On Nov. 21, the student newspaper serving Saint Mary’s College and the University of Notre Dame broke the story that Saint Mary’s, a Catholic women’s college founded in 1844, would now consider admission for applicants “whose sex is female or who consistently live and identify as women.” The college’s proud identity as a single-sex institution, which resisted a merger with brother school Notre Dame when the university went coeducational in 1972, is no longer.
The article notes that this decision was voted upon by the board of trustees at their June 23 meeting. An email announcing the policy change was sent only to faculty, staff, and students the evening of Nov. 21 — after business hours and two days before Thanksgiving, when most of campus would have cleared out for the holiday. The announcement also comes less than a month after the conclusion of the fall phone-a-thon campaign, when alumnae are solicited for financial donations, and days after the final Notre Dame football game of the season, which draws more alumnae to South Bend than any other event save reunions.
As news of the decision made its way to alumnae, backlash was swift. The college’s first social media posts after the announcement, a message of Thanksgiving on Facebook and Instagram, were flooded with comments from angry students, parents, and alumnae. Commenting on the posts was quickly disabled, and a Change.org petition that was on its way to amassing 5,000 signatures quietly disappeared. It seems the college is choosing to abandon free inquiry, as well as scientific fact and the church’s teaching on the sexes.
In February 2022, when social media accounts sponsored by the college proudly proclaimed that “not all women menstruate, and not all who menstruate are women!” I predicted two possible futures for my alma mater: Either Saint Mary’s would have to rebrand itself as a “College for People with Uteruses,” or admission would be open to all who merely claimed to be a woman, regardless of biology.
Last week my prediction came to pass, and I have never been so heartbroken to be proven right. The class ring that I once wore so proudly, I can now hardly stand to look at. More than a piece of jewelry, it represented the most formative years of my life. Now the institution that taught me to seek and revere the truth has turned its back on objectivity and biological reality.
College President Should Have Proclaimed the Truth
In 1986, there were 107 women’s colleges in the United States, down from nearly 300 in the 1960s. Today, there are fewer than 30 — and fewer still that have not adopted a transgender policy that renders them effectively coeducational. It is disappointing but not surprising to see secular institutions that call themselves women’s colleges (Smith, Wellesley, Agnes Scott, to name but a few) admit mentally ill men who masquerade as women. It is gut-wrenching to see this policy adopted by a Roman Catholic institution sponsored by an order of religious sisters.
Saint Mary’s College President Katie Conboy said in her email that the college is “by no means the first Catholic women’s college to adopt a policy with this scope.” She’s right. Saint Mary’s has decided to follow in the bravely trod footsteps of Minnesota’s College of Saint Benedict, which jointly announced with brother institution Saint John’s University that “we are dedicated to creating spaces that allow women, men, and those who do not identify within the binary including transgender, non-binary, gender-fluid, and gender-nonconforming individuals to matriculate and thrive at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.” This is the example Conboy has chosen to follow, rather than standing apart as a leader in higher education and courageously proclaiming the truth about the sexes.
Conboy went on to cite Pope Francis’ advocacy for approaching those different from us with so-called love as the impetus for the decision: “Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives. The revised non-discrimination clause seeks to advance just this kind of community, where … we follow an inclusive admissions process that retains our identity as a Catholic women’s college.” But a true loving approach to those struggling with their gender identity does not mean affirming misguided delusions. Conboy must have missed earlier this year when Pope Francis proclaimed gender ideology to be “one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations” of today: “Why is it dangerous? Because it blurs differences and the value of men and women.”
Catholic Intellectual Tradition and Timeless Attributes
A hallmark of the Catholic intellectual tradition is teaching students to use the transcendentals to evaluate a subject under consideration. The transcendentals — truth, goodness, and beauty — are timeless attributes of being that reflect the divine origin of all creation and the unity of all truth and reality in God. These properties are a delight to study and discuss because they are intrinsic to our very nature and common humanity. For the same reasons, they are detested by leftists. Truth, goodness, and beauty transcend every self-imposed division of people — sex, race, and socioeconomic class. The transcendentals are an antidote to the fractures of an identity politics-obsessed society, so they must be tossed aside.
The Cardinal Newman Society, a resource for Catholic education, defines truth as “the mind being in accord with reality.” This is the very antithesis of gender ideology, where the mind is not in accord with reality, and those who protest that the emperor wears no clothes are castigated as a bigot until they publicly repent that two plus two is, indeed, five.