Saint Mary’s College’s President and Trustees Should Resign

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Leaders of the Catholic women’s college have done irreparable harm by quietly approving a pro-transgender admissions policy.

Haggar Center on Saint Mary's College campus as viewed from Lake Marion in Notre Dame, Ind.
Haggar Center on Saint Mary's College campus as viewed from Lake Marion in Notre Dame, Ind. (photo: Jaknelaps / CC BY-SA 3.0)

In their disastrous testimony at a congressional hearing back in December, the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania laid bare the relativistic rot that’s eating away the integrity of America’s elite institutions of higher learning from within.

Their shocking attempts to excuse the antisemitic and even genocidal rallying cries of anti-Israel demonstrators on their campuses with overly legalistic defenses of free-speech rights cost two of them their jobs. Having lost the support of their Jewish students and many alumni and key donors, no other outcome was possible. They had to go.

A breach of trust of a different sort has taken place at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana. And the damage it’s caused at the all-women Catholic school, located next door to the University of Notre Dame, is so serious and irreparable that the consequences ought to be just as severe: President Katie Conboy should resign, along with the entire board of trustees.

In November, it came to light that Conboy and the trustees last summer had quietly agreed to open undergraduate admissions to applicants “whose sex is female or who consistently live and identify as women” beginning next fall.

In other words, Saint Mary’s was poised to admit males in the guise of transgender “women.” Presumably these troubled young men would have been housed in the same dorms and used the same restrooms and locker rooms as their female schoolmates. It’s 2024, after all. Who could object?

A lot of justly outraged people, it turned out, including alumnae, students and parents who are paying a hefty price to send their daughters to a school they assumed had enough smarts to know the difference between a man and a woman. 

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who was never consulted or informed of this rather consequential policy change, wasn’t pleased either. In a statement expressing his profound disapproval, he emphasized that what Saint Mary’s was doing “departs from fundamental Catholic teaching on the nature of woman and thus compromises its very identity as a Catholic woman’s college.”

The backlash and negative publicity, which coincided with an alumnae fundraising drive and the height of the admissions application season, prompted Conboy and the trustees to reverse course, at least for the time being. But as with Harvard, MIT and UPenn, no amount of “listening sessions” can undo the damage that has been done. That’s why a wholesale change of leadership is needed.

Conboy, who has been president of Saint Mary’s since June 1, 2020, tried to defend the revised policy as consistent with Pope Francis’ emphasis on love “as the appropriate approach to those who are different from ourselves.” Never mind the Holy Father’s repeated condemnation of gender ideology, which he has gone so far as to describe as “ideological colonization.”

Conboy also argued that the change would bring Saint Mary’s on par with its peer institutions. As the Register has reported, of the eight other Catholic women’s colleges in the U.S., five state on their websites that they admit applicants who identify as women: Alverno College and Mount Mary University (both in Milwaukee), Mount Saint Mary’s University (Los Angeles), St. Catherine University (St. Paul, Minnesota) and the College of St. Benedict (St. Joseph, Minnesota). I urge prospective students and their parents to start asking questions of the presidents and trustees of these schools and of themselves: Is this the “Catholic” education you want to invest in?

That doesn’t mean that those struggling with gender dysphoria don’t deserve love and care. They absolutely do. To feel, or become convinced, that you are stuck in the wrong body, for any number of complex reasons, is a heavy burden to bear, and no one should have to do so feeling alone and unloved.

The Christian life is marked by struggle and sacrifice, however, and the shallow outreach these colleges are doing in the name of inclusivity does a disservice to these students and the healing our Church offers all of her sons and daughters. Faithful Catholic ministries such as Courage and Eden Invitation better reflect a holistic view of human dignity.

As for Saint Mary’s, this is no momentary lapse of judgment on Conboy’s part. Her strategic plan, which took effect three years ago, includes recommendations to “secure space to support LGBTQ+ students” and “implement appropriate and ongoing DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] education for all constituencies, beginning with the Board of Trustees.”

Since then, Saint Mary’s has opened an LGBTQ+ Center on campus and installed Franciscan Father Daniel Horan, an academic and author who promotes gender ideology, as the head of the college’s Center for Spirituality. Not surprisingly, he bemoaned the reversal of the new admissions policy in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

“Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Nonbinary people are people,” he wrote. “Just because it’s new or confusing to you doesn’t make it untrue or wrong or sinful or anything other than reality. Instead of denying the existence and experience of others, perhaps you might try learning.”

To be sure, it’s no easy job to run a college these days. But the mission of Catholic institutions like Saint Mary’s is really rather simple — and ought to be crystal clear to those in charge. It’s to seek, teach, promote, treasure and defend the truth.

As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, his 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities: “It is the honor and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church, which has ‘an intimate conviction that truth is (its) real ally ... and that knowledge and reason are sure ministers to faith.’” 

Transgenderism isn’t the truth. It’s a lie because it denies the truth that God created us male and female and that the complementarity of the two genders is one of his greatest gifts.

Even many who so readily accepted the radical narrative that those wanting to change their gender identity — enduring physical and emotional wounds caused by so-called sex-change surgeries and hormone therapies — must be affirmed at every turn and at any cost are beginning to recognize that it’s based on flawed science and activists’ pressure tactics, not sound research, medical ethics or common sense.

The misguided men that Saint Mary’s was so eager to admit need something more than a warm welcome. They need and deserve the truth. And since President Conboy and the Saint Mary’s trustees would rather perpetuate — and impose — a lie than uphold the truth, they no longer have any legitimacy as Catholic educators. 

It’s time for them to step aside. We can’t afford to allow our Catholic institutions of higher education to follow so many of their secular counterparts down the path of militant relativism.

May God bless you.

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to supporters during a campaign rally at West Allis Central High School on July 23 in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Kamala Harris’ Record on Catholic Issues: What You Need to Know

Harris has consistently promoted abortion, scrutinized Catholic judicial nominees, and opposed pro-life pregnancy centers and activists. She has also embraced gender ideology as well as transgender and contraception mandates that have, at times, jeopardized religious freedom.