Mother Mary Cleophas (Margaret Teresa) Foley was born on February 18, 1845 at Scipio, Indiana. She entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence on September 13, 1862. After eighteen years as Mistress of Novices, she was elected First Assistant to Mother Euphrasie in 1886. Chosen as sixth Superior General in 1890, she held the office for six consecutive terms, a total of 36 years.
In 1890 during the administration of Mother Mary Cleophas the sisters moved into the new Providence and the Golden Jubilee of the Congregation was celebrated. The Exhibit for the World’s Fair of 1893 was planned and executed. Due to her entreaties Bishop Chatard initiated the process for the Cause of Mother Theodore. Under her direction a strong program for the education of the sisters was developed, with sisters being sent for higher studies. The Academy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods became Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, with Mother Mary Cleophas as its president. In 1920 she sent the first group of American Sisters to establish a mission in China, located in Kaifeng, East Honan.
Under the leadership of Mother Mary Cleophas an extensive building program took place. The Church of the Immaculate Conception, begun in 1886, was dedicated in 189l and completed in 1907. The Woodland Inn was constructed in 1894; a façade and fourth floor were added to the Academy building in 1897; a new novitiate was built in 1902; the new Gymnasium was ready for use in 1909; Guerin Hall and the Conservatory of Music were completed by 1913; the present O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall was blessed in 1921; the new Infirmary was blessed and occupied in 1922; in 1924 the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was completed and Le Fer Hall was opened.
Mother Mary Cleophas traveled to Europe three times. In 1902 she became the first American sister in almost forty years to visit Ruillé and the shrines of Europe. In 1913 and again in 1922 she journeyed to Rome on behalf of Mother Theodore’s Cause.
Exercising her spiritual leadership as superior general, Mother Mary Cleophas gave daily instructions to the Sisters whenever she was at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She inaugurated the Second Novitiate Program and conducted the thirty-day retreats. Her personal spiritual notes are copious, as is her correspondence with the Sisters.
After leaving office in 1926, Mother Mary Cleophas prepared herself to meet her Maker, dying on the Feast of St. John, Dec. 27, 1928. She was buried in the convent cemetery on Dec. 31, 1928. On April 4, 1951 her remains were transferred to a vault in the crypt of the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
On July 19, 1998, her remains and those of Sisters Aloysia Foley, Mary Joseph Le Fer and St. Francis Xavier Le Fer, were returned to their graves in the cemetery. This was done because the crypt was no longer open for visitors after the church renovation.