by Sr. Martha Counihan O.S.U.
online adaptation by Susan Acampora
On March 27th, 2009, the Ursuline community and The College of New Rochelle community were saddened by the news of the sudden death of Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, O.S.U., someone who had been a beloved member of their respective communities for many years.
Dorothy Ann Kelly was born on July 26, 1929 in the Bronx, the first child of Walter and Sarah (McCauley) Kelly. Sarah’s death a few years later would deeply influence the character of her eldest child. As a teenager, Dorothy Ann took over many of the family housekeeping responsibilities while attending St. Simon Stock High School where she was an honor student. Winning a scholarship to the College of New Rochelle meant she could attend a Catholic college as a commuter student and attend to the needs of her father, sister, and brother. Assuming responsibilities as a member of the class of 1951 was nothing new to Dorothy Ann who majored in history and received teaching certification. On campus, she was active in Sodality, the student government, local and national student organizations, and other clubs. Mother Therese Charles, moderator of the College Sodality (a Catholic organization) was a strong influence on the intelligent young woman from the Bronx. After teaching high school briefly, Dorothy Ann joined the Ursulines in 1952. She then studied for a M.A. in American Church History at The Catholic University of America and returned to CNR in 1957 to teach history. Like most of her Ursuline peers,” Mother” Dorothy Ann taught full time, was a club moderator or a class advisor, and lived in a residence hall. She and the other young nuns locked up the college buildings every night.
Her pleasant manner, careful attentiveness to each person, energy, intelligence, and willingness to serve in whatever way, impressed the College’s Ursuline administrators. Her talents were invaluable in assisting CNR President, Mother Mary Peter Carthy (1957-61), and in 1961 she was appointed assistant to the new CNR President, Mother St. John (Elizabeth) O’Brien. Two years later, Dorothy Ann enrolled at Notre Dame for a PhD in American Intellectual History. In 1966, she returned to New Rochelle, to the history department; she was appointed Dean of SAS (1967-72).
As Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, she oversaw the growth of the Graduate School and the establishment of a program to bring minority students to CNR. Elected President of CNR in 1972, she encouraged a group of faculty to plan and implement a new “experimental” college program for Adults: the School of New Resources. SNR soon spread to several areas in the New York metropolitan area and was a vanguard for adult higher education in the USA. In 1976, the School of Nursing was founded.
Sr. Dorothy Ann faced numerous challenges as President: stabilizing the fiscal health of the tuition-dependent college, encouraging change in the curriculum, reorganizing the administrative offices of the growing college to meet its needs, addressing the changing character of a college that no longer was the small Catholic women’s college comprised of white middle class young women which had been “the college” for almost seventy years. She was very successful in recruiting and retaining dedicated trustees, faculty, and administrators. She kept the needs of students and alumnae very much before her.
An active member of local, state, national and international higher education associations, Sr. Dorothy Ann served as member and, for some, chairperson. She was the recipient of honorary degrees and awards, was named Westchester Woman of the Year, served as the first woman chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, was a trustee at The Catholic University of America, Georgetown, and Le Moyne. She was especially active in women’s college organizations, interreligious organizations, and higher education groups that empowered women and men to attain a college education. She never forgot her Bronx origins and the opportunities that a college education had provided her.
As an Ursuline, Sister Dorothy Ann was twice elected to represent her province at international Ursuline meetings. She played a diplomatic role in addressing the changes that occurred at the time of Vatican II among Ursulines, with CNR alumnae, and other groups. Simultaneously, she was courageous in engaging in on-going conversations on the subject of Catholic colleges and women’s colleges in the USA during almost three decades of continuous change. This was an interest she continued as Ursuline Provincial.
After serving as President of The College of New Rochelle for twenty five years, Sister Dorothy Ann retired from the Presidency in 1997 and then served as Chancellor of the College until 2001 when she was asked to serve as superior of the St. Teresa’s Community of which she had been a member since 1957. Two years later, she was elected to lead the Eastern Province of the Ursulines; a second term was to end in May, 2009 when she was almost 80 years of age. When asked recently what her plans were for the future, she replied, “I don’t have time to think about that yet.” God, to whom she had dedicated her life, had a plan for her. Sr. Dorothy Ann Kelly lived a life of “Serviam.”
Martha Counihan, O.S.U.
Archivist/Special Collections Librarian