Benedictine Sister Colman O’Connell, CSB president emerita, dies

Benedictine Sister Colman (Dolores) O’Connell, president emerita of the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, died Sept. 30 at the age of 90.

The funeral Eucharist will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, in the Sacred Heart Chapel at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph. Burial will follow in the St. Benedict’s Monastery Cemetery. A prayer vigil will be held at Sacred Heart Chapel at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6.

Sister Colman was the 11th president of the college, serving from 1986 through 1996. A news release announcing her death noted that she served the college in many ways: as an educator, administrator, visionary leader and tireless advocate for the school.

After graduating from CSB with a degree in English and communication, she taught briefly at Pierz Memorial and Cathedral high schools. In 1954, Sister Colman earned her master’s degree in English and theater from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She returned to CSB, where she taught in the Theater and Dance Department, serving as department chair from 1954-1974. In 1979, she earned her a doctorate in higher education from the University of Michigan.

Two milestones highlighted her tenure in the Theater Department: the construction of the Benedicta Arts Center and the collaboration, and eventual coordination, with the Theater Department at St. John’s University. In 1964, the year the BAC was finished, there were nine students at CSB majoring in the fine arts. By 1974 there were over 200 fine arts majors.

As a professor, Sister Colman was strong, dynamic and demanding. “She had zero tolerance for indolence and a very high expectation that each student would bring their very best into her classroom,” recalled former student Teresa Mazzitelli, class of 1972. “Colman encouraged her students to think critically, be engaged and, quite frankly, she did not suffer fools gladly. But by fostering creative, independent thought, she prepared us to live self-sufficient and purposeful lives. These lessons have stayed with me all these years.”

Sister Colman’s term as president also was marked with physical progress on the campus. The Clemens Library opened during her first year. Three residence halls, a science center, a campus center and a new southern entrance to the campus followed.

Benedictine Sister Colman O’Connell (photo courtesy of CSB/SJU)

But her most significant achievements, in her own words, came in defining and advancing the coordinate relationship with SJU. “I hope that 20 years from now,” she noted at the time, “people will say, ‘The colleges made a bold step 20 years ago in creating the coordinate relationship to promote the education of men and women.’ Education for men and for women in this coordinate, gender-conscious environment is the best way to educate students. It is not only superior to coeducation, but also to single sex education.”

Sister Colman’s service as president ended in 1996, but her passion for CSB continued. After a few years she stepped in to serve as vice president of institutional advancement, leading the college’s fundraising efforts. In 2005 she transitioned out of the vice president’s office but remained in institutional advancement as a senior development officer, where she would continue to serve until she died.

“Any woman who would make a 600-mile round trip to extreme northern Minnesota to bring exciting news about the College of St. Benedict deserves high praise for her commitment, her perseverance and dedication,” said Frank Marvin, a friend of the college. “Sister Colman did this for many years, all after turning 70 years of age. Colman was committed to the brick and mortar of St. Ben’s. But equal to that was her concern for the hearts and minds of her students and her community of sisters. These three priorities were evident in each and every task she undertook, of which there were so many. Colman’s contributions will be an ongoing influence, blessing and empowerment for people, present and future.”

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The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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