Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Schmidt, Sister Mary Oral History

Item

Dublin Core

Title

Schmidt, Sister Mary Oral History

Subject

Sister Mary Schmidt

Description

An oral history of Sister Mary Schmidt, a Sister of Charity of Seton Hill from 1934 until 1993. The interview was conducted by Sister Miriam Jane Hollowood on July 10 and 18, 1984.

Sister Mary Schmidt was born on June 26th, 1911 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Daughter of Henry K. Schmidt and Mabel Green, Mary Jeannette Schmidt entered the community on March 25th, 1934 at the age of 22 as Sister Mary Schmidt.

Sister Mary Schmidt was a professor of English at Seton Hill College from 1936 to 1957. She served as the Executive Vice President of Seton Hill College from 1957 to 1970. Then, the following year Sister Mary Schmidt served as President of SHC from 1971 to 1977.

Sister Mary Schmidt received her B.S. in English, Psychology, and Philosophy from Seton Hill College in 1932. Then, she received her M.A. in English from the University of Pittsburgh in 1934. Sister Mary Schmidt went to Yale University for her Ph.D. in English Language and Literature in 1943, where she would pursue her postdoctoral research at both Yale and Columbia Universities.

Sister Mary Schmidt passed on April 26th, 1993 at the age of 81.

Creator

Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill

Publisher

Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill

Date

1984/07/10
1984-07/18

Rights

All rights belong to the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Format

Audio cassette tape

Language

English

Type

Oral history

Identifier

OH-81

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Sister Miriam Jane Hollowood

Interviewee

Sister Mary Schmidt

Location

Seton Hill College

Transcription

OH - 81 Sr. Mary Schmidt Side I of Tape marked I and II OH I and OH II

SMJH: This interview is being conducted as part of the oral history program of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. The interviewee is Sister Mary Schmidt ,formerly known as Sister M. Thecla, and the interviewer is Sister Miriam Jane Hollowood. The interview is being conducted at Seton Hill College on July tenth, nineteen hundred eighty-four.

SMJH: Sister Mary, will you tell us something about yourself before you came to Seton Hill?

SMS: I am the oldest of six children. · My father was Henry Schmidt, who was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. My mother was a teacher of Speech, what they then called Elocution, Unfortunately, I didn' t imbibe any of the things my parents had specialized in. I went to Sacred Heart Grade School and High School. I'm sure that's where I got my greatest feelings for the Sisters of Charity .

SMJH: Who were some of the Sisters that you knew at that time?
SMS: I suppose the ones I had in high school were the most memorable. I had my name from the marvelous Sister M. Thecla Carroll, who was a Latin and Mathematics teacher. Sister Thecla died very suddenly at the age of forty-four when I was a sophomore at Sacred Heart. This was my first experience with death. At that time, Mother Rose Genevieve Rodgers knew I was going to enter and she said she would like to save that name for me, so she did. The person who was ' most influential with me at Sacred Heart was Sister M. Claudia Glenn, who later became Mother
M. Claudia Glenn. She taught English for the four years I was at Sacred Heart High School. She was really the first to note I am sure that I was going to become a Sister of Charity. When I was twelve or thirteen, a freshman in high school, I remember one day of being struck beyond words when Sister Claudia said: "Mary, I know that you are going to be a Sister." I said: Well, how did you know that?" I realize now that she could see it. Those were the two people who were most influential. Of course, there was a teacher, Sister Rose de Lima Henry, whom I had the pleasure of having for Latin for four years. There were others. However, if you are asking for the highlights, those are the highlights.

SMJH: When Mother Claudia said that she knew you were going to be a Sister, did you know? SMS: Yes, that's why I was so surprised. It was just around that time when I was in the eighth grade going into high school that I simply realized that I was to be a Sister. At that time I thought it was rather glamorous, but I also knew that it was a way of devoting my entire life t·o some thing. This may sound naive, but I always knew that I had to devote my entire life to something. It couldn't be any less. That's why I didn't want to marry, not meaning anything derogatory about marriage. I remember how I was very drawn to praying in Sacred Heart
Church. They had Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays when'I was in grade school. I was always running back and forth between the church and home. We didn't live very far away. I also kept saying to mother: "I won't be away long. I'll be back soon. She of course didn' t mind. Then fortunately, or unfortunately, I realized that I wasn' t in any big hurry. My father, of course, just took it for granted that one went to college. I had no problem with that. I was


delighted to go to college. Obviously, I went to Seton Hill. I had studied piano with my father for a number of years. He was very interested in my not being very good at it. He said: "If you are really interested in becoming a religious, I don't want you to become a piano teacher." He had seen too many of them who didn't have enough to do but listen to little children. I had nothing to do with it, but I have always been grateful to him since. He said: "I don't want you to learn any more piano if you are determined to do this." Before I went to college, that was the idea. It is also true that my first preference has been English, both reading and writing it. I really don't think I ever had any trouble with anything. I had an extraordinarily happy childhood and home. I look back on that as being very helpful to me. My mother was a convert, and had no great feeling for my wanting to be a Sister. She also had some problems with some of the sisters when my brothers were altar boys and choir boys. That wasn't important. She came to be very happy with the whole thing. That's pretty much in a nut shell what my early years were like.

SMJH: Now, you said your Father was a Music Professor. Didn't he also teach at Seton Hill College?
SMS: Well, he did along with his teaching at Carnegie Mellon. He didn' t teach at the college while I was a student. I know he was here while I was a white capped novice. He never left Carnegie Mellon. He only came up to Seton Hill College two days a week. This was during depression times when the younger students at Carnegie Mellon and at Seton Hill were not so numerous as they had been, and consequently he was able to condense his work at Carnegie Mellon into three days a week and teach at Seton Hill the other two. He was here for four or five years. I remember that Mother M. Evaline Fisher was the Mother Superior and also chair­ man of the Board of Directors for Seton Hill College. She wanted to get my father to be chair­ man of the Music Department, hoping that the connection with Pittsburgh might be influential in getting more students to come to the college. My Father and Doctor Reeves were great friends, and my father enjoyed his time at Seton Hill. I believe that it was difficult for my father and he should only have been at Seton Hill for a short time. Anyhow, he went back to Carnegie Mellon until he retired. All of his friends were there. It was like in the Henry James era. If you wanted to study music a lot, you went to Europe, and so he did. Many of his friends went to Europe also and when they came back they were the pioneer faculty of the Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University. This was about nineteen hundred ten. We were faculty children, and we went to the swimming pool and music classes, and Dr. Baker' s Christmas parties for faculty children.
That's my recollection of it. It was kind of a nice thing. We enjoyed it.

SMJH: That' s good, and he got to be part of our faculty at Seton Hill. You graduated from Seton Hill with a Bachelor's degree in English and then went to Pitt to obtain a Master' s degree in English.
SMS: Yes, I graduated from Seton Hill in nineteen thirty-two, and again wasn't in any hurry to leave home, so I went to Pitt and graduated with a Master's degree in English in nineteen thirty­ four. My father was also in favor of this. He thought it was better for one to get as much college work as possible, as he had some insight to some of the problems people had.

SMJH: So, you entered the Community then in nineteen thirty-four. What was the Community


like at that time? I'm sure it was different for a woman entering with a Master's degree, which was not common at that time.
SMS: It was difficult. I was the first one. People thought that you might become a snob. I was a great substitute in the fourth grade, about which I knew nothing, and I have never to this day set my foot inside a high school as a teacher. I understand this. It was the mentality of religious life at that time, and it would not happen today. I knew that here I was, I belonged, and never doubted for one second. I was extremely happy in the community. The first thing I did when I didn't let them decide was to go to Altoona to teach the seventh grade. Where upon I fell with a terrible case of scarlet fever. That ended my career as a mission sister after a few months. They really wanted someone as a seventh grade teacher. They felt that you would know so much more because of having a master's degree. Then I came back to Seton Hill. I was a black cap novice. For a time, I was not doing anything as the scarlet fever left me with a heart involvement, which evaporated later on, but I had it then. It was Christmas week. I had not made my vows yet. Behold, Sister Victoria Brown, who was an English teacher took a trip to the hospital and was retained for a while. So, here I was with a Master' s Degree in English. There must have been a great commotion among the powers. about my doing anything. Some of them felt it was the kiss of death for me to do anything. There they were, and here I was with this degree, so anyhow I did it. I became a part time teacher in the college the Spring Semester of . nineteen thirty-six. Somehow, I got a much better feeling for the sisters than what I had when I was in college. They seemed so much better. I didn't come to the community because I thought the sisters were marvelous. I came because I knew that was what I had to do with my life. I was presumably destined to be an English teacher. Sister Victoria, who was the treasurer decided that I should go to Oxford University in England for a degree. They didn't give a doctorate, but they gave a Master's, which they feel is superior to our American Doctorate. I was indeed supposed to go. All preparations were made. In the late summer of nineteen thirty;.e ight; there was a big scare in this country that the war was immanent. Well, it was decided that it wouldn't be good to send a young sister off into a war. So everyone said: "We' ll wait·until next year.
War was declared on September fourth of nineteen thirty-nine, so I never went. At that same
time since I was already to go somewhere, they packed me off to New Haven, Connecticut in September of nineteen thirty-nine. I was there until January of nineteen forty-three, which was four years. I stayed with the Sisters of Charity in New Jersey. They were near the University. They were so nice, but didn't understand what on earth I was doing. I enjoyed that life, that scholarly life I guess you would say, very much...being on my own. However, I knew I belonged in the community, so I hurried back to Seton Hill.


SMJH: What did you do your dissertation on?
SMS: I did my dissertation on Sir Thomas Moore. It turned out to be a very small subject within a great field. I knew that ifl was going to spend a year or year and a half on anybody, I wanted it to be someone I could feel some sympathy for. I wanted to take someone who had a religious mentality. I thought ifl took Alexander Pope or somebody like that for that length of time, I couldn' t take it! So, even though I had no course work in Tudor English, I took it on.....Sir Thomas Moore. I enjoyed it very much ...going through books, transcribing in black


letters which was the way it was then. It has only been in the past twenty-five years that things were printed in ordinary letters. During all this time, the war was going on. I still wonder now why I didn't know more about the war, even though I read the New York Times every Sunday. I still want to know why I didn't know more. I think you become very engrossed and very selfish in a way while during library work. It' s very demanding! There were only four women working on their graduate work, but they too were talking about their work, and not the war. Men were at the age where they were drafted into the war. I'm certainly no expert on the second world war.

SMJH: No, but you' re an expert on Thomas Moore. You have published some papers on Thomas More.
SMS: Yes, I also have a very good experience of the generosity of this Community. When I finished there, I had all sorts of things that I came across while I was doing my dissertation. The dissertation on Thomas Moore was recognized on Thomas Mooore's use of St. Augustine as his English polemical work. It was certainly nothing anyone should be bored to death by reading it. But, while you are doing this you run across fascinating things which you want to pursue. So, it was the most natural thing in the world to want to write about these things, and.I did. I had many summers, one after the other when I went back to New Haven and did this writing. I got it into print, not anything marvelous. The first thing I had printed was an essay on St. Patrick because that was enlarged in nineteen forty-five shortly after I was back.

SMJH: Why did you do St. Patrick?
SMS: Well, again, there was a large group of women, possibly from the A.O.H. They wanted a speech, and I was asked if I would give this speech. They wanted something relative to the pious nature. It was in March, and I was asked to speak about St. Joseph or St. Patrick. I knew little about St. Joseph, and I knew that.St. Patrick had a lot of historical things. I made this great discovery that Patrick was a staff (couldn' t make next word out) character. So I got together some of these things and gave my speech. They were things that perhaps they had heard, but claimed they were all news to them. I got this speech sent to the magazine "America" for publication. Then after that I did other articles like St. Thomas Moore , The Medieval Devil and other funny things like that, which were also published in "America", and "The Catholic World". In those days, they were the only magazines that would print things with background, at least that I knew of. There was one article published in the "Scholarly Journal" and others were published in different places. (She didn't name these places).

SMJH: Did you also have some poetry published?
SMS" Yes, some short ones, which were also published in "America".

SMJH: Did you want to say anything about coming back to Seton Hill and being on the Faculty? SMS: Yes, those years when I was teaching were probably the best years of my life.
SMJH: That's great, and we'll continue this interview sometime later!


SMJH: This is a continuation of the oral history interview with Sister Mary Schmidt. (Sr. Miriam Jane didn't give any date here). Sister, when you returned from Yale University, you became a full time member of the English Department at Seton Hill. What were some of the courses that you taught?

SMS: Well, I taught Writing. We all of course taught Freshman English, and I happened to like that very much. I also enjoyed teaching Writing. We also had a course in "Advanced Composition" we called it. English Majors were required to take it. At least they did. Then I taught Shakespeare, Literary Criticism, and sometime later, I'm not sure exactly when, but I taught Twentieth Century English Literature. I never was an American literature person. I didn' t have any advance work in it and didn't have a feel for it. As I recall; we , especially young teachers, took for granted that we taught whatever.needed to be taught. It didn' t matter how many hours it happened to be. One became the advisor for the publications that would be corning in and for the "Quarterly," which at that time was a rather active thing. It came out three times a year and included a commencement issue. Many marvelously talented girls whose things I value very much, and have never thrown out were printed in it. The other thing, of course, was that you were appointed to be a class advisor, as I was, pronto, by Sister Victoria Brown, who was the young Dean at the college. I wanted to write and do all these things, but I became a class advisor immediately. So, the class came in the Fall of nineteen forty-three (some of what she said here is disconnected for want of a way to put it), right when I was getting started. I was the class advisor for the class of nineteen forty-seven. I put on the Freshman show " Anne" of? (couldn't understand what she said). ·The Freshman show had something to do with frogs. I don't remember what it was. A lot of the people laughingly remember some of the songs in it. I do remember how desperately hard it was to get the girls together to get the show together, while at the same time having many other responsibilities. You still had large charges.

SMJH: When you say you had large charges to do, what exactly does that mean?
SMS: You had a lot of manual stuff which you had to do. You were responsible for cleaning one of the classrooms. You did this for quite a number of years. Some of my dear friends used to come and help me clean. It was in Room 236. They would shove the chairs around, etc.
SMJH: Was that your weekly charge?
SMS: You cleaned the blackboard every day. Only once a week did you do the marvelous pushing the mop around. These are funny little things, but as faculty members, you were expected to do all these things. You were primarily a good sister, and after that a faculty member. I don't say that with any bitterness. It was just a funny situation, and that's the way it was! Even the chairman of our department, Sister Electa Boyle felt this, and she had done the same. So, there wasn't anything the matter with this. She had no feelings as to the number of things people had to do. You see, it all came through alright. I don't think I became any less the teacher. I think you're young enough. You rise to the occasion! You have good health, and it's expected.

SMJH: In addition to your full time teaching, advising, and doing all these other things, you were also responsible for all your community activities. You took time out to go to Quarter Prayers,


and did you go to recreation with the community?
SMS: Why of course! I skipped recreation as often as I could. There were many evening meetings which I had to attend. I was never very fond of recreation. I think it was a contrived thing! It wasn't really recreational. However, you did all those things. You rose at five-fifteen AM even though you lived on the floor with the students and were responsible for them. I distinctly remember that when Mother Maria Benedict Monahan was confronted with the fact that the college sisters were not getting enough sleep because we had charge of the floors. In other words, they were supposed to be quiet, but not until eleven o'clock. If they weren't quiet, you took care of it,

but you still got up at five-fifteen. Mother Maria Benedict said of course that this was fine because we could always catch up on sleep during the time we had between classes. I think that this was her sincere view of the matter. I remember getting very exhausted, and was relieved once I no longer had this responsibility. I really never enjoyed floor duty.

SMJH: Did you say that the girls were to be silent at eleven o'clock?
SMS: They weren' t silent. They just weren't supposed to shriek, etc. I slept on Fifth Canevan next to a floor of double decked beds.
SMJH: Double decked beds?
SMS: Yes, they were all double decked beds. We had more students than we had room for. We didn' t have Brownlee or Havey then. They would merrily jump from top to bottom and laugh and laugh. Of course, I made some of my best friends that way too. The only thing is as I think back on it was that it was an arduous life. I don't think it made me a wretched teacher. I think you rise to the occasion , and you can do it. However, I would not ask anyone else to do it.

SMJH: As adviser to the Setonian, you probably kept late hours too.
SMS: Well, I suppose so. I don't seem to remember much about whether I did or not, but probably did.
SMJH: When you were adviser to the Setonian, who was your Printer, do you remember?
SMS: Yes, Mr. George Berrry. He had been Adviser to the Setonian when I was Editor during my years in college. He was such a dear man, and a wonderful friend. I remember when I was a Senior, he brought the paper into my house in Pittsburgh. It had just come out . It was during the Summer. I suppose there was a change in Printers. I don't have any recollection of when George Berry died. I didn' t keep the Setonian for years and years. I had it before I went to Yale, and sometime after that. The other thing that I began to do was "The Alumni Quarterly", so every vacation that you had, you're down in the office typing up the news for the next "Quarterly." Here again, with all my ambitions to write, and here I was typing class news.
However, I did go away many Summers , and this provided me with opportunity to write.
I have never loved anything so much as being a teacher in the classroom. Consequently, it was announced to me in February of nineteen fifty-seven ,by Mother M. Claudia Glenn , that I would not be teaching any longer. This was a great blow to me. I was very unhappy about this.

SMJH: Now, you were not to teach any longer, and for what reason?


SMS: It was because I was to be in the President's office. I was to be the Assistant to the President of the college per Mother M. Claudia Glenn. I was Assistant, and not Vice President, because she thought I was too young to have this title. I was only forty! I didn't know what I was going to do. The big thing I wanted to do was teach. I said: "But I have courses, and Mother Claudia said:" They will be taken care of." I kept one course going for three years. I also had the honors course, and I kept it up after I got into the office. To a degree I would have evening seminars for the honor students. That's how I came to know Mary Ann Crenner (sounded like) and others.

SMJH; Who was the President of the college at that time?
SMS: The President at that time was: Father William Granger Ryan. We were always kind of friendly. He used to put his head in the window by the Canevan arch where I had my office. I would be facing the window and suddenly there would be this large head looking at me in the window, laughing. I knew I would never, never, ever learn the alphabet system of that kind of office. It was like another world. Father Ryan was marvelous to work with, so that made up for a lot of other things. That job just grew in a topsy turvy fashion. From the first moment when I talked to Father Ryan that lovely February morning in nineteen fifty-seven, I went right to Mother Claudia. She said: ''Now, Father Ryan expects that you will go over to his house." I went, and there he was wearing a neck brace because he was having so much tension. He would be away and come back this way. So, without any direction from Mother Claudia, because she was most evasive, Father Ryan talked to me. He told me that whenever he was away, he would support me in any decisions, right or wrong, which I made in his absence. I thought...what am I going to decide? So, he was stuck with the assistant title too. We never had a bad moment in thirteen years.

SMJH: What were your responsibilities as assistant to the President?
SMS: Well, I started out by going through the mail when he was away. That' s when I had very little to do. He didn't quite know yet what to.do with the assistant to the President. That's why I
went to the Archives at that time to help Sister M. Electa Boyle. Things began to grow. For one year I could teach one class. When Father Ryan was home, he worked very hard at indoctrinating me to the job, but he was away a good bit of the time. It wasn't a clear cut job. I don't understand it myself, but that's the way it was. Father Ryan was stuck with the assistant title for some time. He wasn't permitted to say what my title really was. At one point he called me "Dean" of the faculty, which I didn't understand either. Then, after a long time, we did get around to my being Vice President. It was an experience which he and Sister Muriel Flamman made quite bearable. The thing that' s so wonderful about this is, that Sister Muriel as Dean of the college was next in line as President...ex officio. All of a sudden here is this other office created between, so I took precedence. She made me feel so welcome. It was the most beautiful experience. It gave me an insight into her which of course extended into several years. I don't know of any other person who could not only make you feel welcome, but was also so gracious. When I say that we never had any bad moments in the office, I don't mean that we didn't have numerous bad moments together. We had numerous, different kinds of people confronting us.
We worked two against the world a great deal of the time. I don't remember a great many details


in those early years. Father Ryan was doing a great deal of pioneering in the Pennsylvania college organization. He and other independent college presidents, besides universities, really did more in those years for the status of colleges in Pennsylvania, for the scholarship program, for the whole scene of private colleges in Pennsylvania. These were the men who did it all...back scene. There is a section here that is very difficult to hear. Sister's speech is not clear...too fast and words are run together. Suffice it to say, that I believe what she is saying here is that she didn't have a clue about what needed to be done regarding the area of accomplishing the goals that she attributed to Father William Granger Ryan and other college presidents. Sister says again that she had to learn everything from Father Ryan. Her own words were: The Presidents were always very remote. I knew Father Reeves well, but would never just walk into his office. As a faculty member, there was no relationship at all. It was an "on the job" learning experience. Looking back, I don't think I would have asked to be relieved of this job because Father Ryan was such a good priest and educator that I would not have voluntarily left.

SMJH: Weren't those also important years in the college in the new arrangement of the board of trustees? Did that happen during those years?

SMS: I'll tell you what happened. This was one of the many things which Father Ryan knew he had to accomplish. It was a strange system retained by women religious communities, not sure about men, by which their Mother General and her Officers were in the primary control of the college. Now, "The Middle States' , had been confronting them for some time on this, realizing that they needed larger ranging support in their board. They needed people who understood finances and all kinds of things. These Sisters of course, with all good will did not understand. They were very fearful, not only ours, but there were many others. They were very fearful of losing control. They thought people would run away with the money bags or something like that. They would choose to let anything happen which did not include them primarily. So, Father Ryan got together a board, which was an advisory board. It met for the first time on March twelfth, nineteen hundred fifty-seven, just after I appeared in the office. They were some of the best people to have in Greensburg.

SMJH: Who were some of the people?
SMS: Well, you had: Chuck Lynch, Tom Wentley (if spelling is correct), Ed Brinker, representatives from the banks... the general people who were knowledgeable and acceptable in Greensburg. Father himself had some friends from elsewhere. There was: Mrs. Helen Cutting, who was a very wealthy woman from New Jersey. She came to all the board meetings from New Jersey. There were others. Oh, I forgot, Jack Coulter was on it. They didn' t really have authority, but they did have a title "Board of Trustees", which was very cunning (believe this is
the word she used), but no-one seemed to object to it. They all knew that they were not really a trustee board. So, the Sisters, the Council would meet with them. They did a great many things for us....using their influence financially, getting the city to do things, etc. Sometimes advice was welcome, sometimes not. However, they were there to support and help. They could never get the "Go Sign", to make that Board a legal body, which was really in control of the college, until finally twelve years later, under Mother M. Victoria Brown's leadership in office. She knew


what had to be. By this time, "The Middle States" began to be rather insistent about it. So. She and her Council agreed to it. We had a long process of dissolving and incorporating...couldn't understand everything Sr. Mary was saying here. Pat Pacello (if spelling is correct) is and has been our attorney for years. He helped us to get things resolved. He worked in the courts. He even offered to go around to the various communities and explain to the Sisters that we were not giving anything away. We were simply strengthening our Organization. It was determined therefore that there would be fifteen sisters and fifteen lay people on the Board. This was in nineteen sixty-nine, and that is still true. At this time, Father Ryan's health was very poor. He was completely worn out. He got this Board started December of 1969, and announced to them that due to his declining health, he was retiring. He left in June . The Board was finally an accomplished fact. That was his greatest accomplishment for the college.

SMJH: We want to talk about your years as President of the college. That will be the topic of our next session.
Tape ill Begins Here July 4, 1984.
SMJH: This is a continuation of the oral history program with Sister Mary Schmidt. The date is: Wednesday, July fourth, nineteen eighteen-four.
Sister Mary was named acting President of Seton Hill College by the Board of Trustees in May of nineteen seventy, and elected to the office of President in nineteen seventy-one. She held that office until her resignation in June of nineteen seventy..se ven. In a newspaper article from "Westmoreland's Wednesday," dated June first, nineteen seventy-seven, the reporter says: "The entire academic world was in turmoil in nineteen, seventy-one, the year that Sister Mary Schmidt was made President of Seton Hill. Student and faculty dissension that arose during the height of the Vietnam conflict continued. Declining enrollments were plaguing all but a few colleges and universities . The image of institutions of higher learning had never been lower. Graduates from colleges all over the country faced a depressed job market. Vocational schools cut into a traditional student school, and career minded young men and women began to seek specialized technical training. Seton Hill was not spared the repercussions of these problems. Happily for the college, the woman who walked into the President's Office in nineteen seventy-one was
equal to the task that lay ahead." End of quote.

SMJH: Sister Mary, we know that this is true. Will you tell us how you were able to confront the problems and issues of the seventies?
SMS: Well, I should say initially that the woman who walked into the President's office at that time had no convictions as to whether she could take care of these things. Neither had she any vision of what was to come. We were, I would say immediately plunged into a horrendous despot in the Summer of nineteen seventy-one. We had, without any warning a smaller freshman enrollment that we had ever dealt with before. The Board, my very attentive and careful Board, immediately said that we could not afford to carry deficits of this sort. The only way we could save money to stabilize (couldn't clearly hear) the College budget was to cut the Faculty. Since the student enrollment was smaller, it was of course assumed that a smaller number of faculty would do. Simplistically of course that wasn't true, but it turned out that I had no choice. I was faced head on with the need to make a study of class size and Faculty members. So, we made a


careful view of the whole thing, so that we had at least a reasonable case. Then came the dramatic announcement to terminate three or four young faculty members. This, at the time, was a kind of bombshell, since the unrest of both family and students had already been felt across the country in large universities. It's always later in reaching the smaller, conservative women's campuses. All these faculty members and students were well aware that their time had come.
And so, the announcement of the termination of these faculty members, caused quite a commotion, but it resulted shortly thereafter in the Pennsylvania Labor Union being invoked. We therefore were informed that our Faculty had shown that they had desired membership in our college in view. That, of course, threw us into a very bad state, because a labor union in a college of our size, would be fatal. The demands were very high for salaries, etc. It would have been the end of the college. (There was the roar of what sounded like a train here, preventing me from getting what Sister Mary had to say). So, without going into the gruesome details, I would say that we had to go through a period of trying to do everything that we could to help to confront this problem. We were facing an election by our Faculty as to whether or not the college would be accepted.

SMJH: Were the Sisters on the Faculty permitted to vote? Were they part of that?
SMS: No, the Sisters, normally were not permitted to vote. There was a great deal of feeling among the Sisters. They too felt very keenly about their salaries and conditions, etc. However, the National Relations Board in Pittsburgh, advised that we have a lawyer, and they had a lawyer to determine the Sisters right to vote. It turned out in our favor. They didn't have a vote.
We were having this vote then by the lay Faculty, and while you were permitted to talk individually to the Faculty members and Administrator, you couldn't have a meeting. So, it was very draining, and a wretched experience all the way around. Finally, the day came when the secret ballot was to be cast, and this was done at the end of the day to the consternation of the other members who had been brought in from the Pennsylvania Labor Union. The vote was two or three in favor of the Union, but the others were against it, but before that, you had no idea how people were going to vote on a secret ballot. You may have had pleasant conversation or so, but you don' t know how they are actually going to vote. This had been triggered by the termination of those young faculty members, and they lost. This was still in nineteen seventy one-seventy­ two. We were also scheduled for a Middle States exhibit (too difficult to hear), which as you know comes every ten years. We had a special case study that year. It took much more time than the one you had in nineteen eighty-two. Very able administrators from a number of colleges come. I happened to be in the office the night before they were to start their work. " You may find that there is more entertainment on our campus, because our students are going to demonstrate that we are really a wretched Organization because we terminate faculty members and we don't do anything that's right!" Of course, they all laughed. The only thing is that I'm afraid they will never do it because they are ultra conservative. I just want you to be ready for it. Nothing of course happened. Things went on. We didn't have to terminate any more faculty members the following year. The enrollment began to pick up. I think, we have a note here, that at some point in nineteen seventy-seven, we had seven hundred ninety full time students, whereas in nineteen seventy, we had six hundred. For us, that was a rather large growth figure.
That was not because of me, that was simply the time ( couldn't understand...sounded like


stanzika...never heard the word) perhaps in which we were able to get back on our feet. Perhaps it wa-s becauseof all the turmoil we had in the beginning. Things really cleared the books were
cleared, and the budget was cleared, and we could go forward. The national situation which you referred to in the newspaper article you read meant that no one going into any kind of office in nineteen seventy-one could go in starry eyed. Everyone knew that faculty and students were no longer satisfied with the status quo. Everyone knew that the plans presented for growth in the nineteen sixties had to be scrapped. It was a lovely plan, beautiful building, but we could not afford it, anymore than we could afford the fine arts building. In other words, instead of dreaming for these wonderful things, you had to begin to work on campus with the people involved in consolidation. You had to realize that the only building you were going to do thereafter, was replacement, and I think that has been true. We did fix up a Music wing while I was in office. That was done with a grant from "The R. K. Mellon Foundation."

SMJH: That was an interesting building, was it not? Wasn't it the old laundry building? The institution no longer provided laundry service for the students or the sisters living here.
SMS: Yes, that is all true, and I think that the architect was very clever also in leaving a solid stone foundation on the building. Then when the state dictated that we could no longer use St. Mary's for classrooms or for indeed much of anything, we had to replace that building, and we did. The original Stokes Mansion was caving in on itself. The whole building had to go. ·We had the option of spending a couple of million dollars of rebuilding it as a monument, but we didn't choose to do that. We were then able to sell it. ( Sister Mary said something else about this, but it was garbled). The Home Economic Department came up here after much commotion. People came up here, and they were happy not to be running up and down the hill. The building which took its place is a lovely building. There was concern at the time, that it wouldn't be too nice because there is not much sun shining in that area. However, that wasn't the case. It turned out to be quite satisfactory. I have heard people later on remarking how well the building blends in with the other buildings on the campus. The Security members said how wonderful it is that the building fits in with the structural harmony of the other buildings. My point in bringing this up is to say that instead of going ahead with grandiose building plans, one had to made do, and we've been making do ever since.

SMJH: So, the Music and Home Economic Buildings were put up during your time in office? SMS: Yes, the plans for the Music Building were done before that per the grant from the "R. K. Mellon Foundation"as said earlier. Then I went to the "Kresge Foundation" in Detroit following . the arrangement Sister Dorothy Jacko had made with them. They gave us a large sum of money which was used for the Home Economic Building. I don't think you would have received money during those years to put up something lovely ..e.g. a student union building. It would have been difficult to prove that you were going to use the facility within a certain time limit. I believe I think of those years on the negative side. It seemed like you were constantly fighting for something. I do remember a couple of things which I was very pleased about. We began the Campus Ministry Program some time during those years. I don't recall exact dates. My memory is all I'm going on. Perhaps someone would like to look it up in the files. I remember that the students' response to the initiation of the Campus Ministry was tremendous! Most ofus were







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very happy, because it was difficult in the sixties to find students attracted to a program that was altruistic and outgoing. They were too concerned with running around in their bare feet, wearing cut off jeans, wondering why they couldn't have this or that etc. The reception the students gave to the concept of campus ministry and the actuality of it was a remarkable thing.
We also found among the Faculty a great cooperative spirit, usually because there is an obvious need, to see how to see what could be done about bringing (not the word she used, but after several tries couldn't understand) the Academic and Liberal Arts Departments to some additional thing which would make them clearly oriented without destroying their liberal arts tenor and caliber. We knew we couldn't think what to say in regard to our liberal arts stance and quality. We also knew that we had to show some practicality. It seemed wonderful to me, that our Faculty, one· after another, would come up with many acceptable things, which seemed to tide us over in that period when people needed to be shown that their education could be practical. The things, of course, which appealed to me personally, were the outside activities Membership and meetings which we were obliged to attend at the Pennsylvania
colleges and the middle states areas, and national meetings. Those 'were things which broadened your horizons for your work at home. They were very good, although they took a lot of traveling. Other things which one feels more constructive about was going around seeking funds from people. It seems to me at least, that the responses from directors of Foundations, and from small Corporations, and people that you went to talk to, was always quite positive and pleasant, if not in dollars, at least in attitude. Those were things which I found myself enjoying more than fussing around with why someone did or did not do what they were supposed to do.
It' s a matter of temperament. I apologize, can't help it.
I also found it to be very important to make the college well known in Greensburg. Father Maida (sounds like) did a very good job of doing this. To keep that going was something too to be
visible, belong to the Chamber of Commerce, where Seton Hill was a place instead of a mysterious element on the Hill. I don't know, but I believe that's enough, don't you?

SMJH: I think it is very impressive and interesting. I would like to quote from the newspaper once again. When you left the Office in nineteen seventy seven, the paper said: "Sister Mary leaves the Office of the President, having established programs that respond to the needs of the Seton Hill student body. She has built working relationships that will endure. The college is financially sound. Enrollment is at an all time high. Structures and systems of working are established that will benefit Seton Hill for years to come." Sister, we know that all these things are true, and they are true because of your enthusiastic leadership.

Original Format

Audio cassette tape

Duration

27:04
28:25
26:45

Bit Rate/Frequency

96kHz

Citation

Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill, “Schmidt, Sister Mary Oral History,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed February 25, 2024, https://scfederationarchives.org/items/show/93.

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