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Sister Barbara Doherty, former SMWC president, passes away

Sister Barbara Doherty, a Sister of Providence for 69 years and past president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC), passed away on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 88 years old.

Sister Barbara, formerly Sister Vincent Ferrer, was born on Dec. 2, 1931, in Chicago. She entered the Congregation on Feb. 2, 1951, professing first vows on Aug. 15, 1953, and perpetual vows on Aug. 15, 1958.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in Latin from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and also had a master’s degree in sacred doctrine from St. Mary’s College in South Bend. Sister Barbara earned her doctorate in theology from Fordham University and received an honorary doctorate of letters from Indiana State University.

Sister Barbara was the 13th president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, succeeding Sister Jeanne Knoerle in 1984. She officially retired from the college in 1998 and was the first woman to be elected to the presidency of the college by the Board of Trustees, as her 12 predecessors were appointed to the position by the Sisters of Providence.

During her tenure as the school’s president, Sister Barbara was a driving force of the school’s athletic expansion to scholarship teams. She was inducted into the college’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.

She was also primarily responsible for the physical restoration and repositioning of the college for its future in terms of information technology while ministering as president.

“She was a good administrator and had a very creative side of her in designing programs,” said Sister Denise Wilkinson, who ministered at the college alongside Sister Barbara. “She was willing to take risks, like Sister Jeanne before her. Her dedication to the college was unbelievable.”

Sister Barbara Doherty (right) with a Providence Health Care nurse during an outing at Deming Park in Terre Haute.

During her time as president of SMWC, enrollment at the college increased and she helped foster new programs including the Student Mothers Program, Master of Arts in Earth Literacy, an exchange program with Providence University in Taiwan, and the founding of the Mari Hulman George School of Equine Studies in 1990.

“She was a scripture professor at the college,” Sister Denise said. “She made the people in scripture so alive. You would think you were sitting next to Saint Joseph or Mary or the prophets. The Word of God was part of who she was. It was so authentic.

“Her passion was teaching theology, trying to connect with students or younger sisters, and trying to help them connect with God, who was very real for her and very present.” Sister Barbara often taught classes in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Theology (MAPT) program.

Sister Barbara’s first ministry as a Sister of Providence was as a teacher at St. Paul in Sellersburg, Ind., from 1953-56. She came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1965 and ministered in the theology department until 1975, with the exception of four years while earning her doctorate in theology from Fordham. Following eight years of ministry in Illinois, she returned to the college as its president.

She also served the Congregation as the coordinator of the Office of the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin from 2007-2010. Her final ministry was in prayer.

“For all her learning and for all of her credentials, she was a very ordinary person,” Sister Denise said. “She loved being with people. I had a great affection for her.”

About the Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.

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Jason Moon

Jason Moon

Jason Moon serves as media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence. Previously, he spent more than 16 years in the newspaper industry.

Media contact

For inquiries or information, contact Jason Moon at jmoon@spsmw.org or 812-535-2810.

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