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President Katie Conboy officially inaugurated, reflects on unique tenure, goals during address

| Monday, October 11, 2021

During her remarks at the inauguration ceremony of Saint Mary’s College President Katie Conboy, Saint Mary’s Student Government Association president Elly Hanson said Conboy recently asked her if she could be called a “Smick.” 

“For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term ‘Smick,’ it is used to describe the intelligent, driven and empowered women at Saint Mary’s,” Hanson said. “As the student body president of Saint Mary’s College, I would like to grant [President Conboy] the title ‘head Smick.’” 

President Katie Conboy was officially installed as the 14th president of Saint Mary’s College during Saturday’s installation ceremony at O’Laughlin Auditorium. Even though she took office in June 2020 and has led the College through the reopening of in-person learning, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic delayed official ceremonies for over a year. A number of distinguished guests, Saint Mary’s students and community members attended to mark the occasion and listen to Conboy’s inaugural address.

Provost and senior vice president of the College, Titilayo Ufomata, opened the ceremony with a speech. She reflected on past leaders of the college and commended President Conboy on her accomplishments as president already. 

“[Conboy] has shown an audacity for dreams and a capacity for work,” Ufomata said. 

Six distinguished guests representing different public and academic spheres then delivered “Calls to Service speeches. 

Senior Eleanor “Elly” Hanson was the first to take the podium and expressed her gratitude for Conboy’s leadership through the pandemic. 

“You have been a beacon of light for our students,” Hanson said. 

Susan Olney Latham ’91 spoke on behalf of the faculty and was followed by Ann Kearns Davoren ’98, president of the alumnae association board of directors. 

Davoren highlights Conboy’s achievements in office thus far, including the new Division of Inclusion and Equity, the renovation of Regina Hall and the introduction of two new graduate programs to the College. 

“What a proud day for Saint Mary’s,” Davoren said. 

University President Father John Jenkins then congratulated Conboy on her office and spoke of the long and historical partnership between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, which began with the founding of the Holy Cross Sisters by Blessed Basil Moreau, and the two institutions’ affinity for a common mission. 

“Notre Dame would be far less a place without the contributions of our Sisters, leaders, faculty, staff, students and alumni of Saint Mary’s, yesterday and today,” Jenkins said. “I look forward to continuing that relationship into the future under the guiding hand of Dr. Conboy.” 

Dr. Lori S. White, the recently installed president of Depauw University in Indiana, commended Conboy for her leadership not only in face of the pandemic, but in what she described as a time and society that does not always understand the mission of a liberal arts college and education. 

“This is not an easy time to be a college president,” White said. 

Finally, the Mayor of South Bend,James Mueller addressed Conboy by saying Saint Mary’s, while not a geographical or bureaucratic part of South Bend, is integral to the area because of its people and community. 

Mueller said he has always been connected with Saint Mary’s as his wife is a member of the class of 2006 and he himself attended the original Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) as a child. He added former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was a classmate at ECDC and said Conboy herself babysat Buttigieg as he grew up. 

“We are going through difficult times not just with the pandemic,” Mueller said “But we know we have the right leader in President Katie Conboy and we are delighted to have her be the one at the helm to navigate us through these challenging times.” 

In her inaugural address, President Conboy acknowledged her unique position as a president who began her term in the middle of a global health crisis. 

“I’ve just been formally installed, bling and all, nine days into my seventeenth month as president, she said gesturing to her presidential medal. “We are not just setting out together, we set out almost a year and a half ago, and we have already supported each other through a staggeringly difficult period.” 

Conboy used the metaphors of road maps and the permanency of old cave paintings to reflect on the past, present and future of Saint Mary’s College in addition to her term as president. She also acknowledged the 13 presidents who came before her and was grateful for their precedent and guiding presence. 

“What does our stretch of the Saint Mary’s journey entail? she asked the audience. “What mark, what signifying hand print, will we leave?”

In answer to these questions, she first affirmed that the foundation of Saint Mary’s as a Catholic, residential, women’s, liberal arts college will never change, a remark which drew applause. 

She said colleges like Saint Mary’s are needed to educate future leaders and generations to care for the world and earth, as well as provide “the ethical, social and economic empowerment of women” as a first priority. 

She then outlined goals for increasing internships and fellowship opportunities, career programming, education for working women, and research for students and faculty at Saint Mary’s. Other important goals she said are increased engagement with the city and region, and additional engagement, support and opportunities for Saint Mary’s alumnae around the world 

“Seventeen months and nine days into my presidency, I have unbound confidence in these goals,” she said. 

Before her tenure at Saint Mary’s, Conboy served as provost and senior vice president at Simmons University, a women’s college in Boston, since 2013. Prior to Simmons, she was a professor of English literature then provost and vice president for academic affairs at Stonehill College, a Holy Cross institution in North Easton, Massachusetts, for 13 years.  

Conboy earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas in 1981 and her doctoral degree in English literature at the University of Notre Dame in 1986. She also attended the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and the Nonprofit Financial Stewardship Program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

“I fell in love with Saint Mary’s, with the idea of Saint Mary’s and with the possibilities of Saint Mary’s before I even stepped foot on this campus,” Conboy said at the conclusion of her address. “And now, like so many of you gathered here today, I’m in love with the reality of Saint Mary’s.”

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About Isabella Volmert

Isabella "Issy" Volmert is a senior majoring in English and minoring in theology and journalism, ethics and democracy at the University of Notre Dame. She currently serves The Observer as assistant managing editor. Follow her @ivolmertnews for niche JED Twitter content.

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