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Sr. Camilla Burns on the “Trinity” who Built Trinity


Notebook page on Trinity Founding(From the Trinity Archives:  Notebook documenting the founding years; above, first page showing payments for various contracts for building the south wing of Main Hall)

On Founders Day, April 28, 2017, we gathered in the Well to re-dedicate the portrait of Trinity Founder Sister Julia McGroarty, SND. Distinguished Professor Sister Mary Johnson, SND, gave beautiful remarks reminding us of Julia’s immigrant heritage.  Trinity Archivist and Professor Emerita Sister Mary Hayes, SND, recounted Julia’s biography during the founding years.  Distinguished Professor Sister Camilla Burns, SND, added insight to the founding story by illuminating the fact that while we celebrate Julia as our primary founder, in fact, there were numerous contributors to Trinity’s establishment and we properly salute the “Trinity” of great women — Julia, Mary Euphrasia, Nepomucene — who made sure that the business of articles of incorporation, land purchases and deeds, contracts for construction and supervision of workers all went according to plan.  They were not only visionary and courageous religious women, they were also sharp and shrewd business executives — persistent women! — who did not hesitate to drive hard bargains and insist that work be re-done to get it right.  Below are Sr. Camilla’s remarks:

The “Trinity” who Founded Trinity
Remarks by Sr. Camilla Burns, SND, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies

at the Re-dedication of Sr. Julia McGroarty’s Portrait, Founders Day, April 28, 2017

In 1840, eight Belgian Sisters of Notre Dame became immigrants to the United States to begin the SND mission in the US.   Fifty years later we numbered 887 Sisters and thirty institutions had been established. Sr. Julie McGroarty was responsible for almost half of these foundations.  Among her many brilliant achievements were designing curricula for the SND schools.  She insisted that they engage the “head, heart and hands,” a holistic approach which she brought to Trinity.  Trinity came at the end of her life, the “last measure of her devotion.”  She had been suffering from ill health at the time she pursued the idea of Trinity and died in 1901, a year after it opened.  She was the one who had the vision and courage to launch it but she needed others to assist her.  I would like to speak of two major supporters who together with Sr. Julia I think of as the Trinity of Trinity.

Sr. Julia deputized Sr. Mary Euphrasia who took the role of the “woman in Washington” to initiate the idea with Cardinal Gibbons.  Sr. Mary Euphrasia also purchased the property of the present site of Trinity.  She wrote to Sr. Julia that she had an “affection for the project.”  She determined that it was an “unusual undertaking which required unusual means to accomplish.”  As a practical realist, she understood the necessity of money and launched a campaign which was effectively Trinity’s first Development Office.

Photo of Main Hall Construction(Trinity Archives:  photo showing building of back part of Main Hall in area that is now Seymour Court)

The third Sister of the Trinity was Sr. Mary Nepomucene.  She could read blueprints and was given oversight of the construction project.   An article in the New York Post about Trinity noted that the workers referred to her as the “Mistress of Mechanics.”  One day a worker said to her, “Sister, I wish I had your head.”  She replied, “Use the one God gave you.”  The workers also relate the story of her climbing a ladder to check recent work in the upper floors.  She was not satisfied and asked that it be redone.   Sr. Mary Nepomucene was an excellent seamstress and when not fulfilling her role of “Mistress of Mechanics” at Trinity, was back in the convent at K St. preparing all the linens necessary when the convent at Trinity opened.  She completed that task before the opening.

Photo showing building of roof of north wing of Main Hall(Trinity Archives photo of the building of the roof of the north wing of Main Hall)

Sr. Julia McGroarty once said, probably in a reflective moment, “We always plant better than we know.”  Nothing could be more accurate in describing the story of Trinity.  Sr. Julia planted the seed and nursed the sapling but never could have imagined it now.   If she were here today, she would thank all of you for developing her sapling into a mighty oak.

Notebook on Key Dates in Trinity's Founding(Trinity Archives Notebook on Founding of Trinity)


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
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