Features

July/August 2011 The Trinity Sisters

Many of America’s most powerful women went to a college you’ve never heard of.

By Kevin Carey

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.

Kevin Carey directs the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation.

Comments

  • AVAmom on June 29, 2011 7:48 AM:

    Thank you for a wonderful article.

  • Nancy Schott on June 29, 2011 9:25 AM:

    Thanks for the extensive article on Trinity College/University.
    Change was inevitable for Trinity but they have kept the core values.
    As a past human resources executive I really appreciate what Trinity is doing for working women returning to college.
    Nancy Schott, Trinity class of 1976, SPHR, CFP, MA Purdue

  • Lauren Bivona O'Neil on June 29, 2011 11:36 AM:

    As a '91 Trinity graduate who just attended her 20th college reunion w/her fellow Trinitrons, I salute you for the great article. I learned a lot of history about my own alma mater! The women I have met @ Trinity are life-long friends.

  • Kara on June 29, 2011 9:10 PM:

    Thank you so much for this great article. I'm a Trinity alumna Class of 2000 and I'm always happy to read how successful fellow alumnae have been. Great detail on the history and ethos of the school as well!

  • Ted Fontenot on June 29, 2011 10:22 PM:

    Yes, that's what's needed--a pseudo-elite university giving degrees in group hug.

  • Jeff on June 29, 2011 11:54 PM:

    So they basically replaced Christianity with socialism and patted themselves on the back. How peachy.

  • Joan Warthling Roberts on June 30, 2011 12:05 AM:

    What a Terrific article! I am not a Trinity alumna but as a college professor (in a state university) I am so happy to read about this kind of unswerving devotion to the truest ideals of Christianity and to the broad humanist education of women in the face of religious authoritarians, wannabe-elitists, social climbers, pseudo-intellectuals--need I go on??

  • Nathan on June 30, 2011 12:10 AM:

    Many thanks for this informative piece. It's wonderful that Trinity survived. The stories of Catholic orders and the service they have given has not been well told. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I am grateful for their contributions. Many of their institutions--colleges, hospitals--have had to make a transition into corporate models. Some now get their "morals" from consultants who explain why the core values just won't work anymore. It's difficult to give enough praise to what Trinity and its leaders have managed to accomplish.

  • Vince on June 30, 2011 12:46 AM:

    Great article. Learned a lot about Trinity College having driven by it many times. Change is alway a struggle. From some of the male comments above, some still can't deal with bright, sucessful women. I forwarded the article to the son of a Trinity graduate in California, hopefully he will give it to his mother.

  • Chrysostom on June 30, 2011 5:25 AM:

    Yes, this article explains why the order went into steep decline. If you preach the teaching of the Catholic Church, you will attract people as centuries of experience prove. If you preach politics and socialism, girls will not join the order: why should they? They can see what happened under socialism in China and Europe; they are not dummies. Here in England, this same order used to run dozens of schools for girls. There are now no young nuns and the schools have become co-educational, in the main. Progress.

    Mary Help of Christians - pray for us.
    St Julie - pray for us.

  • Virginia on June 30, 2011 8:21 AM:

    Trinity was, is and will continue to be a source of inspiration for so many women whose success is put in doubt by the existing social-economic climate. In the past it was gender, in the present may be poor economic resources, in the future may be fear...or perhaps it's all three all along. No matter, Trinity empowers women to think for themselves, to work hard to achieve higher goals, to be the sources of peace and social justice that this world's so sorely needs and deserves...and above all, to know that this can be achieved not only by reaching high political offices, but by encouraging others to believe and by teaching our children that self-confidence and empathetic action go hand in hand.

  • Rich on June 30, 2011 9:35 AM:

    The usual spamming, of course, misses the point. Notre Dame nuns are notoriously uncompromising and terrorized many of many cousins and friends growing-up. The Church's tit ever rightward has done nothing to attract newcomers to any of its orders.

    My own background is Protestant on one side and Catholic on the other. I've rarely admired Protestant clergy who seem to either believe nothing much or engage in ludicrous claims of fundamentalist knowledge. The clergy I've known and admired have all been largely Catholic or Jewish. Even with the scandals around pedophile priests (including a distant relative), I find much to admire about the vocation of people like the Notre Dame nuns.

  • Texas Aggie on June 30, 2011 11:00 AM:

    The inspiration of these nuns' steadfastness in the face of an authoritarian patriarchy is empowering. If there were more people like these in the Catholic Church, then the Church would be a strong force for good in the world. As it is, there are too many Donohue's and similar types. You can see them reflected in their comments - Chrysostom, Jeff, Ted Fontenot - and they are the anchor on the tail of human decency.

    The attitude that critical thinking and decent human behavior is key to human existence is antithetical to the established church, but these women have stepped outside the paradigm and have established the roots of something that may be the salvation of our planet. Good for them. It gives you hope for both the Catholic Church and the world.

  • Mary Ann Kreitzer on June 30, 2011 11:04 AM:

    As a Trinity alumna (class of '68), I can testify personally to its loss of Catholic identity. Trinity was liberal in the 60s teaching situation ethics and moral relativism and bringing in dissenters like Fr. James Kavanaugh (author of A Modern Priest Looks at his Outdated Church) to give "retreats." Its Catholic identity was less important than its worldly one and the situation has deteriorated since then. That the school eulogizes alums like Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius who champion the murder of babies in the womb while talking about their responsibility for the weak is patent hypocrisy, but typical liberalism.

    Trinity needs to remember the Bible's admonition, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul in the process." Frankly, as a Catholic woman,I'm ashamed of my diploma.

  • Salene on June 30, 2011 11:23 AM:

    Judging from the public stances of Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Sebelius on abortion either Trinty is heterodox or these two women skipped a lot of classes.

  • LLegault on June 30, 2011 11:30 AM:

    "The Church's tilt ever rightward has done nothing to attract newcomers to any of its orders."

    This is nonsense. The decline in religious vocations dates back directly to the high point of Church liberalism (I use that word reluctantly in this context) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is showing tiny signs of recovery in the most conservative orders.

    p.s. I assume the commenter meant to write "tilt" rather than "t*t".

  • Kate on June 30, 2011 11:34 AM:

    Terrific article. I'm thrilled to see Trinity is getting the recognition it so deserves. I am a very proud class of 1999 graduate. My sister graduated in 1995 and my aunt is a graduate and former sister.

  • Andrea D. Merciless on June 30, 2011 1:39 PM:

    They may have gone to small colleges but their political careers have been funded by big boys, many of them Jewish, who went to Harvard or other elite schools. Also, they got favorable media coverage by people who own the media(90% owned by Jews), also the product of top schools.
    Clinton and Pelosi are really small potatoes: grocery baggers for the Wall Street gang, Hollywood gang, and Silicon Valley gang, Big Pharma gang; I assure you that the big players in those fields are not products of small catholic universities.
    Also, there is little that is catholic about those small women's colleges. They are catholic in name only. Their real creed is political correctness cooked up by Jewish elites in places like Harvard and Yale.
    Also, Hillary went to Yale law school after her stint at the small catholic university.

  • TC early 80's on June 30, 2011 3:07 PM:

    Nice article. Sr. Margaret and Sr. Mary Hayes are two of the greatest professors to teach in The Marble Corridor. SNDs like Sr. Martha Julie Keehan, an Economics professor, could have run the Fed. When I had cancer my mom prayed to Sr. Juie Billiart. She looks after her grads. As they say, "Drink 'em down, down, down."

  • Suzan on June 30, 2011 7:13 PM:

    I enjoyed M. Merciless' comment the most.

    People do tend to forget whom these "small-time" educated women ended up working for.

    And it ain't Liberals.

    Kudos!

  • Everette J. Freeman on June 30, 2011 10:25 PM:

    Trinity's story of developing the disenfranchised does not stop at helping young women only. During the summer of 1965, I was a young inner-city, African American male attending a summer enrichment program at Trinity College. Sure, I was Catholic, but that really didn't matter to the Trinity faculty or the excellent group of summer "staffers" hired to work with those of us participating in the enrichment program. The Trinity experience shaped my life in ways large and small. Then and now, I consider myself in some small way a Trinity guy!

    EJ Freeman, President, Albany State University, GA

  • Charles Frith on July 01, 2011 1:34 AM:

    Did anyone from Trinity fix the mess we're in? No. Let's not gush over frivolity here.

  • massappeal on July 01, 2011 7:15 AM:

    Terrific article, thank-you.

    If you're looking for other distinguished "niche" colleges to profile, let me suggest Xavier of New Orleans. It is the only Catholic university that is historically Black, and the only historically Black university that is Catholic.

    Among other accomplishments, in a recent five year period Xavier produced more African-American medical school students than any other college in America---more than Harvard, Yale or Princeton, more than Morehouse, Spellman or Howard. Xavier has also educated approximately 25% of the African-American pharmacists in the US.

    Among its distinguished alumni are:

    *Alexis Herman, former Secretary of Labor;
    *Dr. Regina Benjamin, current Surgeon General;
    *Bernard P. Randolph, ret. 4 star USAF general.

  • Libtracker on July 01, 2011 12:08 PM:

    The University of Notre Dame can take note of Trinity's decline over the years and the reasons for it. NDs very public stance on abortion and other liberal causes as promulgated by Fathers Jenkins and Hesburgh among others will decimate it over time just as these issues have decimated Trinity. Fortunately in its most recent flap, NDs graduates have woken up to this travesty and are vocally threatening to withold monetary support from the University if they don't cleave to the magisterium. Something these liberal Cinos understand.

  • Ellen Barrett on July 01, 2011 3:13 PM:

    I found this article yesterday, quite by accident. Just the other day I took a book down from my shelf to read: Three Against the Wind: The Founding of Trinity College Washington D.C., by Sister Angela Elizabeth Keenan (1973, Christian Classics). Sister Angela was a first cousin of my mother's, an early graduate of Smith College, and a dean at Trinity, back in the 1950s, I believe. For anyone who may want to read her well-researched, detailed account of Trinity's origins, the book should be available, though out of print.

  • Marie Wilson-Lindsay on July 01, 2011 5:39 PM:

    If Mary Ann Kreitzer is ashamed of her Trinity diploma she should surrender it and earn a Bachelor's Degree from else where.

    Marie Wilson-Lindsay
    Trinity College 1976
    Mercer Law 1979


  • Sarah on July 01, 2011 8:09 PM:

    I am a proud alum from the class of 2001 (Go Blue!). Trinity empowers young women and gives them the courage to follow their dreams and shoot for the stars. I would not be the woman I am today if I had not walked the halls of Trinity College.

  • Tracy Dowling on July 02, 2011 12:41 PM:

    What this article doesn't say is that our Catholic women's colleges (and Trinity isn't the only one) were educating women leaders long before what that writer sees as a magical interim period of post-war America. The vast educational system and hospital systems of Catholic America were in large part initiated, peopled and led by Catholic women. Many of these women leaders educated in these institutions entered the convent, from which they managed to lead colleges, excellent preparatory schools, hospitals, and medical missions, publish magazines, in addition to writing books and poetry.
    And what was true in Catholic America has been generally true throughout the Church's history. Religious women have provided leadership as teachers, nurses, social workers for centuries -- such service is part of the Catholic heritage. It's too bad the viewpoint of those unacquainted with religious women is a stereotype of the sweet, slightly dumb women who just wanted to pray and/or couldn't get married for one reason or another.
    Believe it or not, for centuries the convent was the only outlet for women with intellectual and leadership abilities. What has made it seem like it only happened recently is that once women made it onto the political and corporate playing fields, they no longer needed to join religious life to utilize their leadership skills.

  • Lorette Lavine on July 03, 2011 8:31 AM:

    I am proud to be an alum of Trinity College Class of 1969. As a high school student I read an article in Glamour Magazine about Trinity College...it was not a flattering article it labeled Trinity as a college that graduated students from a "cookie cutter" image.
    I vowed never to go there...however when I was accepted by the number one Catholic women's college I could not deny myself the challenge of such a Trinity education.
    I have never regretted it.
    I am still a Catholic...Trinity was a wonderful beginning to my life as an adult!

  • anon on July 03, 2011 11:17 AM:

    Wow, an amazing story that confirms the wisdom of C.S. Lewis:

    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

    Not to mention that it appears that many of the politicians mentioned (and many of the nuns) in the article are not Roman Catholics - they are Protestants.

    I was not aware that Jesus taught his followers to coerce others to pay for "social justice" programs using the power of the state to do so. Seems kind of un-Christian to me. Especially after all the hand-wringing in the media of the "extreme religious right".

    Catholic parents know that if they want to destroy a child's faith one of the best ways to do that is to send them to a "Catholic" college like Georgetown or Trinity.

  • Jim Cullen on July 03, 2011 12:17 PM:

    Thanks for the excellent feature on Trinity. It also is fascinating to see the response of the armchair theologians who revere everything about Christianity except for what Jesus Christ actually was quoted as saying in the Gospels, which is reflected in the work of the good Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

  • David Nolan on July 04, 2011 7:48 PM:

    My grandmother went to Trinity, graduating a century ago. This article gave me a whole new appreciation for the grit and determination she showed during her century on earth. Bravo!

  • Eileen Corey Sadasiv, TC'63 on July 05, 2011 1:30 PM:

    Trinity has long given its grads the knowledge, the confidence, the Washington political street-smarts to go in to the the wider world -- and work to make it a better place. With profound gratitude to those who brought Trinity into existence and kept showing us all the way, Eileen Corey Sadasiv, Ph.D. (retired, University of Rhode Island)

  • Maribeth Flynn on July 05, 2011 2:07 PM:

    I am a proud Trinity alumna, grateful every day for the rigorous education and sterling example of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and their charism. If we have succeeded, it is because of their endurance. Thank you.

  • Alex on July 07, 2011 9:37 AM:

    Sounds like they should have hired an economist or two to teach the students a bit of how the world works.

  • Charles F on July 09, 2011 3:38 PM:

    What's the difference between a Jesuit and a community activist? Jesuits pay better. The sisters of Notre Dame de Namur sound similar without the wealth. Both, and other orders that tempt and discreetly promote anti-catholic practices, are not being blessed with new vocations.

  • Kathleen Schaaf on July 11, 2011 10:56 AM:

    What a great article. Reminds me of what Trinity was in the late 1960's and how smart all our classmates were.

  • J. V. Smith on July 11, 2011 3:14 PM:

    I found Mr. Carey’s article very well written and quite informative. I can count two aunts, two sisters and my wife among Trinity graduates. And numerous other friends and acquaintances, many of whom fit the accomplished descriptions provided by Kevin Carey.

    I had a course in Social justice at Georgetown University in 1963-64 taught by a Jesuit, Fr Richard McSorley. He was a liberal, but he taught that it was better to teach a poor person to fish than to give him a fish. Human dignity required that a person needed to be responsible for himself. The state needed to step in only when the human could not care for himself. You cannot equate Social Justice with dependency on government.

    Unfortunately in my opinion the two Trinity Sisters promote governmental policies that have created governmental dependencies that ultimately diminish human freedoms by reducing human choice and, initiatives. These policies, because of their structures and huge economic costs, have undermined the bedrock of our great nation that is based on capitalism and freedom, and individual rights and initiatives. In many ways, their policies have and will continue to undermine the capabilities of our nation and states to provide the needed safety nets for the truly poor. Just look at what state governments are cutting today from their budgets to balance their budgets.

    This is what happens when governments become more socialistic. The very people they say they are there to help get served less and less. European history is repeating itself in front of our very eyes. As far as I am concerned, Ms Pelosi and Sibelius get A's in Big Government “Socialism no matter what the costs," and F's in social justice.

    I do not blame Trinity for these grades. Ms Pelosi probably learned her lessons at her father’s kitchen table. After all, as individuals we are responsible for our own actions aren’t we?

    J. V. Smith

  • Frank on July 13, 2011 9:27 PM:

    Are any of the women extolling the virtues of Trinity Mass-attending Catholics. Or, as in the case of many Catholic College grads, have they been driven away from the church of seven Sacraments to the church the What's Happenin' Now?

  • Jean Perry Connell,'54 on July 14, 2011 11:37 AM:

    I worked in Trinity's Alumnae Office under Ellen Ganey for 5 years in the late 50s and can attest to the financial support of Trinity women for their college. It was not
    economic incompetence but rather broader social issues which caused enrollment
    decline. Smart heads kept the college afloat until now it flourishes as a University which continues to empower its students.

  • JCF on July 14, 2011 5:13 PM:

    Wonderful article.

    Great to read about a school that teaches and preaches actual *Catholicism*, the Good News of Jesus (as opposed to what the Vatican dictates). What wonderful alumna it has produced.

    God bless Trinity College---keep the faith!

  • digdigby on July 15, 2011 12:26 PM:

    Nancy Pelosi? Its like priding themselves on being the source of a particularly virulent strain of E. coli.

  • MM on July 19, 2011 11:46 AM:

    While I am sure there are many fine Trinity alumna out in the world doing great things, the sad reality is that the "Trinity Sisters," mentioned here are responsible for policies which oppose the very reasons Trinity College came into existence--the authentic Catholic education of women for leadership and service for a better world.

    Recent statistics on the social landscape here in the US, shaped by policies these "powerful (Catholic) American women" of Trinity College support point to a dismal picture and surely put into question any lasting positive impact from their Catholic education at Trinity College.

    For example, when looking at combined social statistics in the US today, including abortion rates, out of wedlock rates, and divorce rates for a baby conceived in the US-- that baby today has only about a "28 % chance of being born; being born to a married woman; being born to a married woman who remains married to the same man for rest of her life. Every other baby conceived in the US will be aborted (1 out of 3, or 1 out of 4), born to an unmarried woman (34 % out of wedlock US births), or born into household divided by divorce ( 1 out of 2 marriages end in divorce)."


    These "Trinity Sisters" are, in fact, a sad testimony to the legacy of Trinity College. "The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."

  • ET on July 19, 2011 2:50 PM:

    I won't speak to Trinity in particular but I went to a Catholic high school and graduated in 1987 and the decline of the Catholic church and it's ancillary institutions predates my Catholic school years.

    To yak about Socialism and blame the school and its positions that don't tow the party line, for Trinity's "decline" ignore the larger societal forces that were and are impacting Catholic identification. And honestly when people talk like that and throw out the word Socialism I tend to ignore them because it somehow seems too simplistic in its conclusions and screams jingoism.

    I would hazard a guess that any "decline" of Trinity speaks more to socio-economic conditions in Washington, D.C. and opportunities for women to attend other prestigious universities.

  • CK on July 19, 2011 10:15 PM:

    Andrea D. Merciless, you are a shameless religious bigot and I feel sorry for you.

  • Patricia Towne Papachristou on July 20, 2011 12:49 AM:

    As an alumna of the mighty red class of 1968, I benefited from the terrific role models of both professors and students. Although I was a political science major, I received an excellent liberal arts education that enabled me to become a graduate of Duke University with a keen interest in international economics. Sister Ann Gormley had a tremendous influence on me by enouraging my interest in working with Trinity students in the poor areas of San Pedro Sula, Honduras in the summer after my sophomore year. I have been teaching economics for over thirty years at Christian Brothers University in Memphis and was the first woman hired in the School of Business in 1980; I became a full professor in 1995. I love teaching about sustainable development and taking my students for study trips to countries in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. I know from reading the Trinity magazine that most of us were given a great opportunity to develop our potential. I am looking forward to our next reunion so I can see and talk with the women who made me who I am today.

  • PT on July 20, 2011 6:07 PM:

    Interesting article but should have included facts that some alumnae are dismayed at the direction of Trinity and at its constant, unrelenting and one-sided support of left wing politics.

  • Mary Ellen McMillen on July 22, 2011 1:44 PM:

    Thank you for a wonderful article, a welcome tribute to women's leadership. I am a TC graduate, 1955. My Trinity teachers have inspired me across many years. Nancy Pelosi is quoted as saying the sisters were "severe." I found them highly respectful of their students. "Knowledge and faith": Trinity lived both to the full.

  • Jacqueline V. Norris on July 27, 2011 5:48 PM:

    I love Trinity College. I am a Trinity Alum who just graduated in May 2011 with a vision in my heart and a divine destiny in my future as it relates to environmental social justice as it relates to the safety of public health scientific protocols/or clinical trials for the protection of all species on the earth.

  • lex schembri on July 29, 2011 3:09 PM:

    I don't think I would brag about the fact that both Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius are grads of Trinity. In their professional lives, both have done a great deal to protect just not abortion, but the use of partial birth abortion. I would say this most especially about the Secretary, as Governor. They may have lived up to the academic standards of the College but not the Catholic Spirit or her teachings.

  • semaj on August 02, 2011 12:56 PM:

    Very good article. Interesting to see the reactionary comments by those whose critical thinking and mindsets have been so thoroughly Limbaughed. . . . As though Limbaugh were the paragon of social justice and sexual purity.

  • BFM on September 01, 2011 1:23 PM:

    Great article - I just read it in my alumnae journal.
    I graduated in the '60s. Sister Margaret was right: we were not trained to be committee women or bridge players (well, maybe a few were...). We learned to think for ourselves and never be afraid to speak up on an important issue; our opinions counted. Pretty amazing that a small Catholic college could produce so many outstanding women.

  • sherry weaver on September 03, 2011 3:16 PM:

    There's no mention of Sr. Donna Jurick, who was president of Trinity in the late 90s. I worked for her as her assistant. Why is there no mention of this marvelous woman, who, in my opinion, brought some great changes to Trinty?

  • hooher tod on September 14, 2011 3:58 AM:

    Yes there should realize the reader to RSS my feed to RSS commentary, quite simply

  • Mary Gutman, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College 1982 on December 06, 2011 10:23 AM:

    I just found this article after reviewing yet another one of Ms. Pelosi's comments about the abortion and women's rights (November, 2011). I am totally sick of hearing about the great Catholic University- Trinity and seeing them tout Ms. Nancy and Ms.Kathleen. Do not say you are Catholic when you do not respect life. Saint Julie is not smiling. I am sure that Trinity was a wonderful woman's college but the farther away they drift from the teachings of the church just does nothing but dilute that greateness. The Board of Trustees needs the backbone to take a stance in the way in which they promote alum who speak against the teachings of thier faith.

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