'Help those who need it,' Notre Dame chief urges grads

May 24, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

Sister Kathleen Feeley had an old-fashioned message yesterday for her last crop of graduates at the College of Notre Dame: Help those who need it.

"You must bend your eyes and your ears and your feet and your hands to those who need your help," she urged the 275 graduating students. "They are all around you."

Sister Kathleen is retiring after 21 years as president of Notre Dame, the thriving little liberal arts women's school in North Baltimore.

Her last message to her students was culled from an essay by anthropologist Loren Eiseley, who wrote about "star throwers," people who rescue others mired in trouble and who trust in the power of grace.

"You, too, must be in our society the star throwers," she said.

Sister Kathleen announced three years ago that she would be leaving, reasoning that a new president should have ample time to prepare for the celebration of the college's 100th anniversary in 1996.

Sister Rosemarie T. Nassif will become the college's ninth president July 1.

Yesterday's graduates were a Notre Dame sampler. There were mostly young women but also several men from the school's weekend college or graduate programs. There were older women, including 78-year-old Hilda Petersam, who picked up her bachelor of arts degree and is headed for graduate school.

"It looks good on my resume," she said.

Sister Kathleen, 63, has won a Fulbright Fellowship to teach American literature at the University of Madras in southern India next fall. She plans to introduce American female authors to Indian students.

First she will satisfy an urge she has had for years by cruising on a tramp steamer across the Atlantic and throughout Europe and the Mediterranean -- a two-month trip that was a retirement gift from the college.

Sister Kathleen said she leaves Notre Dame in a good state of mind. The college, she said, continues to provide a place for women to feel their way to "empowerment."

"That's what this college does," she said. "Acting toward a student so they know their own worth, their own talent, their own gifts."

Her goal is "a future in which the gifts of women and men are equally valued," she said.

In her 21 years at Notre Dame, society has moved "micro-inches" to ward that goal. In the next 21 years, she assumes, society will again move only micro-inches along. If so, Notre Dame will have a safe niche for a long time, she figures.

She has been associated with Notre Dame for about 50 years, first as a student at the School Sisters of Notre Dame's prep school, then as an undergraduate at the college, and since 1965 as a professor and then president.

"There are a lot more buildings. There are a lot more programs," she said. "But the spirit has remained constant. I think we're a very friendly and courteous campus."

Sister Kathleen helped ensure the college's future by starting a weekend college -- open to men and women -- in the early 1970s.

"I feel good. I'm leaving the college in good shape," she said. "And I'm in good health."

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