The presidents of St. Catherine University have embraced the true meaning of being leaders, influencers, educators and advocates for social justice. Their accomplishments are notable in endless ways. Explore the brief statements below about the first and current presidents of St. Kate's, and be sure to explore the archives for photos and information about more St. Kate's presidents.
Mother Antonia McHugh, St. Kate’s first president, is legendary for making St. Catherine a nationally recognized institution of higher learning. When she assumed leadership in 1914, only a single building, Derham Hall, had been completed. A mere five faculty members held college degrees (none beyond a master’s). St. Kate’s was not accredited. And the first graduating class had two members.
By the time she left in 1937, Whitby Hall, Caecilian Hall, Our Lady of Victory Chapel, Mendel Hall, Fontbonne Hall and the power plant had all been built. Ten faculty members held doctoral degrees. Not only was St. Kate’s accredited, it was the only Catholic university with a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Thirty-one women received Bachelor of Arts degrees and forty-seven earned their Bachelor of Science.
Becky Roloff is the 11th president of St. Catherine University. A North Dakota native, Roloff is a 1976 graduate of St. Kate's, chaired the University’s board (1991–1995) and has been an active alumna. She also earned an MBA with Distinction from the Harvard Business School. During a distinguished career in the private and nonprofit sectors, she has demonstrated extraordinary leadership, commitment to inclusion and ability to achieve financial stability through fundraising, while at the same time serving the community.
Her leadership has been recognized with national and community accolades, including the New York City YWCA Academy of Women Achiever’s Award, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Leading With Spirit Award, the Twin Cities Business Outstanding Corporate Director Award and St. Catherine’s Outstanding Alumnae and Alexandrine Awards.
Mary Madonna Ashton, CSJ, ’44 is a legendary figure in Minnesota healthcare. She was the CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital in Minneapolis for 20 years, the first woman appointed to lead the Minnesota Department of Health and a driving force behind the creation of St. Mary’s Health Clinics.
Sister Mary Madonna took on the big tobacco industry, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and created a healthcare solution for Minnesota’s uninsured.
Mary Thompson, CSJ, ’53 was a chemistry faculty member at St. Kate’s for 39 years.
Sister Mary earned advanced degrees from the University of Minnesota and the University of California at Berkeley. She was recognized by her students and colleagues as an influential role model.
Under her leadership, the chemistry department expanded the number of faculty, developed new curriculum and acquired American Chemical Society accreditation for the major.
Ruth Brooker, CSJ and Baya Clare, CSJ work as prison ministers with female inmates at the Waseca, Minnesota federal prison to teach wellness and a path towards rehabilitation.
The Sisters have spent six years teaching a six month course called “Threshold,” designed as an interfaith curriculum focused on nine building blocks for a stable life, such as mental health, spirituality and personal relationships.
For two hours every week, the Sisters sit, talk and listen to the inmates tell their stories, vent their problems and give them a quite space for meditation and reflection.
The experience has been transformative for Sister Ruth and Sister Baya. As Sister Ruth recalled in an interview from the Ministries Foundation, “My dad was a policeman, and I grew up seeing right and wrong, black and white. But this experience has changed me. I don't see black and white anymore. I see and hear with compassion the injustice in our criminal justice system.”
Sister Betty McKenzie spent her life as a teacher, CSJ and activist. Her call to peace included protesting the military-industrial complex and resulted in, by her own estimation, 18–20 arrests.
Francine Conley is a St. Kate's professor in French, English, Women's Studies and the CORE. Besides teaching, she is a poet, performer, and director with a chapbook of poems, How Dumb the Stars, (Parallel Press), and a manuscript, WHAT SWEETNESS FROM SALT (2017). A chapbook, "The Destruction of the Mother," is forthcoming August 2018 (QXIZ Editions). A longtime performance artist and theater collaborator, she spent 2017–2018 touring Femmes de Lettres/Women of Letters, a one-woman multimedia performance in which she performs writings by French and Francophone women writers from the 12 to the 21 centuries.
My research interests in music and identity led to a book project I co-edited, titled Voicing Girlhood in Popular Culture. The book attempts to answer questions such as: Why do we talk about vocal changes for boys during puberty, but not for girls, when it comes to singing? Why do we criticize girls for the way they talk (think "valley girls" and vocal fry) more than we criticize boys? Despite our society's proclivity for female-directed criticism, girls continue to raise their voices and make themselves heard. The more I learn about women and girls in music, the more impressed I am with our resilience, agency, and creativity - especially at St. Kate's.
Patricia Olson directs the Women's Art Institute (WAI) on campus. The WAI is an innovative and rigorous program designed for advanced women artists to develop their work in the context of women and art. Students come from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and through the program’s mentorship, develop their own portfolio of work. Offered every June since 1999, the uniqueness of the program is that the curriculum is set by the students themselves. They come with questions about their studio practice, techniques, inspirations, and about what it means to make a living and prosper as an artist today.
Additionally, she creates visual art. Self-Portrait at 60 is based on Max Beckmann's Self-Portrait in Tuxedo. Beckmann paints a confident but guarded presentation of the modern artist — at his time in the mid-twentieth century — defined as exclusively male. Professor Olson's painting transposes the gender of the artist, to project this male presentation of self and power via an aging woman's body, which is at turns surprising, empowering, pathetic.
The LEAD Team is a collaborative team of students who work together to create leadership awareness and create innovative ways to assist St. Kate's students in identifying and developing their leadership potential. Right now they are working on a project "Tell Stories to Build Stories" to show that every student is a leader no matter what their circumstances are in life. They would love to have participation with the student body to know what leadership means to them. Use the hashtags #hiddenvoices #mystkates to share your story.
BioClub (the Biology Club at St. Catherine University) is comprised of passionate young women, most, but not all of whom are biology majors, who are passionate about sustainability, biology and the sciences. Members strive to educate the community and advocate for responsible green spaces, sustainable practices, and pollinator-friendly policies on campus.
BioClub led initiatives to install a green roof, bring two honey bee hives to campus and establish a community garden in 2017. BioClub also serves as a conduit between students and faculty/staff by facilitating activities between them to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and learning. Ultimately, BioClub is about providing a strong, mindful community full of supportive women in pursuit of the sciences.
This photo shows BioClub presenting the 2017 55105 St. Kate's honey to President Roloff.
From left to right is Sarah Brakke, Livianna Myklebust (VP), Tori Thompson, President Roloff, Gabby Holm, Marie Olson (President), and Ruth Lopez.
Student Senate is the governing body for the College of Women whose purpose is to influence the St. Kate's student experience by creating spaces for students to be able to connect and discuss their experiences and concerns at St. Kate's.
The executive board works on issues such as diversity and inclusion (for example, they led the DACA rally in the fall), and creating an environmentally-friendly and sustainable campus. In addition, they charter clubs on campus, engage with students and help them advocate for themselves through events such as Day at the Capitol, where they lobby for the Minnesota State Grant.The legislative board engages with the students they represent by holding class meetings, updating students on the work that Senate is doing, asking for their feedback and addressing their concerns.
The Student Senate has weekly meetings on Tuesdays from 12–1:15 p.m. in the CdC Ballroom.
Catherine’s Monologues, which began in the 1990s, invites community members to define for themselves what it means to be a part of the St. Kate’s community. The initiative is student created, led and produced. A show is held each April that has been a result of writing workshops, submissions, auditions and directing, that is meant to bring the community closer together. All are welcome to participate, submit stories and act.