Academic journal article Catholic Education

Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, C.S.C

Academic journal article Catholic Education

Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, C.S.C

Article excerpt

Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, C.S.C., teacher, essayist, poet, and college administrator, through her creative ability and innovative practices made possible major contributions to Catholic education in her lifetime. Without her strong personality and boundless energy, many of her dreams for an ideal college curriculum would not have come to fruition. Her most significant legacy, the Graduate School of Theology, afforded for the first time the opportunity for the laity and religious women to study theology at the graduate level. She served as president of St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana, from 1934 to 1961.



Sister Madeleva Wolff, C.S.C., scholar, poet, educator, and administrator dreamed many dreams for an ideal college at St. Mary's, Notre Dame, Indiana, then set about fulfilling them with her typical energy and enthusiasm. She surpassed her contemporaries in many ways and initiated educational improvements that became commonplace a decade later. Her vision of a true education for women would empower them to become valiant women in the home as well as competent women in the work place. Her ideals were high, and her tenacity and determination were matched only by her enormous level of energy.

Madeleva was born Mary Evaline on May 24, 1887, to August and Lucy Arntz Wolff in tiny Cumberland, Wisconsin. Baptized there at St. Mary's Church, she joined the family as the first girl and second child. Eva, as she was called, enjoyed as a child the companionship of her older brother Fred and younger brother Vern, short for Werner. Their childhood spent in the northern Wisconsin woods gave them a love of the beauty of the lakes and all of its plant and animal life.

Her father, born a Lutheran, had come to the United States from Germany at the age of 9, without knowing any English. He had little formal education, but like many enterprising men of his time used his native intelligence to learn the language and a trade. He used the newspapers to enrich his life and that of his family. He learned harness-making and succeeded well in that work in the lumber and milling town of Cumberland. Besides the modest living for his family, August enjoyed the prestige of the citizens of the town as he served as councilman and two terms as mayor.

Eva's mother Lucy, a devout Catholic, was born in America of German immigrant parents. She graduated from high school in Wisconsin, not common for women in the 1880s and 1890s, then taught classes for a short time in a typical country school. She typified many characteristics of German immigrants of this period in her willingness to work hard and to run a strict household. She had none of the amenities of today's homes, laboring with washboard, tub, and hand wringer and a coal stove.

Cumberland was a tiny milling town about 60 miles north and west of Eau Clair, Wisconsin. These were horse and buggy days with no electricity, only gas lights; no central heating, only outdoor toilets; no water system, only cisterns; and no home delivery of mail. Like other small towns, Cumberland had its share of saloons and a general store. The harness shop that August operated was a necessity for all the teams of horses that needed harnesses repaired or new ones purchased.


The Wolff children, Fred, Eva, and Vern, received their catechism lessons from the parish priest whenever he was home and at other times from their mother Lucy. Each received First Communion at the usual time. There was no parochial school in Cumberland, so the children attended classes at the local public school. The caliber of the high school can be judged by the courses that Eva enjoyed. She wrote, "Our high school offered two programs, one preparatory for college, the other terminal. As preparation for college we studied four years of Latin, two of German, algebra, plane and solid geometry, English, physical geography, botany, history, constitutional government" (Wolff, 1959, p. …

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