NOTRE DAME CELEBRATES WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH

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March 28, 2021

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Celebrating Women of Faith: ST. KATHARINE DREXEL (1858-1955)


Katharine Drexel was born in Philadelphia, the second of two children. Her mother died two weeks after her birth, and her father later remarried and had another child. Three times a week the family distributed food, clothing and rental assistance from their home and would also quietly deliver assistance to the homes of those who were too proud to come to them. Their stepmother taught them that “kindness may be unkind if it leaves a sting behind.”

Later, while watching her stepmother struggle with terminal cancer, she became interested in and passionate about the plight of Native Americans and was appalled by the history of treatment against them as well as the impoverished conditions in which many of them live. Her father died a couple of years later, making her and her sisters heiresses to the modern-day equivalent of a $400-million-dollar estate.

The sisters became philanthropists — passionate about ensuring orphans had training and skills after leaving orphanages — ensuring African Americans had educational opportunities and upward mobility, and ensuring mission support of Native Americans. After the sisters received a private audience with Pope Leo XIII regarding their work and the need for missionaries in Native American communities, the Pope suggested Katharine herself become one and she soon-after decided to dedicate her life — and her inheritance — to God and to service of those less fortunate.

After taking the name Mother Katharine, she established 145 missions, 50 schools for African Americans, and 12 schools for Native Americans. She and thirteen other nuns established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, an order that still advocates for African-Americans and Native-Americans today in 21 states and Haiti. She was canonized on October 1, 2000, and is one of only a few U.S. born saints and the first natural U.S.-born-citizen saint. Her feast day is celebrated on March 3.


Celebrating Women in Medicine: HELEN RODRIGUEZ TRIAS (1929-2001)


Helen Rodríguez Trías was born in New York City, but moved back and forth between New York and her parents’ native Puerto Rico frequently throughout her lifetime. After college, she graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Medical School and established the first center for the care of newborn babies on the island, which dramatically lowered the death rate for newborns in the country.

Eventually, she moved back to New York where she became head of the pediatrics department at Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. In addition to her work as a physician, Rodríguez Trías fought to improve medical care for people who had limited access due to poverty, cultural and language barriers, and discrimination. Among her many leadership roles, Rodríguez Trías served as the (first Latina) president of the American Public Health Association and the medical director of the New York State AIDS Institute. She also became a tireless advocate and leader in the women’s health movement, fighting for equal access to health care for poor women and children, and fighting against the practice of forced sterilization.


Celebrating Women in Physics: CHIEN-SHIUNG WU (1912-1997)


Chien-Shiung Wu was born in the town of Luihe in Taicang, Jiangsu province, China, and was the second of three children. She graduated high school at the top of her class and although she began studying mathematics, she later found a love for physics. 

Prior to her work, the laws of physics stated that all objects and their mirror images behaved in the same way, symmetrically, meaning that nature could not distinguish between right and left. Wu's breakthrough research revealed that during the process of radioactive decay, decaying identical nuclear particles didn't always behave symmetrically. Her work disproved one of the basic laws of physics.

In 1973, Wu became the first woman to lead the American Physical Society, and in 1975, she received the National Medal of Science. Her book, "Beta Decay," remains a standard textbook for nuclear physics students.


Celebrating Women in Computer Programming: GRACE HOPPER (1906-1992)


Grace Hopper was born in New York City and was the eldest of three children. She was always curious and as a child, taught herself how clocks worked and frequently dismantled all of the clocks in her home. She enrolled in Vassar College at age 16 and graduated with degrees in math and physics. She later earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University.

Hopper joined the Naval Reserve and later ascended to the rank of rear admiral. She was a trailblazing computer programmer who helped develop multiple computer languages and is considered one of the first programmers of the modern computing age. She also contributed to modern computer vernacular, such as the term “bug” for computer problems (she actually dismantled a broken computer only to find a dead moth, or “bug” in the computer).


Celebrating Women in Math: KATHERINE JOHNSON (1918-2020)


Creola “Katherine” Johnson, born in White Sulphur, W.Va., was the youngest of four children. Because her school district didn’t offer educational options for African-American students past eighth grade, she enrolled in high school at the age of 10 in Institute, W.Va. She graduated at 14 years old and enrolled in West Virginia State University, graduated cum laude at 18 years with degrees in mathematics and French, and later became the first African-American woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia State College after a Supreme Court ruling required public education to provide equal higher education options for all students.

Johnson would soon begin to work for NASA as a computer/mathematician. She was later assigned a project in NASA’s Flight Research Division and her calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed space flights.


 

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.