Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, blessed three plaques added to the Wall of Honor in Notre Dame’s Main Building on Friday (April 13).
Established in 1999, the Wall of Honor recognizes men and women “whose contributions to Notre Dame have been lasting, pervasive and profound.”
During an 11 a.m. induction ceremony at the wall on the ground floor of the Main Building, Father Jenkins recognized the contributions of Isabel Charles, the first woman to serve as a dean at Notre Dame, and those of the Holy Cross Brothers and the Holy Cross Sisters — men and women religious who have played critical roles in Notre Dame’s founding and growth.
“Dr. Isabel Charles’ contributions have truly made a difference at the University, and we are delighted that she is here with us today,” Father Jenkins said. “Dr. Charles blazed a trail for other women to follow, and over the course of her many years here, she became a role model for students, as well as faculty and staff.”
As Notre Dame celebrates the 175th anniversary of its founding, Father Jenkins noted it’s fitting to honor the invaluable partnerships the University has had with the Holy Cross Sisters and Holy Cross Brothers. Today, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College — founded by the sisters and brothers, respectively — form a tri-campus community with Notre Dame.
“It’s fair to say that the University would not have survived its early years without the steadfast and heroic ministry of the Holy Cross Brothers and Holy Cross Sisters,” he said. “Their contributions have been innumerable through the present day.”
Notre Dame’s founder, Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., was accompanied in November 1842 by seven Holy Cross brothers on his 300-plus mile walk from Vincennes, Indiana, to the 524 acres of land he was given in the north-central part of the state for the purpose of establishing a university. Those brothers and others who followed literally laid the foundation of Notre Dame, first erecting buildings, and then tilling fields, teaching classes, serving meals and more.
Less than a year after Father Sorin arrived at the site of his fledgling school, four Sisters of Holy Cross embarked on a harrowing trip of their own from the congregation’s home in France to the Midwestern United States. They initially resided across the state line in Michigan, but eventually relocated to become vital partners with Father Sorin, operating infirmaries and kitchens, translating manuscripts, farming crops and running the Minim school for boys.
Charles earned her bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College and master’s and doctoral degrees in English from Notre Dame. She served on the faculty and as executive vice president and academic dean at Ohio Dominican College before returning to Notre Dame in 1973 as assistant dean in the College of Arts and Letters. She became the first woman to serve as a dean at Notre Dame in 1976, serving until 1982. She was assistant provost and director of international studies from 1982 until her retirement in 1995, growing the University’s study abroad programs by 167 percent.
Today, more than 60 percent of Notre Dame undergraduate students study abroad at more than 70 locations worldwide. And earlier this year, the University launched the Keough School of Global Affairs — programs and partnerships that, Father Jenkins noted, “would not exist today without Isabel’s tireless work.”
The induction ceremony was followed by a reception in the Main Building rotunda.