By Steph Haeg
Sister Colman O’Connell held many titles, including president emerita of CSB, theater professor, high school teacher, director, philanthropist, lover of the arts and advocate for women’s education.
Born in 1917, Sister Colman arrived at CSB and quickly took it by storm. She was elected class president in her first year, showing an inclination and ability to lead that would follow her throughout her life. Majoring in English and speech, after graduation in 1950 she had a brief tenure teaching at local Catholic high schools before she went on to receive her master’s degree in English and theater, and came back to CSB to teach theater and dance. Later, she would take leave from her work to go pursue a doctorate in higher education.
O’Connell was a major force behind the development of the fine arts programs at CSB/SJU. As president, she oversaw the creation of the Benedicta Arts Center (BAC), and as chair of the theater department and the number of fine arts majors went from nine to 200. She loved the theater and the BAC, and encouraged the CSB theater department to collaborate with the SJU theater department.
This collaboration was another cornerstone of O’Connell’s tenure at CSB. She valued and praised the importance of women’s colleges, but she also believed that it was important that CSB and SJU had a collaborative relationship and oversaw the union of the colleges.
“Education for men and for women in this coordinate, gender-conscious environment is the best way to educate students,” O’Connell once said in an interview. “It is not only superior to coeducation, but also to single sex education. Some have mistakenly assumed we’ve created the coordinate relationship because it is so difficult to attract students to traditional women’s colleges or men’s colleges. However, in addition to not being salable, I don’t believe that single-sex education for either men or women is as effective as that of the model created at CSB and SJU. I’m persuaded that we have the potential to serve women better and men better that that provided at either single-sex or at coed schools.”
O’Connell was an advocate for Delta Epsilon Sigma, a National Catholic Honors
Society, which she was the adviser for, even after her retirement as president of the college. She continued her work in fundraising, advancement and development as well.
O’Connell had big dreams for CSB and SJU; she had hopes that one day, all students would study abroad, and said she would love to see a monorail system connecting the campuses instead of the link. She said it was important that the school increased diversity, and always strived to improve and grow.
“Colman led with passion, with intellect and with heart,” CSB President Mary Dana Hinton said in her email to students honoring Sister Colman. “She nurtured generations of Bennies and leaders. She had an equally prominent presence on the national stage in higher education, as a fierce advocate for Delta Epsilon Sigma, Catholic colleges and universities and all the organizations on whose boards she served. [O’Connell] leaves a legacy of compassion, of strength and of courage. We will miss her greatly.”