Saluting Dr. Marilou Eldred, a leader in Catholic women’s education

| Dawn Nichols, Ed.D. | April 12, 2013 | 0 Comments


In the face of a major decision, I can count on Marilou Eldred to provide a sense of humor and a sense of perspective. Those are just the ingredients we need when we are moored in calculations: levity, light and a big-picture view, what today’s matter means for tomorrow, for 10 years from now.

As we address complex 21st-century issues, it is a true blessing to have Marilou at the helm of Visitation School’s Board of Trustees.

That is why I am sure the Catholic Community Foundation is grieving as her April 30 retirement nears. Her eight years as President helped create “a lasting legacy of charity for faithful Catholics,” as Archbishop John Nienstedt, chair of the foundation’s Board of Directors, put it.

Marilou is a giant in the fine tradition of Catholic women’s education, having served as President of St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and as Academic Dean at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. When I think of her, I see a consummate professional, a faithful Catholic, a dedicated mother and a small-town girl who has never forgotten the value of hard work, relationships, of loyalty and transparency. She knows when to act and when to wait, how to listen and how to lead. She is as collaborative as she is decisive, a woman who draws on information and intuition to make good decisions, just as our Church calls us to embrace both faith and reason.

Marilou began her career as a teacher but soon felt pulled toward higher education, fascinated by this even larger view of what can be done to make things better for young women.

Here at Visitation, Marilou was instrumental in formulating the strategic plan that guides our board and school, ensuring that our cherished ideals remain front and center. One fruit of that plan is the wonderfully successful $10.5 million Visitation Heart & Mind building project currently underway at our campus.

Marilou knows how to get things done, playing a vital role in Visitation’s latest reaccreditation through the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. And she understands the role of the Trustees, keeping them focused on their responsibilities and finding creative ways to empower them to employ their unique talents for the good of our school. What a gift!

Getting the fundamentals right is one of Marilou’s specialties. As Academic Dean at St. Kate’s, she helped develop two core classes that illuminate the history and values of the university’s founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Every St. Kate’s student is required to take them – “Reflective Woman” as freshmen and “Global Search for Justice” as seniors. She was an adept liaison between faculty and administration, where certain clashes are inevitable. The faculty at St. Kate’s appreciated her availability, knowing she would listen to their ideas and recognize their concerns.

Marilou also serves as a valued board member for St. John’s University and the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. She operates on the belief that we can always improve, an idea that has molded my leadership at Visitation, which includes the state’s only all-girls high school. These hallways are bursting with joyful optimism, and our future feels as sunny and promising as a Minnesota spring.

The Jesuit priest Henri Nouwen wrote about the mystery of the Visitation chronicled in the Gospel of Luke, when Mary visits her older cousin Elizabeth, who had long been considered infertile, and the two pregnant women rejoice in God’s goodness. Nouwen saw in their gathering a call to serve each other and their community. Elizabeth’s unlikely pregnancy helped Mary accept her own, to believe the unbelievable.

In the same way, Marilou has encouraged younger women, empowering them to advance their education, strengthen their faith and pursue their dreams. Just as Elizabeth welcomed Mary, Marilou understands a leadership secret that women seem to naturally grasp: the art of hospitality. To lead well is to create an environment that is hospitable to new ideas, best practices and talented individuals. Marilou’s formidable education and experience could be intimidating, yet she makes others feel welcome in her presence – be it in a boardroom or in her home, where she bakes pies from scratch using old family recipes.

Every community needs an Elizabeth. We are so grateful for ours.

Dawn Nichols, Ed.D., is Head of School at Visitation School in Mendota Heights.

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Category: Catholic Community Foundation