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The belles of St. Mary’s: College rescinds transgender policy

St. Mary’s College, a women’s college in South Bend, Indiana, has decided not to implement its plan to enroll male students who identify as female.

St. Mary’s College. Courtesy photo.


The change was announced in a Dec. 21 email to the college community, written by president Katie Conboy and chair of the board Maureen Karantz Smith. The college leaders cited division in the community over the planned policy change.

“When the Board approved this update, we viewed it as a reflection of our College’s commitment to live our Catholic values as a loving and just community. We believed it affirmed our identity as an inclusive, Catholic, women’s college,” the letter said.

“It is increasingly clear, however, that the position we took is not shared by all members of our community. Some worried that this was much more than a policy decision: they felt it was a dilution of our mission or even a threat to our Catholic identity,” it continued.

“Moreover, we clearly underestimated our community’s genuine desire to be engaged in the process of shaping a policy of such significance.”

The college leaders apologized for the division in the community and announced an upcoming series of listening sessions “to explore what it means to embrace our values as a Catholic, women’s college.”

They reiterated their commitment to moving forward on the “journey toward equity, inclusion, and justice.”

“[W]e believe that the College should continually grapple with the complexity of living our Catholic values in a changing world. But we also believe the College needs to do so as a community. When we disagree, we must strive to preserve the fabric of our relationships. This, at its core, is what it means to be a part of a vibrant Catholic campus in this moment.”

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The planned policy change had been reported Nov. 21 in the Notre Dame Observer. The new policy, which was approved by the board of trustees in June, would admit undergraduate students “whose sex is female or who consistently live and identify as women.”

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, responded to the announcement with a Nov. 27 statement which “urge[d] the Board of Trustees of Saint Mary’s College to correct its admissions policy in fidelity to the Catholic identity and mission it is charged to protect and to reject ideologies of gender that contradict the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church regarding the human person, sex and gender.”

“The desire of Saint Mary’s College to show hospitality to people who identify as transgender is not the problem. The problem is a Catholic woman’s college embracing a definition of woman that is not Catholic,” the bishop added.

“To call itself a ‘women’s college’ and to admit male students who ‘consistently live and identify as women’ suggests that the college affirms an ideology of gender that separates sex from gender and claims that sexual identity is based on the subjective experience of the individual,” he added.

“This ideology is at odds with Catholic teaching.”

In announcing its reversal of the new policy, St. Mary’s did not mention Rhoades or his statement.

St. Mary’s College was founded in 1844 by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and is located nearby to the University of Notre Dame. The college has 1,600 undergraduate students, and a $201 million endowment.

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