As we celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Notre Dame, the series Then & Now: Stories of Notre Dame Women looks at some of the women in the Notre Dame Family who’ve demonstrated bravery, perseverance, and commitment throughout Notre Dame’s existence—and who continue to inspire Notre Dame women today.
It is perhaps fitting that Angela Boulevard intersects Notre Dame Avenue at the University’s main gates. A key route on the journey to Notre Dame, Angela Boulevard honors Mother Angela Gillespie, a woman whose indomitable will has endeared her in the shared history of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College.
Born in 1824 in Pennsylvania, she was educated at the Visitation Academy in Georgetown and taught for several years after graduation. In 1853, on her way to join a Sisters of Mercy convent in Chicago, she stopped at Notre Dame to visit her brother, a seminarian, and happened to meet Father Edward Sorin, who convinced her to join the Sisters of the Holy Cross instead.
As the first director of Saint Mary’s Academy—later Saint Mary’s College—Mother Angela worked tirelessly to provide full educational opportunities to women, and she was instrumental in moving the school from Bertrand, Michigan, to its present location.
She famously mobilized the Sisters to serve as nurses in Union hospitals during the Civil War, with countless stories attesting to her tireless efforts in maintaining facilities, assisting in surgeries, and lobbying on behalf of her hospitals.
In her 34 years of religious life, Mother Angela proved herself a valuable confidant and ally of Father Sorin, sharing in his vision for Notre Dame as a force for good—and taking up any task to make this vision possible. As Sister M. Georgia Costin, C.S.C., writes in her history of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, "Sorin saw the great design; Angela supplied the details. He was the architect, she was the contractor."
Now, 135 years after Mother Angela’s death—and 50 years after the first female undergraduates enrolled at Notre Dame—current Notre Dame senior Ciara Lawlor shares her determined spirit to be a force for good.
As part of the ND Listens team, Ciara calls members of the Notre Dame Family to hear their stories, a position that’s lent her insight on the Notre Dame bonds across generations. “Not only does Notre Dame instill values of intellectual curiosity, spirituality, compassion, and drive, but we share the overarching mission to continue to grow and do good for others in the world,” she said.
At Notre Dame, Ciara, a psychology major, brings this mission to life through her research on cognitive theories of depression, with the goal of earning a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and providing treatment and care for those in need.
For Ciara, being a female student at Notre Dame brings a deep awareness of the sacrifices and courage of the inspirational Notre Dame women who’ve come before her—and a sense of pride as she adds her Notre Dame story to theirs. “I am also honored,” she said, “because it means I share the values of determination and passion with all of the women that came before me and will come after.”
We know there are hundreds of amazing stories of Notre Dame women out there! If you have one you’d like to share, please send us an email and we’ll consider it for a future edition of Then & Now: Stories of Notre Dame Women.
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