Dottie King, Ph.D.
October 21, 2011
Good afternoon! Thank you to all who have journeyed to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College to day for this occasion. Today, we celebrate the 171-year legacy of this esteemed institution. We take the time to recall the women and men who have sacrificed and toiled, who have given their time, talent and treasure so that the institution could fulfill its mission. I am overwhelmed by the kind expressions of welcome and good wishes that have been offered today!
Words seem inadequate today to express how honored and humbled I am to become the 16th president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College! Abraham Lincoln, my FAVORITE 16th president, remarked, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” Mr. Lincoln summarized my feelings pretty well!
Before me is a distinguished audience! Welcome to Sister Denise Wilkinson and Sisters of Providence.
Past Presidents, Dr. Jeanne Knoerle, Dr. Barbara Doherty, Dr. Joan Lescinski (Dr. David Behrs, another past president, could not be here today but sent his kind greetings).
Board of Trustees
Esteemed delegates from other colleges and universities and organizations of higher education who validate Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and its mission by their attendance here today.
Annette Lentz, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis
National Alumnae Association Board and other alumnae and alumni
Mayor Duke Bennett and members of the Terre Haute community
Mom and Penny
Jordan, Zach, Lynnlee and Peyton – In you, I see all of the possibilities for the future. When the world around me is chaotic, you bring me peace.
Michelle, Shawn, T.J., Michael, Jordan and Danielle – Individually and collectively, you inspire me. You have taught me more than I have ever taught you and helped me to better understand the heart of a loving, heavenly Father. You shall be my greatest legacy!
Wayne – my lifelong friend, thank you for loving me and for sharing my love for and dedication to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Personal mentors: Sister Ellen – you see possibilities, Joyce – you expect excellence, Joanne – you encourage, Chris – you mentored and gave me a push, Vicki – you challenge and support, Marilyn – you protect, Terry – you pray, Della – you are always there.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College: the story of its founding is one that many of us know well. We have often heard the tale of the Sisters of Providence in France being approached by the Bishop from Vincennes with the request for volunteers to come to the rural woods of Indiana with the purpose of beginning an academy for young women. We have learned that Sister St. Theodore, who would become Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, along with Sister St. Vincent Ferrer, Sister Basilide, Sister Olympiad, Sister Mary Xavier and Sister Mary Liguori would accept and embrace this challenge. Like children who never tire of hearing about the day that they were born, we often recall the eventful journey across the sea of Mother Theodore and her companions. We remember the difficult trip from the east coast to Indiana and the arrival in October 1840 at what they thought would be a home and the beginnings of a school only to find a dense forest with a small priest’s dwelling. We smile when we hear Mother Theodore proclaim that “all appearances are against it” because we know that in spite of the immense challenges, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Academy opened its doors for the first classes in July 1841.
The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College story is a rich one and it is filled with drama, strife, humor and success. The accomplishments of a few determined and faithful women who traveled to America were followed by dedicated lives of many Sisters of Providence and they have yielded for us a remarkable legacy. Their work provided education for girls and young women in Indiana at a time when access to education was difficult, at best. Look closely! Don’t overlook the details of this story that provide a map for us to advance our legacy and make it relevant the world today.
When the Sisters in France agreed to leave their homes, friends and family, and all that was familiar, their decision exhibited both their deep faith in God and their willingness to live sacrificially. In 1840, America was only 64 years old and Terre Haute, Indiana had existed for less than 30 years. The Sisters came to an area that was not heavily-populated by Catholics and which probably did not much resemble France! Their faith was tested many times in the journey and there had to be times when they were tempted to give up and return home. And yet we know that they persevered, worked hard and within a few short years, had not only opened the Academy, but had also planted many schools in the area. There were other players in this story. I often wonder about the sacrificial giving of the people in France. We know that Mother Theodore and her companions began their journey with some funds for the Indiana project and other funds were raised. Who gave of their treasure? Who believed so much in the possibilities of this mission that they were willing to sacrifice their money for a venture that they would never see? We inherit their legacy as well!
Upon learning that there was no place for the Sisters to live when they arrived on the property of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the Thralls family opened their home and invited the Sisters to live with them. Hoosier hospitality was alive and well in Indiana during these early days and the Thralls family, along with other unknown names of those who extended hands of welcome, help and kindness, are also an inherited legacy of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. And so today, this fine institution of higher education has grown for 171 years. As we look toward the future of the College, let us remember our legacy: faith, sacrifice, challenge, generosity, mission, kindness and perseverance have played a large role in our story.
When asked to choose scriptures to be read during today’s Mass, one came to my mind immediately. It is a reading from Hebrews, chapter 12. Chapter 11, contains a roll call of Bible personalities who accomplished major things through their faith and perseverance. They were ordinary people and their stories often highlight their frailty as much as their faith. That gives me reason for hope, that even with our frailty, God can accomplish great things in our lives if we are faithful and we persevere. Chapter 12 begins like this, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.” We are reminded that those who came before us and who lived lives of faith bear witness to our journey! We are then admonished to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The passage serves as a reminder and encouragement for the long-distance race that is the life of faith. I also think it has relevance for our occasion today. The lives of Saint Mother Theodore, her companions, the Sisters of Providence and those who have helped the College through the years in known and unknown ways compel us to take the baton that has been passed to us and to run a race that is worthy of the legacy that we inherit.
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has grown and evolved into what it is today. We are a women’s college with a large coeducational distance program and coeducational graduate programs. I embrace and appreciate our complexity. Today, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is a women’s college and more!
Women’s colleges once enjoyed a time of popularity and importance. They provided access for women to an education that was of equal or greater quality than that of their brothers. Two short decades ago, there were over 300 such institutions in the United States and today, less than fifty remain. The challenges of recruiting students to a women’s program are significant. We are told that fewer than 4% of young women will seriously consider attending. And yet, the alumnae of the Woods are strong accomplished women who impact their communities and world and bear witness to the value of women’s education. Through them, we understand that “the road less traveled” sometimes “makes all the difference”! It is incumbent upon us to recognize the potential of women’s education and then make it relevant to the young women of today. While women comprise over 50% of the college student population, they are still underrepresented in key fields, including science, mathematics, technology and engineering. Research indicates that women’s colleges have success in encouraging women to persist and succeed in these fields. This provides us a great opportunity to embrace the challenge of educating more women in areas that provide significant employment and leadership opportunities to impact the world in which we live. Our mission statement proclaims that by participating in our community, students develop their abilities for life-long learning and leadership. This has never been more important. In 2011, women make up just 17 percent of Congress and only 2.4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. There is much work yet to be done!
Over thirty-six years ago, under the leadership of Dr. Jeanne Knoerle, SP, the college became a pioneer in distance education and the Women’s External Degree or WED program was born. This year the second generation of this historic program was announced. The Woods Online program features 16-week and 8-week formats that provide more flexibility and opportunity for distance students than ever before. The academic offerings of the College are further enhanced by our unique and exceptional graduate programs. Through these programs, our mission is extended to women and men throughout the United States and the world!
In all of our programs, we retain our identity as a Liberal Arts College through the majors we offer, the requirements of our core curriculum and the alignment of learning outcomes. We preserve our Catholic heritage through our relationship with the Sisters of Providence, our commitment to serving the community and through our embracing of the life of faith. We understand the importance of caring for the whole student, acknowledging their intellectual, physical and spiritual potential.
As we look toward the future, the challenges are significant but the potential is even greater. Remembering what came before us gives us the tools to chart the journey. Each of us in this room today has a part to play. I challenge you to think about your role in our ongoing story. The path will not be easy to navigate and we will only succeed if we work together.
Perhaps you directly advance the mission through your work at the College. Maybe you contribute your time, talents or treasures as a graduate or friend of the College. Or you might live and work in a community that has been forever enhanced by the legacy of the strong, faithful and compassionate leadership of the women and men of the women’s college in your midst. You may even be a leader who has the power to influence our future. I challenge you to remember the history of this institution, the importance of our mission and to follow the examples that have been set for us. We cannot ignore the sacrifices and faith that were required for us to exist today. Now that the baton has been passed to us, it is our turn to demonstrate the purposeful decision-making, determination and generosity that will define the heritage that we leave behind. One hundred seventy-one years from now, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods story will be told by future generations. Within us, individually and collectively, lies the potential to advance our legacy so that this institution will not only survive but thrive. Never has a liberal arts education that includes the Judeo-Christian ideals of faith, ethics, compassion, service and justice been more needed or more relevant! The lyrics of one of my favorite songs compel me to consider future generations in every decision. If this were a movie, I would break into song and beautifully sing the words. Knowing my own limitations, I think you will appreciate the fact that I am going to read them. “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe.”
Today, I dedicate myself anew to providing the leadership, determination and compassion that is required of the task before me. I am inspired by our heritage and invigorated by the possibilities that lie ahead. I am not new to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College or to the Wabash Valley. I was born here, have raised my family here and I plan to live out my life here. I am humbled and honored by this opportunity and I will work diligently to serve the God of Providence through my work at this College. In the words of Saint Mother Theodore, “What have we to do in order to become saints? Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than we do every day. Only do it for His love.”
To the Sisters of Providence, I promise to hold our shared birthright in high regard and to lean daily on the Providence of God. I will not forget the sacrifices and faith upon which this College was built. I would ask that you help us find new ways for the Sisters and the College to combine our missions and to find new ways to connect our students with your mission.
I have worked for ten years among the faculty and staff of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. I promise that the hopes, dreams and concerns that have been shared with me in multiple settings will influence and shape the dialogue for the future. The future strength and vitality of this institution depend upon our ability to work together, to combine our intellectual capacities and our collective wills and to press forward, together. I ask you to recommit yourself to the ongoing mission of the College and to ensuring that we are an institution of distinction and character.
The students of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College are at the heart of all that we do. I promise that we will provide a quality education that is relevant and challenging. I encourage you to involve yourself fully in the process of your education. Be thankful for the generosity and sacrifices that have enabled you to be here today. I would ask you to be, by your words, actions and accomplishments, our best marketing plan for the future!
The alumnae of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College are amazing! You are strong and accomplished women and you have opinions! I commit myself to strengthening our women’s program to ensure that future generations of Woods women will be empowered through their education. I would ask that you continue to support the College according to your ability and according to the blessings that have been bestowed upon you. Remind us of our history and celebrate our future.
The first male graduated from The Woods in 1987. Since then, more than 100 men have become alumni of the College. You have become part of her legacy and our story. I promise to ensure that the College continues to provide both meaningful educational opportunities and a welcoming environment. I challenge you to become more involved in gatherings of alums across the country and to give us your perspective as we move forward. We look forward to celebrating your successes!
To our friends from the Wabash Valley and beyond, I promise that Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College will extend a hand of service and friendship. We will involve ourselves to the betterment of the world around us and we will provide compassionate and educated students for your workforce. I would ask that you support our mission in ways that are practical and that you recognize the importance of our contributions.
We have promises and miles to go! Together, we make Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College a unique and special place. Our connections to this Woods are as diverse as the number of people that we serve. And yet our commonality transcends majors, programs and years. It is the strong connection that we have with one another that is undergirded with our sincere belief that this is a worthy mission. The transformation of our students into mature and confident women and men who are dedicated, compassionate and well-prepared to make a mark in their professions, communities and in the world.