Led by the Spirit
By Josh Zeller, Communications Intern
When the College of Mount St. Joseph opened at the SC Motherhouse in 1920, S. Maria Corona Molloy was made its first registrar, and head of its departments of mathematics and science.
Essential to the congenial and prosperous operation of an academic institution is intense devotion and personal connection on the part of its leader. This description well fits S. Maria Corona Molloy, Mount St. Joseph University’s first official president when the school was a small women’s college on the rise. Towards the end of her life, her importance was highlighted when it was remarked that her name, “in the minds of many people, [was] synonymous with the College of Mount St. Joseph.” When Sister resigned her office in 1967, her successor S. Margaret Loretto Ryan related why she was so beloved by the Mount community: “Gifted with a fine intellect and the capacity for leadership, she joined to these qualities a warm personality which expressed itself in her love and concern for those around her.”
Within her 47 years of service to the school, S. Maria Corona accomplished much, including the completion in 1963 of the building that houses the university today. In a biographical sketch, S. Benedicta Mahoney relates, “From the beginning of construction, [S. Maria Corona] followed every phase closely, even to donning a hard hat and walking across precarious beams. Every workman soon learned who was boss.” Before she became the boss, though, she began, like many Sisters of Charity, with teaching.
Sister began her ministry in high schools around Ohio, starting in 1908 with Holy Trinity, in Middletown. In 1917, she was missioned back to the Motherhouse to teach at Mount St. Joseph Academy. From there, her status as an educator was sealed, and things moved quickly: when the college opened up in the Motherhouse just three years later, Sister was made its first registrar, and head of its departments of mathematics and science; in 1933, a year after she was elected to the General Council for the Congregation, Sister succeeded S. Mary Zoe Farrell as dean.
During her tenure in this position, S. Maria Corona took a different approach. Often, it is thought a bad thing to be personally acquainted with the dean, who is, on a basic level, the disciplinarian. However, it was entirely different with Sister: “Students knew they could turn to the dean for advice in any circumstance, whether it concerned career choices, personal problems, or how to prepare a meal,” S. Benedicta imparts. It was beneficial and essentially a requirement to have a relationship with S. Maria Corona, who believed in close supervision, caring for her students like they were her own daughters.
Because of Sister, many were able to attend college who normally couldn’t have afforded it, because she “quietly and discreetly extended help” to them, as S. Benedicta relates. Her sense of charity and mercy also extended beyond her students to those outside the college: following the 1937 flood, she provided clean drinking water for those whose supply had been ruined. A few years later, she contributed to the war effort by encouraging students to, among other things, cultivate a victory garden on the property, and helped European women who had been displaced by fascist tyranny.
In 1959, Mother Mary Omer Downing decided that the Superior of the Congregation should no longer head the college. It was only logical, then, for S. Maria Corona to assume the presidency, as someone so firmly embedded in the institution. The personal approach that Sister took as dean transferred well to her new office; she remained a close ally of the students. One of those students was Mount alum Bernadette Coutain Plair, who gave the 2005 commencement address. Just having come from the island of Trinidad on a scholarship, she remembered fondly the warm reception that S. Maria Corona had given her, reassuring, “‘You’ll do just fine … and don’t ever be afraid to come to me for support or encouragement.’” Plair learned right then of Sister’s kind and merciful disposition, which was, by extension, the disposition of the institution itself.
S. Maria Corona Molloy ministered at the College of Mount St. Joseph for 47 years.
Eight years into her presidency, misfortune struck when in 1967 S. Maria Corona suffered a stroke that left her partially crippled. As she recovered, the 80-year-old woman religious decided that it was time for her step down. Shortly before her death in 1970, she reflected in an interview, “‘I had been there long enough … It was time for someone younger to take over.’” Yet, her forward-thinking nature belonged to someone younger—in that same interview, she expressed her unwavering belief in the rebellious youth; she also predicted that the college might eventually go co-educational, which it did officially under S. Jean Patrice Harrington in 1986.
Appreciation for everything that S. Maria Corona did for her students, the community, and education was fully recognized during her career. In 1940, she was made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Years later, in 1962, she was given a Distinguished Alumnus Citation from the Ohio Mechanics Institute (where she had studied years before), and in 1964 a testimonial dinner was thrown in her honor by Mount alumni. She was also awarded two honorary Doctor of Law degrees—one from Xavier University (1964) and another from her own college (1970), adding to her already impressive list of degrees.Today, her memory lives on at Mount St. Joseph University in a number of ways, including the “Sister Maria Corona Leadership Award”, and an event room bearing her name in the Seton Center building. Within that room, one can see her portrait on the wall, staring kindly out at the school before her which continues ever-upwards, calmly approving of its achievements.
“Dean of College Sister of Charity For Fifty Years.” [Cincinnati, OH]: 16 Jan. 1957. N.p. Print.
Downing, Mother Mary Omer. “Tributes….” Mountings Summer 1967: 7. Print.
Finney, Charles H. “Sister Maria Corona Remembers ‘Our Girls’.” Catholic Telegraph [Dayton, OH]: 10 Apr. 1970. N.p. Print.
“On the Presentation of an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree by the College of Mount St. Joseph.” Mount St. Joseph University. Mount St. Joseph University, Cincinnati, OH. 25 Apr. 1970. Degree Presentation Address.