March is Women’s History Month, and the chronicles of the Sparkill Dominicans are filled with stories of amazing women. This is a story about one of them…
On the day I entered the Dominican Convent in 1961, I met Sister Marie Enda Kennedy, one of the most remarkable women I’ve ever known. I expected she would come to greet my family because our fathers had worked together. ‘Red’ Kennedy had proudly told my father that Mary (Sister Marie Enda) had a very BIG job in Sparkill.
Sister Marie was warm and effusive as she welcomed us. Yet, I didn’t know what her BIG job was until the next day when she was introduced to us, the new freshmen, as the Dean of St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC). As the years passed, I came to understand more about her numerous BIG jobs and the importance of her contributions to STAC, Aquinas High School, and Religious Education classes.
Early in the 1950s the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill made the decision to sponsor their own liberal arts college where the initial focus was the preparation of teachers. A Board of Trustees was established, a faculty identified, and Sister Marie, who was in her late 30s, assumed the position of Academic Dean with the responsibility for leadership in producing the documents needed to procure a Provisional Charter for the new St. Thomas Aquinas College.
Being able to succeed in this task is a tribute to her magnificent ability to foster collaboration and to support both individuals and groups. Understanding the “big picture,” she advised and encouraged, giving everyone who worked for or with her ownership of what they created.
STAC, as it is known today, is a credit to Sister Marie—her leadership, her guidance, and her care that students and faculty had the best of programs and materials. She demonstrated enthusiasm and vision and respect and admiration for her colleagues, students, and many others who were privileged to know her and still remember her.
After a 16-year tenure at STAC, she assumed leadership as Principal of her Alma Mater, Aquinas High School. Once again, Sister Marie was recognized for the way she delegated responsibility to teachers, fostered leadership of chairpersons, empowered the faculty and students to enhance the curriculum and expand their horizons through various teaching and learning styles, building self-confidence and renewed energy in the faculty and their students. Enthusiasm for life and learning and her willingness to attempt new ventures were her hallmark. She touched people by her sincerity and respect and empowered them to excel.
Following her time at Aquinas, Sister Marie devoted 15 years to the ministry of Religious Education, guiding families in the development of their faith. What joy she experienced as she oversaw the preparation of children for reception of the Sacraments. She empowered parents to recognize their role as the first educators of their children in such matters of faith.
The life of Sister Marie Enda Kennedy is a wonderful reason to celebrate the seminal role of women in American history.
– Sister Eileen Cunningham, OP
Sister Eileen served in educational ministries for more than 50 years and now volunteers to provide support services to our Sisters in Dominican Convent