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FEATURE

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: ANTONIA McHUGH, CSJ, SERVED AS FIRST DEAN (1914–1929) AND PRESIDENT (1929–1937); OUR LADY OF VICTORY CHAPEL WAS MODELED AFTER THE CHURCH OF ST. TROPHIME IN ARLES, FRANCE; STUDENTS IN A BOTANY CLASS; AND TWO SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH OF CARONDELET AT THE PORT OF ST. PAUL.

Defining Woman When she wasn’t handing out apples and advice, Mother Antonia was altering the face of education for all women. BY ANNE BERTRAM

Lean In. Women Don’t Ask. These books, and others like them, about a woman’s place in today’s world, tell us what to strive for and how to behave. Anecdotes and statistics make the case that we limit our own success because we believe we’re not worth it — not good enough. Or we don’t support each other. Et cetera. On one hand, there’s no shortage of discussion about how we, as women, continually place obstacles in our own way. On the other hand, there’s Mother Antonia. Mother Antonia McHugh, St. Kate’s first president, is legendary for making St. Catherine a nationally recognized institution of higher learning. When she assumed leadership in 1914, only a single building, Derham Hall, had been completed. A mere five faculty members held college degrees (none beyond a master’s). St. Kate’s was not accredited. And the first graduating class had two members. By the time she left in 1937, Whitby Hall, Caecilian Hall, Our Lady of Victory Chapel, Mendel Hall, Fontbonne Hall and the power plant had all been built. Ten faculty members held doctoral degrees. Not only was St. Kate’s accredited, it was the only Catholic university with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Thirty-one women received Bachelor of Arts degrees and forty-seven earned their Bachelor of Science. So how did Mother Antonia do it?

VISION: WOMEN ARE WORTH IT “The aim of the College of St. Catherine,” Mother Antonia said, “is to develop in each girl who comes to it, the virtues of the valiant woman: strength, courage, firm faith, high purpose and readiness to serve… to exercise the imagination of the student to see through four years of college and beyond to a life of some kind of profitable service.” As far as she was concerned, it was a given that

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ST. CATHERINE UNIVERSITY • SPRING 2017

women were competent — and they were capable of work that would make a difference in the world. Keep in mind that at the time St. Kate’s was getting started, respected scholars could and did assert that women were not just intellectually, but physically incapable of advanced study. Rev. John Todd, for instance, lamented that the female college student “must be on the strain all the school hours, study in the evening till her eyes ache, her brain whirls, her spine yields and gives way, and she comes through the process of education enervated, feeble, without courage or vigor, elasticity or strength. Alas!” But Mother Antonia saw the opposite, of course. She knew the potency of scholarship. She herself held three degrees; she had a deep understanding of geology, geography and history; and her knowledge of music and art was extensive. Exceptional education made women stronger. It made them worthy of respect. Thus, she devoted herself to ensuring only the best for those who chose St. Kate’s.

MAKING IT REAL: SUPPORT EACH OTHER Stories abound of Mother Antonia tirelessly providing whatever her students and faculty (all of whom were Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet) needed in order to learn and improve. Sisters Rosalie Ryan and John Christine Wolkerstorfer noted that “she impartially handed out apples and advice. Her classroom was a place where young women found out what was the matter with them even when they didn’t want to know.” For students who couldn’t pay tuition, she found scholarships; for those who needed clothes, she got alumnae to donate some.

Profile for St. Catherine University

St. Catherine University Magazine Spring 2017  

Published three times each year, St. Catherine University Magazine tells the stories of the programs and people of St. Kate's.

St. Catherine University Magazine Spring 2017  

Published three times each year, St. Catherine University Magazine tells the stories of the programs and people of St. Kate's.