The invaluable contributions of Isabel Charles, the first woman to serve as a dean at the University of Notre Dame, and those of the Holy Cross Brothers and the Holy Cross Sisters — women and men religious who have played critical roles in Notre Dame’s founding and growth — will be recognized by additions to the University’s Wall of Honor. A ceremony to celebrate these additions will take place at 11 a.m. April 13 (Friday) at the wall on the ground floor of the Main Building. A reception will follow in the Main Building rotunda.
Established in 1999, the Wall of Honor recognizes men and women “whose contributions to Notre Dame have been lasting, pervasive and profound.”
“We recognize in these individuals seminal contributors to the life of Notre Dame,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the University’s president. “The Holy Cross brothers, beginning with those who arrived with Father Sorin, helped build the University through their tireless dedication; the Holy Cross sisters’ inspiring commitment to the education missions of Saint Mary’s College and Notre Dame allowed these institutions to thrive; and Dean Isabel Charles paved the way for co-education when only 10 percent of Notre Dame faculty were women.”
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.
Today, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College — founded by the sisters and brothers, respectively — form a tri-campus community with Notre Dame.
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.
The Wall of Honor commemorates such notable Notre Dame figures as Father Sorin; Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., the University’s president from 1952 to 1987; legendary football coach Knute Rockne; professors George Craig and Emil T. Hofman; Saint Mary’s College founder Mother Mary Angela Gillespie, C.S.C.; and Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.
The wall also recognizes members of the Notre Dame community who are perhaps lesser known, but whose contributions are valuable not only in themselves but also as representative of so many others like them who have been vital to the University. Some of these are Helen Hosinski, who worked at Notre Dame for 47 years and was Father Hesburgh’s secretary throughout his tenure as president; Sister Jean Lenz, O.S.F., among the first rectors after co-education; and Curry Montague, the principal Main Building custodian for 30 years.