A Forward Thinker

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Sr. Catherine McGrath (1916-2009)

Sr. Catherine McGrath’s life spanned the 20th century but her vision extended far beyond its boundaries.

Sr. Catherine began her ministry in 1937 as an elementary school teacher but by 1959, she had earned both a B.A. and her first M.A. and was appointed Directress of Postulants and Junior Sisters for the Sisters of Notre Dame. She always encouraged the young Sisters to explore and appreciate the great religious thinkers and questions of their time.

In 1966, Sr. Catherine became the first women to chair the Theology Department at College of Dame in Belmont where she taught and administered for over 10 years. As Chair, she visited dozens of seminaries and catechetical centers in the United States and Europe, conducting over 100 interviews of major theologians for the purpose of discussing the major theological ideas emerging from Vatican II. Those interviewed included Karl Rahner, Hans Kung and Protestant theologian Karl Barth. Of the visit to Barth, Sister wrote: “He is a most wonderful, gracious old man of 80 years. He is so alive and full of interests. He told us that we were the first Roman Catholic Sisters to have visited him.”

A forward-thinking woman, Sr. Catherine anticipated the significant changes ahead for women, both in Church and society. Her own openness influenced the Notre Dame community and many others to understand and welcome those changes.

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