fierce autonomy — a refusal to take no for an answer in the face of institutional authority.” He adds that their influential role in educating Trinity graduates helps “explain an impressive number of [Trinity] women shaping America today.”
The reporter describes a pivotal point in Trinity’s history that captures the charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame:
In 1959, the college appointed Sister Margaret Claydon, Class of ’45, as president. At thirty-six, she was one of the nation’s youngest higher education leaders. She promptly called a press conference to explain her goals. A reporter for Time magazine was on hand. “The modern world needs more people — including girls — who think for themselves,” Claydon said. “We’re not in the business of training committee women or bridge players.”
Fifty-three years later, Sister Claydon has lost none of her conviction. When I asked what, exactly, she did to train her students to think for themselves, she turned and looked me square in the eye. “We treated them like women,” she said. “Not like little girls.” It was a distinction she returned to numerous times as she explained how the charism of Saint Julie Billiart became the educational philosophy of Trinity College. If students were going to heed Saint Julie’s call to go out into the world, they needed self-reliance.
Bringing the article to the present day, the author relays another historic Trinity moment that took place in the White House:
On March 23, 2010, in the East Room of the White House, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. The mood in the room was festive as Obama surrounded himself with friends and allies. Pelosi stood behind him, hands on the back of his chair, as he signed half a century of progressive aspirations into law.
Afterward, the attendees stood around the signing desk on the crowded platform, smiling for pictures and congratulating one another. Pelosi walked over to Sebelius. She touched her fellow alumna on the arm, and said, “We need to have the president take a picture! With the Trinity sisters!”
The two went together to Obama and Sebelius said, “Mr. President, would you take a picture with the Trinity sisters?” The president said, “Sure—where are they?” and began looking around the room, perhaps for a small group of nuns applauding in the crowd. Sebelius corrected him. “We’re the Trinity sisters. Nancy and me.” Obama laughed and signaled to a White House photographer, putting his right hand around Sebelius’s shoulder and his left around Pelosi’s, smiling. At the moment the shutter closed, Sebelius looked at Pelosi and gestured between them, as if to affirm, We’re the ones, you and me.