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SMC library celebrates life of past college president

| Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a three-part series exploring the new initiatives at the Cushwa-Leighton Library intended to celebrate the life of Sr. Madeleva Wolff, provide students with writing support and decrease paper waste.

The Cushwa-Leighton Library has recently brought about numerous changes to better accommodate students and showcase the history of the Saint Mary’s community, including a new series of events to celebrate the work of Sr. Madeleva Wolff.

Reference and instruction librarian Catherine Pellegrino said the Library’s plans coincide with its mission to serve students by developing knowledge, skills and critical thinking capacities as educated women.

“The new initiatives fit in with the part of our mission that’s about creating a dynamic learning environment, and especially with the Writing Center satellite location, with campus-wide collaboration,” Pellegrino said.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sr. Madeleva Wolff’s death, the Library will host a four-part series called “Madeleva Mondays” to honor her life and work.

Sr. Madeleva was an alumna of Saint Mary’s and the third president of the College. During her presidency, Sr. Madeleva headed the English department, introduced many new programs — including a graduate degree in theology — and ordered the construction of Moreau Center for the Arts.

“This is basically the year of Madeleva on this campus, as it is the 50th anniversary of her death,” reference and outreach librarian Jill Hobgood said. “Sr. [Madeleva] was such a huge part of the campus. She did a lot for the library and always supported the library, so we wanted to have a tribute to her.”

Hobgood said Sr. Madeleva led Saint Mary’s through its formative years as it became widely known and respected as a place of learning and culture.

“Sr. Madeleva’s Saint Mary’s was one that was meant to stand on equal footing with any college, its students capable of any achievement,” Hobgood said.

The Library will host three lecturers and will hold one reception to honor Sister Madeleva, she said.

The opening event took place Monday in the Mother Pauline Room of the Library.

Emeritus faculty member Gail Mandell, previously a professor of humanistic studies, delivered a lecture titled, “Sr. M. Madeleva: Through the Years at Saint Mary’s College,” to members of the College community. Mandell is the author of two biographical works about Sr. Madeleva.

Senior Erin Flanagan said Mandell introduced an intriguing teaching by Madeleva about the nature of beauty.

“Professor Mandell told us that Sr. Madeleva’s motto was ‘Just think,’ meaning to look inward and recognize internal beauty in ourselves and in the world around us,” Flanagan said. “She tried to build the campus and landscape the grounds to be a place that makes students pause and think about themselves and their spirituality in light of true beauty.”

The other “Madeleva Mondays” events will take place on the remaining Mondays in September. On Sept. 15, Saint Mary’s archivist John Kovach will lecture on the many items in the College archives related to Sister Madeleva, including her correspondence with celebrities of her time and photos from her student days, Hobgood said.

On Sept. 22, professor of English and writer-in-residence Sr. Eva Hooker will read some of Sr. Madeleva’s best and most well-known works, Hobgood said. The event will also include the playing of a rare recording of Sr. Madeleva reading one of her poems.

Hobgood said the final event Sept. 29 will be a reception in conclusion of the month-long exhibition and series of lectures, where the contest winners of a trivia contest will be named.

“The current exhibition on Sr. Madeleva is in the front of our Library,” Hobgood said. “You can’t miss the display because we have Sister’s actual tombstone in our exhibit. When all of the headstones in the Sisters [of the Holy Cross] cemetery were redone, Sr. Madeleva’s was the only one that survived.”

Hobgood said the exhibit takes on a personal theme through its showcase of “Madeleva — the person.”

“We have one of the old Saint Mary’s ledger books opened to the page for Sr. Madeleva’s student days, showing what she had to buy for her classes,” she said. “We also have a piece of hair jewelry, which was a popular souvenir in the 19th and even 20th centuries used as a memory of a loved one. The one we have is a bracelet actually made of Madeleva’s hair, probably made for her family as a little token of her.”

The exhibition is one of the many exciting displays planned for the Library this semester, Hobgood said. After the exhibition, the materials will be returned to the College Archives.

“There’s so much to Sr. Madeleva and this campus that a month is hardly long enough to cover what she is to Saint Mary’s, but we hope this will really give students and others a sense of someone who is much, much more than just a familiar name, or the name of a building,” Hobgood said.

Flanagan said she thinks “Madeleva Mondays” will be influential for students.

“For me, being a humanistic studies major, it is important to attend the series of lectures because many of my teachers have been encouraging students to go,” Flanagan said. “But more than that, Sr. Madeleva is the founder of our College in the sense that she gave Saint Mary’s our mission.

“It’s essential for students to go back to the source and see what Saint Mary’s is all about.”

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About Kelly Konya

Kelly Konya is an English major bred on Catcher in the Rye and Roman cornettos.

Contact Kelly