Speakers explore significance of Saint Mary’s education
Margaret Cicchiello | Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Members of the Saint Mary’s community gathered on Monday to hear Dana Strait, vice president for strategy and finance, and Titilayo Ufomata, the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, speak at “Landscapes of the Spirit.”
Judy Fean, vice president for mission, introduced the speakers by discussing the event’s founding four years ago.
“[The event was founded] so we could get a sense of how people here do live the mission and how being a Catholic Holy Cross Institution … makes a difference,” Fean said.
Strait described several instances in which she’s experienced prejudice for being a woman, including being told to “stay realistic” when telling her mother she wanted to attend medical school and having a professor tell her “women just aren’t suited for Beethoven — it needs a man’s touch.”
Strait said she went on to “devour Beethoven’s sonatas for the rest of [her] musical career,” and received a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Northwestern.
“As I learned more about who we are and how we were founded and the mission that guides us — a mission that was founded by the sisters of the Holy Cross, these radical, devoted women with the mission to improve the world around them — the flame that drew me into this campus began to take shape,” Strait said. “… The Sisters who founded us and who continue to invite us to share in their ministry forged a radical history of pushing the limits of what is acceptable for young women in contemporary society and in the Church, always in response to the needs of the complex world around us.”
Strait said she found herself and her story, or her “flame,” woven into the sisters of the Holy Cross.
“It’s a story of risk-taking and being on the leading edge of what’s acceptable and appropriate for women to be doing, of doing things … like playing a Beethoven sonata, that might be thought of by some as needing a man’s touch,” Strait said. “It’s a story of empowering women to be auto mechanics in the 1920s, to be medical professionals serving on battlefields during the Civil War … and to enter the male-dominated fields of business and accounting as early as the 1970s. For those in the Church, the sisters founded the first graduate school, where women could earn a theological education — the first in the world.”
Strait said living her mission is about bringing her “full self” to work.
“This is the first job where I’ve been able to live out all of the parts of me: my woman-ness, my big ideas, my scientific and analytical self, my creative self, my spiritual and Christian identity, my belief that God has a flame burning on this campus and that God invites me and all of my parts to be a part of it,” she said.
Ufomata began her address by reflecting on the mission of Saint Mary’s.
“What does it mean to live the mission at Saint Mary’s College?” she said. “… I look at this question from the perspective of God’s work on Earth, particularly of building a Christian community.”
Ufomata said she learned this sense of community from her upbringing in Nigeria, and she now carries it wherever she goes.
“We have a saying in my language that translates roughly to ‘what can be divided can be shared,’” she said. “I grew up seeing a lot of people in a lot of need who never lost their dignity … because the community ‘covered them,’ as we say in my language. People took care to protect the dignity of those they supported. They understood that membership of community includes responsibilities to the whole and to each other.”
Following the presentations, attendants were given an opportunity to respond to the speakers.
Sr. Eva Hooker emphasized the importance of being welcoming as a community when she recalled a conversation she had with two members of the South Bend community who were not sure it was OK for them to enjoy their picnic lunch on campus.
Ufomata was then asked how she thought the College community could help people live out their potential and embody the mission of Saint Mary’s.
“I think what we’re doing here is a start,” she said.
A Tuesday report incorrectly stated Dana Strait, vice president for strategy and finance at Saint Mary’s, received her Ph.D. in music theory. Strait received her Ph.D. in neuroscience. The Observer regrets this error.