“There are two approaches to educating women for leadership roles: 1. Teaching women in a single-sex environment; 2. Teaching women and men about women’s roles and modeling for them the value of women’s leadership. The second method is rarely practiced in institutions established by men. It presents a new and important role for colleges founded and sustained by women.”
— Sister Jeanne Knoerle, 2005. Quoted when Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College made the decision to admit male students
Tuesday, June 6, 2017, was a beautiful day at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. There was a light wind to go with plenty of sunshine. And on this angelic day, administration for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) unveiled a sculpture of one of its former leaders and a Sister of Providence.
On Tuesday, the college honored Sister Jeanne Knoerle, SP, formerly Sister Mary Gregory, with the display of a sculpture in her honor. Sister Jeanne died on June 10, 2013. She was 85 years old and was a Sister of Providence for 63 years.
The sculpture was placed in the Ariens Atrium of the Knoerle Center – which was also dedicated in her honor in December 2014.
SMWC President Dr. Dottie King opened the ceremony, holding back tears as she discussed the life of Sister Jeanne.
“I believe she’s with us,” Dottie said. “I hope she feels happy today.”
Dottie further explained what it was like to know Sister Jeanne.
“I think she had a distinct ability to always look forward,” Dottie said. “She was always visionary, ahead of her time.”
The sculpture was created by Jerry McKenna, who has sculpted more than 240 busts and statues, including those of Air Force generals such are Jimmy Doolittle, a sculpture of Knute Rockne for the College Football Hall of Fame, and many sports figures such as George Gipp, Lou Holtz and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, among others.
McKenna is a former United States Air Force service and a decorated Vietnam War veteran. He currently lives in Texas with his wife, 1963 SMWC graduate Gail McKenna.
As Dottie introduced Jerry, she noted his “wicked” sense of humor, telling the crowd in the atrium about how he sent her a photo of the beginnings of the sculpture. However, he failed to mention the photo was not of the Sister Jeanne sculpture, but rather that of famed comic Lucille Ball.
“I am so honored to have been able to create this sculpture,” Jerry said when talking to the crowd.
Gail added students who may not have known Sister Jeanne will feel as if they did after seeing the sculpture.
“When students look at that sculpture, they’ll see her smiling and say, ‘She must have been a wonderful woman,’” Gail said.
Jerry was assisted by Tim Monahan, from Arcola, Illinois, who created the pedestal the sculpture rests on.
Family members of Sister Jeanne were present to unveil the sculpture and Sister Jean Fuqua provided the blessing.
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, on Feb. 24, 1928, Sister Jeanne Knoerle entered the Congregation on July 22, 1949. Initially, she taught in high schools in Chicago, Fort Wayne and Washington, D.C., before joining the faculty at SMWC for eight years.
She was a visiting professor at Providence College in Taiwan for a short period before returning to SMWC to minister as assistant president. She was named president of the college in 1968, where she ministered until 1983. During her presidency, she began the Women’s External Degree program, now known as Woods OnLine.
Coincidentally, also in 1983, then Cleveland Mayor Greg Voinovich and the city honored Sister Jeanne with “Sister Jeanne Knoerle Day.” Lakewood is 15 minutes west of Cleveland.
Also, in 1983, the Indiana Senate honored Sister Jeanne for her leadership at SMWC with a resolution.
After leaving the presidency, she took some time off before coming back to SMWC to minister as chancellor, where she oversaw endowment funding and the Woods Association. In 1988, she became the program director for the Religion Division of the Lilly Endowment.
In 2012, the Wabash Valley Women of Influence named Sister Jeanne one of its Women of Influence recipients.