Women saints of Notre Dame

The closest people to saints I’ve ever met are my two sassy loudmouth lesbian grandmas from rural Washington. Known as Moo and Ne, they represent the best and most thoughtful Christians I know. 

Moo, a veteran, spent most of her adult life running the chicken soup brigade, offering hospice and medical care for people living with and dying of AIDS. Spending long days and nights ministering to and serving as a shoulder to lean on when they had no one else to turn to as they were dying.

Ne, who is always caring for others: nurturing those excluded (people and animals) and assembling menstrual kits those without access. She’s a magical crafter and makes quilts for friends sick in hospitals — carefully sewing each string and getting everyone that loves the person to sleep with it to fill it with love for them.

Neither would have been able to go to Notre Dame or to share their gifts with the Notre Dame family 50 years ago because women were not admitted. 

In discussing the 50 year anniversary, Professor Kathleen Cummings, Director of the Cushwa Center and Professor of American Studies wrote about how Holy Cross Sisters were foundational to the existence of Notre Dame. Women have been integral to the creation of the school, well before they were admitted. However, it’s not hard to see the ways that our community has grown stronger since women have been admitted. 

In the past 50 years Notre Dame women have made campus and the world a better place. Condelezza Rice became the first black woman to be secretary of state. Brooke Norton, the first woman ever elected student body president became one of the most consequential in history then had a successful career in political communications. Jenny Durkan served our country as the first Lesbian woman to become state attorney in Washington and was later elected mayor of Seattle. Women have made their mark since being admitted.

While we as a community have grown stronger, we haven’t always provided the best environment for all women who we let in. While some have found their home and others have been excluded from Notre Dame feeling like their home. 

In 1996, before she was a famous journalist and academic, Nikole Hannah-Jones was a junior at Notre Dame. She spent long nights in Hesburgh reading, cheering on the football team on the weekends, and trying to find her people.

One night when she was finally starting to feel like she belonged on campus, she had the n-word hurled at her by a white student, causing her to write how, ‘Notre Dame is yours but the world is mine’. Hannah Jones felt like Notre Dame fundamentally wasn’t built for her, that she didn’t belong. This reality still reflected today in 14% of minority students stating they don’t feel like they belong here, while only 6% of white students say the same.

A story echoed in another experience just a few years later: Jeneka Joyce was on the women’s basketball team in the early 2000s and was often described as a “study in success”, a woman who electrified the basketball court and had engaging academic conversations after the game.

In 2003, when she was a junior, Jeneka began questioning their sexuality; coming out as queer, which she defined as more all-encompassing for everything not deemed heterosexual. She got more involved with LGBTQ+ communities on campus and spoke out against the ways that the campus does not always fulfill its mission of being home to its students; for her feeling like queer students were excluded from much of campus life.

These two brought unique and wonderful gifts to the Notre Dame community. Throughout my time at Notre Dame, I’ve been lucky enough to come into contact with similar saintly folks who have changed the trajectory of my own life here. 

Last year I wrote an article discussing the perils of my friend. A person so filled with love and kindness for others but so filled with pain from feeling that Notre Dame doesn’t love him back. A reality felt in campus policies that force him into dorms and housing situations that don’t match the lived reality of his gender identity.

Hannah Jones, Joyce and my friend’s stories are not universal for folks of different backgrounds, but are also not sillowed from the lived realities of many on campus. And with just small tweaks to how we run as a institution we can make a community 

This year further marks 50 years of the federal regulation Title IX being signed into law, which enshrined protections for women in educational institutions in classrooms and playing fields. 

This summer, the Biden administration announced reforms to Title IX; to roll back Trump-era rules, expand protections for survivors of sexual violence and protect LGBTQ+ students from sex-based discrimination. 

One of the most controversial parts of these new regulations is the expansion of Title VII employment protections for LGBTQ+ employees to Title IX by defining sex-based discrimination to include discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity.

After new regulations are announced there is a 60-day period for public comment on the regulations, schools or organizations of schools will announce their responses to the rules and then within institutions there arises much debate over how the regulations will be implemented.

Notre Dame choose not to write a comment of their own and instead is signing on to another schools comments. Legal council and the Office of Institutional Equity are currently in debates about whether or not we should, as a University, take a religious exemption to the sections of Title IX around LGBTQ+ discrimination for the first time in our institutions history. 

If we decide to take a religious exemption we make ourselves poorer in the spirit, we close our doors and ourselves to so many potential students, faculty and staff because of who they are. And, for those who do still end up coming to Notre Dame, we turn our backs on them.

Notre Dame isn’t, and shouldn’t, be made for everyone, but it should be a place where more feel this is their home. No school can possibly be made for every individual and unique soul. However, it is foolish to think our best days are from when this school was only wealthy, white, straight, Catholic men. Our faith and our school is strengthened by the diversity of our heritage.

According to recent inclusive campus survey numbers, many students from non traditional Notre Dame backgrounds: students of color, disabled, first generation, low income, from different nationalities, queer students and feel like they don’t belong at much higher rates. 

Creating a community where ALL women are able to thrive should be a central aim of the next 50 years of women at Notre Dame. It’s not enough to just admit people, we fundamentally have to make everyone feel like this is their home too

To take one step towards making the next 50 years even a fraction better, send an email today to the Assistant Vice President of Institutional Equity, Erin Oliver, ( and the Assistant to the Vice President of Student Affairs, Laura Connelly (, expressing your desire for Notre Dame to be compliant with the new Title IX regulations as a testament to our faith as a Catholic University.

We can do better Notre Dame and we have to. We risk losing the immense sacred gifts of queer saints like my grandmas, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jeneka Joyce or my friend put in the wrong dorm. Take one step today to make a better home for them tomorrow.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Gender Studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS want to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on twitter or


Soggy dog kibble Saints

Editor’s note: This column includes discussions of suicide and drug addiction.

Do you ever wake up and feel something is wrong? 

On Aug. 18, 2014, the birds chirping, the sun shining brightly over Lake Washington and a fully planned day of hanging out with friends. The perfect way to end the summer. The recipe for a perfect day, yet something chewed at me.

I bounded down the stairs and slammed into the door excited to talk to my mom about the day ahead. The chewing was providential, I ran in and found my mom dead, stolen from me by a cocktail of suicide, opioids and depression.

This August was the eight-year mark since my mom’s death. I woke up early again expecting it to be like any other day. Birds chirping, the sun high up in the sky peeking through my windows and my dog licking my face. 

I walked slowly downstairs and got ready to feed the dog. As the brown little droplets poured into the bowl, I realized I was filling the water bowl with kibble. Tears tore out of my eyes like a day hadn’t passed since I lost my mom.

I found God in the water bowl with the puffed-up dog food pellets floating and breaking apart. I found my mom in the bowl, too. 

If we were to imagine God as a food (besides communion) we would describe God as steak, truffles or some otherworldly food item, but I found her in the broken, discarded and disgusting mush in the water bowl.

My mom is not a saint in the traditional sense of the word — she was an on-and-off-again lesbian who had three children out of wedlock with three different men (two of them gay!), she held tightly onto many different prejudices and flip-flopped between the Mormon and Catholic churches depending on which was able to give better aid. 

However, she was a saint to me. She suffered a lot, was kicked out of her house when she was 17, worked three jobs to push her kids through school, endured 49 back surgeries and had a severe opioid addiction. When the coroner was cleaning up the house, he told us he’d “never seen so many pills in my life.”

Despite this, she possessed an almost effortlessly self-deprecating sense of humor that would make a whole room turn into a jubilant cackle of hyenas. One time while shopping in a Walmart superstore with me, my niece and my sister, Mom got us to play hide and seek from my sister. The three of us running and ducking between aisles and avoiding her for hours.

She would summon the whole U.S. army if she had to, if someone threatened someone she loved or if they were doing something she deemed unjust. My brother has autism and our local public school wasn’t providing education that was accessible to his learning. My mom, fuming, grabbed a ream of paper, smacked a few pages of meticulously documented wrongdoing on top, marched to the district office and wouldn’t leave until they were able to provide him with the resources to succeed. She forced the district to change how they helped my brother and other folks with disabilities. 

And, she never gave up. Deciding to go to college in her late 40s to prove to her kids that she wasn’t a quitter. She persevered through neck braces, poverty, addiction and other crosses she bore every day.

It’s been eight years, but the tendrils of her life still linger throughout my own. She lives in the ashes necklace I wear around my neck every day, the 65 emails left unopened since the night she died, the books I read, the forests I go to find peace and the work I seek to do for the rest of my life. She’s never let go, her arms still tightly wrapped around me.

Some of the people we admire in the church can (and should) be more broken than a shattered vase, have more flaws than possible to count and more parking tickets than mass attendances.

When she wasn’t at church, she was leading the PTA even though she was working three jobs and had no time to herself. I remember some nights, the family stayed up until two in the morning to finish up buttons for a function the next day or cupcakes for a kid’s birthday. She poured herself into service for others even when she probably should have been focusing on her own well-being. 

God meets us where we’re at — in dark alleyways, in our weary hospital rooms, on shag carpet flooring and on dirty bathroom mats. 

I want my saints scrappy like my mom. I want my church with all of its flaws shining through the stained glass. God accepts us all not in spite of our brokenness, but including that brokenness. I can think of nothing holier than to discuss the truth in the stories of folks around us who try to do a little bit better than they did yesterday.

I am not holy, nor would I ever pretend to be. I sin like all of us 1,000 times every single day. However, I spend a lot of time in community with those who are so holy it tingles your toes, and they help me take one step closer to God every day.

In this column, I will look at the cases of some people I’ve met who are so close to the divine that it tickles you. Through looking at the lives of these saint-like individuals, I hope to understand better what it means to bring the kingdom of heaven here to earth.

We’ll explore the lives of people from every faith and no faith. Conservatives and liberals. The wealthy and the poor. Straights and gays. Women, men and nonbinary folks. The Holy Spirit exists within each of us, and I’ve met everyday saints in each and every one of these groups.

The stories we tell can have power over how we see faith interacting in our lives. I think there are more saints like my mom than we’d like to admit, who did a pretty damn good job for the circumstances they were given. Who devoted their life to God and to others in profound ways. More saints that remind us of bloated, falling apart kibble in a water bowl than of steak with truffles.

Dane Sherman is a junior at Notre Dame studying American Studies, Peace Studies, Philosophy and Gender Studies. Dane enjoys good company, good books, good food and talking about faith in public life. Outside of The Observer, Dane can be found exploring Erasmus books with friends, researching philosophy, with folks from Prism, reading NYTs op-eds from David Brooks/Ezra Klein/Michelle Goldberg or at the Purple Porch getting some food. Dane ALWAYS wants to chat and can be reach at @danesherm on Twitter or

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.