Before her death in 1964, Madeleva Wolff, CSC (Congregation of the Holy Cross), was recognized as one of American Catholicism's most extraordinary women. Known as an educator who founded the School of Sacred Theology (the first and, for more than a decade, the only institution to offer graduate degrees in theology to women) Madeleva was also renowned as a scholar, mystical poet, and the author of more than twenty books. Educated at Berkeley and Oxford, she participated in the Catholic Revival of the early part of the twentieth century and established a center of Christian culture and educational innovation at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, where she was president for twenty-seven years. Her friendships with C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Jacques Maritain, Charles Du Bos, and Clare Booth Luce, among others, put her in touch with a wide range of Christian intellectuals. As a spokeswoman for the education of women and an advocate for the improvement of the status of women in the church, Madeleva anticipated the women's movement of the late 1960s and the reforms of Vatican II by more than a generation. This biography tells her compelling story and sheds new light on the history of a religious life and religious communities, as well as women's education, writing, and lives.
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Gail Porter Mandell is Professor of Humanistic Studies at Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana. Her previous work includes The Phoenix Paradox: A Study of Renewal Through Change in the Poetry of D. H. Lawrence and Madeleva: One Woman's Life. She was the 1987-88 recipient of the Lilly Open Fellowship (awarded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. for the study of biography).From Publishers Weekly:
Born in Cumberland, Wisc., in 1887, Mary Evaline Wolff was baptized in the Church of Saint Mary and, as Mandell (Madeleva: One Woman's Life) puts it, "from the beginning, the Roman Catholic Church sealed her identity." Mandell traces the life of this extraordinary Catholic woman from her birth in Wisconsin through her illustrious career as a writer and educator to her death in 1964 in Boston. Not always a practicing religious person, Wolff discovered her vocation at a religious retreat during her first semester at St. Mary's College in Indiana. Up until that time, she had been a precocious girl who had always challenged the rules of the church and school. In 1908, she was accepted into the novitiate of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, where she was given the name Madeleva. During her life in the Congregation Madeleva developed into a skillful teacher and writer. Her greatest accomplishment was the establishment of the School of Sacred Theology at St. Mary's, where she was president, in 1943. This school was the first institution to offer women graduate degrees in theology. Madeleva's writing also brought her into contact with other writers like C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot and Edith Wharton. Mandell narrates the life of this fascinating woman with great vitality.
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