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A Peacemaker & Educator

Note: This is the third 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

When long-time faculty member Sr. Mary Louise TrivisonSND ’50 traveled to Florida in December 2008, her would-be vacation turned into several weeks of recuperation in a hospital. While she was convalescing, one of Sister’s biggest concerns was not her own health, but helping one of her students complete a course long distance.

The episode is just one example highlighting Sister’s nearly five decades of concern and dedication to her students at Notre Dame College. For 44 years she taught Spanish, Latin, theology and Holocaust studies at NDC, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts before receiving a master’s degree and a doctorate in Spanish and Latin from Case Western Reserve University, and a diploma in sacred sciences from Regina Mundi in Rome, Italy.

Since joining the faculty in 1964, Sr. Mary Louise, 83, has left her mark on the College. She served as chair of the theology and philosophy department for 20 years; she served on every major academic committee, including the curriculum and faculty development committees; she published many scholarly papers; and she won numerous awards, including the 1982 Distinguished Faculty Award and the 2007 Fidelia Award.

But one of Sr. Mary Louise’s biggest contributions to the College was establishing the Tolerance Resource Center, which has since been renamed the Abrahamic Center.

Sr. Mary Louise has been a champion of Catholic/Jewish relations for decades. In 1979, she published a paper that examined the life, laws and customs regarding Muslims, Christians, and Jews in medieval Spain. The research, which she conducted in Spain, was funded by the National Conference of Christians and Jews and was published in “El Olivo,” the journal of the Center for Jewish/Christian Studies in Madrid.

In 1992, Sister received a grant to study in Israel and went to Jerusalem to attend a three-week-long seminar at Yad Vashem and the Catholic Institute for Holocaust Studies. The seminar was specifically designed to prepare Catholic educators for serious discussions on the causes of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. After returning from the Holy Land, Sr. Mary Louise presented her research in a reading seminar called “The Righteous of Nations” on four evenings in the spring of 1993.

Sister’s interest in Holocaust education eventually led to the establishment of the Tolerance Resource Center in November 1997. The idea for the center was proposed by the late Maggie Kocevar ’90, an adjunct professor and NDC graduate who shared Sr. Mary Louise’s interest in Holocaust studies. Kocevar on many occasions spoke with Sister about establishing a center for the study of religious, ethnic, racial and gender tolerance. When Kocevar died suddenly of a heart condition in 1996, Sr. Mary Louise helped see her vision through.

Sr. Mary Louise Trivison
Sr. Mary Louise Trivison taught Spanish, Latin, theology and Holocaust studies at NDC.

Sister’s tireless dedication to the living history of the Holocaust turned the center into a major asset for the College. She invited Holocaust survivors to speak to her classes and she listened with compassion and interest to all of their stories. Because they held Sr. Mary Louise in high regard, many survivors returned for the center’s 10th anniversary celebrations in 2007.

Sister has lectured on the Holocaust at various locations across Northeast Ohio and has served on the Community Advisory Board at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Her dedication to interfaith dialogue was recognized in 2006, when she was runner-up for the Annual Peacemaker of the Year Award presented by Northcoast Conflict Solutions.

“The essential element of being a peacemaker is respect for the other,” Sister said. “That respect opens the door to building or creating the possibility of working toward living with others in a positive way and building a society that wishes to make our world a better place.”

Another project close to Sr. Mary Louise’s heart was the creation of the Marian Room on the first floor of the Administration Building. The College had inherited a large collection of artwork related to the Blessed Virgin and Sister wanted an appropriate place to house it. In 1995, she helped raise money to designate the Marian Room for that purpose.

Funded by donations from two of Sister’s cousins, Mary Jo and John Boler, the Marian Room was designed to house over 150 Mary sculptures. Sr. Mary Louise coordinated the installation of the cabinets and lighting, as well as the selection and placement of the sculptures. She also donated several valuable Madonna statues created by Eugene Patterino, a renowned sculptor from Florence, Italy. Enormously proud of this meditative space on campus, Sister often showed the artwork to her students.

Despite these projects, nothing was ever more important to Sr. Mary Louise than her students, fellow faculty and the religious community. Over the years, she impacted her students by fostering an environment of peace and understanding in the classroom, and enabling them to develop an appreciation of other faiths, cultures and races.

“One of the greatest privileges in my life was to be able to oversee the personal, religious and intellectual growth of students as they developed into thinkers, doers and leaders in the Church, society and their professions,” Sister said about her work at Notre Dame.

Over time, Sr. Mary Louise has shaped the lives of countless people at the College; and they are full of praise for her.

“Her classes were so full of wisdom and she was so educated that we immediately had so much respect for her,” adjunct faculty member Tina Jurcisin ’85 said. “She was always just a delight and a wonderful woman to have as a professor, friend and colleague.”

Tony Zupancic, associate professor of communication, English and theatre, used the words “teaching, scholarship, spirit” to describe Sr. Mary Louise. “I have never heard a student say one negative thing about a Trivison class,” Zupancic said.

Sr. Helen Burdenski, former professor of business administration, said it has been a blessing to share her life with Sr. Mary Louise over the years, “a blessing that is almost impossible to put into words”; and Roz Scheer-McLeod, associate professor of health science, said she is thankful for Sr. Mary Louise’s commitment to Holocaust education.

In 2008, Sr. Mary Louise celebrated her 60th year as a Sister of Notre Dame. Reflecting on those years, she recalled how her faith and her community sustained her along the way.

“My religious community, my sisters, supported, nurtured, cared for, encouraged, and made service to Christ a joyful way of life,” she said.

Sr. Mary Louise lives with the Sisters of Notre Dame in Chardon, Ohio. She did not return to teach at Notre Dame College after falling ill that December of 2008. But she did attend the general meeting the following May, where she received standing ovations after being honored for 44 years of service.

“Thank you for your support, friendship and inspiration over these many years,” Sister said in response. “We had joys and sorrows over the four plus decades some of us have spent together. We have experienced an untold number of changes and challenges. It has been a great grace for me; an unbelievable time spent enjoying the sheltering love of the good God and the College of Notre Dame, Our Lady.”

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