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The French Voice of Notre Dame

Note: This is the 38th profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.

By Christian Taske ’07

Longtime Notre Dame College professor and archivist Sr. Mary Cesarie Miday ’31 had a passion for history. She was able to trace her family’s roots back to 1745 – the year her mother’s ancestors left France for a new life in North America and settled in the area that is now Ohio.

Over the next 150 years, Sr. Mary Cesarie’s ancestors were part of some important events in U.S. history. One relative was a colonel in George Washington’s army; another served with Oliver Hazzard Perry in the Battles of Lake Erie; and a third fought in the Spanish-American War.

Yet, nearly 200 years after her ancestors left France, Sr. Mary Cesarie’s true passion was the country of her origin. How fitting then that she pursued that passion as a student and teacher at Notre Dame College under the Sisters of Notre Dame, whose story also began in France.

“It is humbling to the American ego to discover that with all of our wealth we still do not have the cultural enrichment of even the poorer class child in France,” Sr. Mary Cesarie wrote after she returned from a year as a Fulbright Scholar in Europe in 1968. “I hope to be able to bring some of this enrichment to my students and to the school children of Cleveland.”

At the time, Sister was head of Notre Dame’s foreign language department and the College’s first professor to receive a Fulbright Senior Research Grant. She received the grant to study new European methods of language instruction and to write a new teacher's guide for a French course that had been taught in Cleveland schools since 1924. Armed with camera equipment, Sr. Mary Cesarie traveled France for 11 months.

“Perhaps the most value-laden outcome of my experience is the knowledge that I have made dozens of friends for life in a far-away country to which many of my students will turn for a like enrichment,” Sister wrote after she returned. “These friendships have confirmed a conviction of mine that one has only to look for the best in people everywhere in order to find it. It helps, of course, to speak their language.”

Those who knew Sr. Mary Cesarie can attest to her ability to see the best in people. She seemed to speak everyone’s language and touched countless lives during her 65 years at Notre Dame as a student, teacher and archivist.

Sister was born Mary Miday, the second of 12 children of Eugene J. Miday and Eleanor Martin Miday, in Canton, Ohio, on Jan. 13, 1907. She attended St. Joseph Parish Grade School and McKinley High School. Since the Midays lived out in the suburbs, Mary walked five miles to high school every day.

Sr. Cesarie Miday
Sr. Cesarie Miday taught French, sociology and translating at NDC for 35 years.

“I like to think that our long hikes to and from school over the years really contributed to the good health and longevity of our family,” Sister once wrote.

Some early mornings, her dad would take Mary with him on his way to work at the Canton post office. Those days she went to Holy Mass at St. Peter’s, where she first encountered the Sisters of Notre Dame.

“I often wondered what their life was like,” Sr. Mary Cesarie wrote.

Religious service played a big part in Sister’s family. Her godfather was a priest and often spoke to Mary of becoming a Sister. Five of her cousins followed his direction, and, after working as a secretary for two years and enrolling at Notre Dame College in 1927, Mary decided to do the same. 

Sr. Mary Cesarie received her bachelor’s degree in French and economics from Notre Dame in 1931. She then earned her M.A. from Western Reserve University and her Diplome d'Etudes Superieures de Francais from Laval University in Quebec. She also pursued advanced studies at the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Montreal while beginning a lifelong career in Catholic education on the secondary and college levels.

After 15 years of teaching in high school, four of which she served as principal at St.

Boniface High School, Sister joined the faculty of Notre Dame College, where she taught French, sociology and translating for 35 years. She quickly advanced to the rank of professor and served as chairwoman of the foreign languages department for 16 years. She was also responsible for establishing the Professional Translator Program at the College.

Sister believed that language studies and sociology complemented each other.

“I’ve always linked the two in teaching,” she said. “I teach the language and teach the people at the same time.”

During her professional career, Sr. Mary Cesarie crossed the Atlantic eight times. During her trip in 1967, she experienced the strikes and student protests in Paris.

“It seemed that I was actually living history,” Sister wrote. “It was a very adventurous time.”

In 1970 she took NDC students on a six-week tour of Europe.

In 1973 Sr. Mary Cesarie was named an Outstanding Educator in America; in 1976 she received the National French Honor Society's Moderator of the Year Award. During the nine years following her retirement from the classroom in 1982, she became the College’s archivist, a founding member of the Northeast Ohio Translators Association, and an administrator at the Notre Dame site of the American Translators Accreditation Examinations.

Sister described her work in the College archives as “heritage recorder.”

“The work is for me, after 42 years on this campus, a real nostalgia trip,” she wrote. “One of my favorite jobs in this preservation business has been to identify and sort according to year of graduation all of the thousands of pictures brought to me from the PIVOT and Notre Dame News rooms. […] I have pored over the faces of hundreds, yes, thousands of former students.”

In 1992, Sr. Mary Cesarie fell ill. She died on Feb. 16. Four days before her death, she had told several nurses at the Chardon healthcare center that the Lord had already welcomed her to heaven.

When asked what he had said, Sister replied: “Enchante' – Delighted to meet you!”

Christian Taske ’07 is the director of print & digital communications at Notre Dame College.