The Church's One Foundation
The Church's One Foundation Podcast
Podcast # 18: The Faithful of St. Mary's

Podcast # 18: The Faithful of St. Mary's

The all-women's Catholic college goes trans then reconsiders its policy.

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Dear Friends,

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The Faithful of St. Mary’s

This past November, I was surprised when the President of St. Mary’s College, Katie Conboy, and the school’s Board of Trustees announced their decision to accept applications from trans women seeking admission to their prestigious, women’s liberal arts college. But then, I thought: Why should St. Mary’s College, with its historic Catholic provenance, be immune to the progressive gender ideology sweeping through the Church, academia, and our culture at large?

Located on a sprawling, 100-acre campus across the street from Notre Dame University, St. Mary’s is a quick, 130-mile road trip up highway US 31 from my home in Indianapolis, Indiana. Knowing the cultural “lay of the land,” I wondered whether such a decision, unquestionably a violation of Catholic doctrine, could possibly stand unchallenged, particularly here in the conservative heartland. Almost immediately, concerned alumnae expressed their disapproval of this decision to radically alter St. Mary’s DNA, sharply criticizing the closed-door, top-down process employed, with neither President Conboy nor the Board of Trustees polling the alumnae or consulting with the diocesan bishop prior to sending out a mass email on November 21, 2023, informing them of the school’s new “non-discrimination policy.”

Standing firm, St. Mary’s initially defended its new policy to “consider admission for undergraduate applicants who…consistently live and identify as women,” saying its mission is to “empower women, through education, at all stages in life,” adding that, “Essential to this mission is fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus experience.” Predictably, President Conboy assembled a “President’s Task Force for Gender Identity and Expression,” and assigned it to make recommendations for housing policies and other “practices that will follow from the policy.” Speaking personally, as a father of three daughters, I’m not so sure that the parents who are forking over sixty grand a year to send their 18-year-old to St. Mary’s are going to be thrilled when their “precious daughter” cautiously enters a bathroom to shower, not knowing what surprise may await her there.

Continuing to justify their new policy, President Conboy added, “This mission is inherently tied to the vision and values of our founders…the Sisters of the Holy Cross.” One can only speculate what Mother Angela Gillespie and the other founding Sisters of St. Mary’s Academy would have thought in 1844. Their history goes back to the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Le Mans, France, whose motto was and is, Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope. Employing a bit of common sense, I think it’s safe to say that 180 years ago the very thought of biological men who identify as women being admitted to St. Mary’s would have been unimaginable for Mother Gillespie and her orthodox Sisters. Purposefully, St. Mary’s was designed to be “exclusive”—exclusive of men regardless of their creative attire or more imaginative proclivities.

Thanks be to God, the faithful have responded to this … dare I say …. heresy. Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin Rhoades reported that he had learned of the policy change only a week prior to its public announcement, and that he found it "…disappointing that I, as bishop of the diocese in which Saint Mary’s College is located, was not included or consulted on a matter of important Catholic teaching." Continuing, he said, “To call itself a ‘women’s college’ and to admit male students who ‘consistently live and identify as women’ suggests that the college affirms an ideology of gender that separates sex from gender and claims that sexual identity is based on the subjective experience of the individual. This ideology is at odds with Catholic teaching," the bishop wrote, adding, “The desire of Saint Mary’s College to show hospitality to people who identify as transgender is not the problem. The problem is a Catholic woman’s college embracing a definition of woman that is not Catholic.” The good bishop, in the clearest of terms, admonished the school to "…correct its admissions policy in fidelity to the Catholic identity and mission it is charged to protect."

Not waiting silently in the wings, Bishop Rhoades’s sane voice of reason was amplified by dozens of concerned alumnae: “Just found out my alma mater [Saint Mary’s], an all-women’s Catholic college, will be accepting BIOLOGICAL MEN starting next fall,” a post on X said. “This decision is blasphemous & a complete rejection of the Church and its teachings on gender and sexuality.” Another post was slightly more vociferous: “[Catholics] we have an issue here!! Don’t allow your child to go to this school!! Another post put it succinctly: “[Saint Mary’s] Shame on YOU!”

Students entered the fray, with many affirming their alumnae sisters, exemplified by Claire Bettag, a junior at St. Mary’s, who said: “I’m so proud of the woman of St. Mary’s who were willing to stand up against this anti-woman, anti-Catholic policy. God’s truth will always win.” And “God’s truth,” it would appear, has carried the day … so far.

Yielding to the mounting backlash, President Conboy and the Board of Trustees reversed their decision to allow the admission of transgender women. Conboy and Board Chair, Maureen Karantz Smith, announced the change in a Dec. 21st email to students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and … oh, to its donors. Lisa Knox, a spokeswoman for the college, added, “We clearly underestimated our community’s genuine desire to be engaged in the process of shaping a policy of such significance.” But not to be deterred by this momentary setback, and preemptively setting the terms for discussion after the winter break, St. Mary’s “leadership” assured those who were opposed to their nondiscrimination policy that they would initiate a series of “listening sessions” to explore both Catholic traditions and today’s “desired inclusivity.” Reiterating their commitment to the “journey toward equity,” Ms. Knox added: “Our leadership will always go back to our founding mission, to respond to the needs of the times. So much, it would appear, for the timeless Christ—“the same yesterday, today, and forever!”

So, there it is, my friends, as if it were coming out of a fortune cookie—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—the new, holy trinity enshrined on the high altar of “progressive” social justice—not necessarily God’s justice, but man’s justice—with little wiggle room for honest discussion; for the zealous ideologues know beforehand that their position on non-discrimination, and only their position, is truly reflective of a “Christ-like inclusivity.” There is no remorse for the policy that brought this great schism to St. Mary’s, only regret for its fallout.

Soon, my friends, apart from God’s intervention and the diligence of the faithful, St. Mary’s will follow the template set by the all-female College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, who boast on their website that they “support every student’s right to self-identification,” and are dedicated to “creating spaces that allow women, men, and those who do not identify within the binary,” including “transgender, nonbinary, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming individuals.” Why do I see the heads of Mother Gillespie and the other founding Sisters of St. Mary’s spinning round and round in disbelief.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: we are engaged in a reformative period of accentuated, spiritual warfare, and “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12, NIV). And if, my brothers and sisters, if these “powers” can cajole, convince, or coerce us into believing that a man is a woman and a woman is a man by administrative fiat, or that individuals can subjectively self-identify as whomever or whatever and whenever they please—then these “powers” will not only have won “the day,” but they will have radically reshaped the Church and our culture, and we will enter a time of sweeping, spiritual darkness—a time of mass confusion, of lawlessness, of oppression, and of a ruthless contempt one for the other. You need not be a prophet of doom to know that the elongated shadows of “spiritual darkness” are already upon us.

But for those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, we can take heart, for we know that we “…are of God…and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in me (in you), than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4, NIV). And, so, we take heart in those faithful students, in the faithful faculty, and the faithful alumnae of St. Mary’s who would not allow this duplicitous “anti-discrimination policy” to stand. And we take heart also in the faithfulness of the good Bishop Rhoades, who upon hearing of St. Mary’s reversal, wrote, in part: “I pray for Saint Mary’s ongoing fidelity to the Christian message…. That message also includes love and respect for…those who may identify as transgender. (But), we must never separate truth and love, since the truth of the Gospel includes the fundamental commandment to love one another, and love is only authentic if it is grounded in truth.”

And most of all, my friends, we can take heart in knowing that God is forever faithful, and that “the Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord,” and that Christ has promised us, “… I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18, KJV). Hallelujah!


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St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana. It has 1,600 undergraduate students, with an endowment of 200 million dollars.

The Church's One Foundation
The Church's One Foundation Podcast
Dramatist, D.Paul Thomas, writes and podcasts on the Church's one foundation--Jesus Christ her Lord!