What a great day! We salute our President Emerita Sr. Margaret Claydon, SND, celebrating 95 years as one of the great women in education an religious life. Always eloquent and elegant, Sister Margaret influenced generations of Trinity Women to be strong, principled leaders for their communities and nation. Her own leadership provided the clearest and most compelling role model possible for all alumnae to emulate.
Sister Margaret, a member of the Class of 1945, became Trinity’s president in 1959 when she was just 36 years old, one of the youngest presidents in the country at that time.
On November 2, 1959, Time Magazine noted her appointment in an item in “Education: Sisterly Advice” and here is the brief but compelling story from the Time Archives:
Susan Margaret Claydon. a cheerful young woman who grew up in suburban New Rochelle, N.Y., is a scholar specializing in 17th century English. She is also a Roman Catholic teaching sister, member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. A vigorous teacher with a sharp eye for the world’s ways, Sister Margaret this summer was named head of Washington, D.C.’s Trinity College (enrollment: 646), her own alma mater (’45). Last week, in her new role as one of the nation’s youngest college presidents, Sister Margaret, 36, called a press conference and let fly with some cogent thoughts on the education of U.S. women:
“The mark of an educated woman is her use of leisure. Reading a book of the month or seeing the latest play aren’t enough. Educated women must have definite views and standards. They must know the good from the bad, and be able to say why. A woman must not only know facts—she must have ideas about them. There is a definite need for intellectuals in this country today. The modern world needs more people—including girls—who think for themselves.” All down the line, urged Sister Margaret, education for U.S. women should be stiffened. More women should go on to graduate school, be fitted for “a better contribution to American life.” Said she of classical-bent Trinity, which sends half its girls to graduate school: “We’re not in the business of training committee women or bridge players.”
That’s her above on the right in full habit, with Cardinal O’Boyle and then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy who spoke at Trinity. She led Trinity through one of the most difficult and remarkable eras for women’s colleges and Catholic colleges, the decades of the 1960’s and early 1970’s when the Church and religious life changed through Vatican II, when the men’s colleges went coed thus challenging the foundation for women’s colleges, and when the forces of war (Vietnam, the Cold War, the Space Race), civil rights and women’s rights movements, student protests and cultural change rocked society and all of higher education. Through it all, Sister Margaret held fast to her vision for Trinity’s values and contributions to contemporary society. This quotation is an apt summary of her philosophy:
Sister Margaret was a leader in Catholic higher education at a time when few women were presidents of colleges anywhere. She was the only woman to accompany a delegation of Catholic presidents to the Vatican in the late 1960’s to discuss the changing nature of Catholic higher education. At Trinity, she reshaped the Board of Trustees, moving from an all-religious board to a lay board. She led changes in curricula and programs that strengthened Trinity’s educational results for decades.
Sister Margaret has been a friend and mentor to generations of Trinity alumnae — Barbara Bachman Glynn ’64, above right, is a member of the Board of Trustees and she made the donation that led to the naming of the arena in the Trinity Center in honor of Sr. Margaret.
On a personal note, I have always been in awe of Sister Margaret since my very first day at Trinity in September 1970 when she greeted our Green Class of 1974 and challenged us to live up to Trinity ideals. Those who know us will remember that the Greens of ’74 were a somewhat wild bunch, and Sr. Margaret might have wondered if we would ever make it to graduation what with all the pranks and parties. In my own years as president, she has been a constant source of support, wise advice and great advocacy for Trinity’s progress, and I am always deeply grateful to her.
In 2012, Sister Margaret’s large extended family, including her sister Kathleen Lightfoot ’53 and niece Kathleen Keefe ’76 and many other nieces and nephews gathered at Notre Dame Chapel for a tribute to her.
Sister Margaret pioneered a grand vision for Trinity’s campus development. She built the library, the music and art wing of Main, and Kerby Hall during her tenure. But she always wanted the sports center, and also the academic center. She eagerly donned a hardhat, above, for the “topping off” party for the Payden Center.
Sister Margaret eagerly joined Board Chair Sr. Patricia O’Brien, SND (left) and Cardinal Donald Wuerl (center) for the dedication of the Payden Center in 2016, her last visit to Trinity. She now resides at the Mount Notre Dame Health Center in Cincinnati, where alumnae will gather today to celebrate with her as she marks this grand occasion.
Please join me in wishing Sister Margaret every joy and blessing on her birthday!
Add your well wishes in the comments section below. I am gathering more material and will be posting on Sr. Margaret again later today and this week.