"Notre Dame listens to women," boasts Sister Kathleen Feeley, the president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.
And what the school has been hearing is that women at personal and professional crossroads could use a helping hand.
The Roman Catholic women's college in Homeland plans to offer that help through the Women's Institute, a new program announced yesterday by Feeley and other Notre Dame officials.
Next month the institute will begin offering eight courses for continuing education credit in areas such as family relations, career planning, spiritual development, computer skills and the impact of social issues on women.
Instructors will include Notre Dame faculty members and professionals such as Ava Sugar of the Community Counseling and Resource Center in Cockeysville and Minnesota psychologist Marilyn J. Mason.
The eight courses, spread out from February to May, will consist of one to six sessions at a cost of $50 to $80.
Sister Joanne Hanrahan, director fo the institute, said the focus will not be on "women's studies" but on "women's resources -- education, guidance, understanding, support. The idea is to find ways to empower women, to help them develop their potential more fully."
The Raskob Foundation, a Catholic educational foundation in Wilmington, Del., provided a grant for the program's start-up costs. Starting in February, the program will be sustained by tuition fees, Feeley said.
Courses eventually will be offered year-round and might eventually be available at the offices of corporations that have expressed interest in co-sponsoring Women's Institute offerings, Hanrahan said.
Asked if the courses will be open to men, college officials looked at each other uncertainly before Hanrahan finally said, "We heard different advice on that. Some people said we should initially start the program exclusively for women, and others said there would be courses, like the one we have on parenting, that would benefit both men and women. I feel that to eliminate men from the program would not be appropriate. So, if men registered, they'd be welcome."
"Of course, we would welcome them," Feeley said, adding that 15 percent of the students at Notre Dame's Weekend College are men.
The Women's Institute will celebrate its opening with an appearance by writer Maya Angelou on Feb. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the school's LeClerc Auditorium.