Catholic all-girls college reverses trans policy after backlash

The college's president said it is "increasingly clear" that "the position we took is not shared by all members of our community."

Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, is backtracking on its decision to allow men who identify as women to enroll in the formerly all-female institution. (Screenshot: YouTube channel "a shot of hennessy")

(The Daily Signal) — Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, is backtracking on its decision to allow men who identify as transgender women to enroll in the formerly all-female, Catholic institution.

The Daily Signal reported in November that Saint Mary’s College would allow men who identify as women to enroll at the college in the fall of 2024. That news was first reported by the Notre Dame student newspaper, The Observer.

In an email obtained by The Daily Signal on Thursday, President Katie Conboy addressed the outcry from both their community and alumnae since the decision.

“This has weighed heavily on our minds and in our hearts,” she said in the email, sent around 11 a.m. on Thursday. “There have been many voices responding to us from many places and perspectives. We have listened closely, and we have heard each of you.”

Conboy claimed the initial decision was viewed as a “reflection of our College’s commitment to live our Catholic values as a loving and just community” — but said that it is “increasingly clear” that “the position we took is not shared by all members of our community.”

She wrote: “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. Moreover, we clearly underestimated our community’s genuine desire to be engaged in the process of shaping a policy of such significance. As this last month unfolded, we lost people’s trust and unintentionally created division where we had hoped for unity. For this, we are deeply sorry.”

“Taking all these factors into consideration, the Board has decided that we will return to our previous admission policy,” she said. “Although this has been a challenging time for our community, we believe that the College should continually grapple with the complexity of living our Catholic values in a changing world.”

Members of the Saint Mary’s community rejoiced over the news to The Daily Signal, expressing strong excitement that the college had backed down.

“I’m so proud of the women at Saint Mary’s who were willing to stand up against this anti-women, anti-Catholic policy,” said Claire Bettag, a junior at Saint Mary’s. “God’s truth will always win.”

“When this admissions decision became public hundreds of alumni banded together to stand for the Church and her teachings,” said Clare Ath, who graduated from the college in 2018. “While I would hope the reversal is because administrators realized we must teach the truth with love, my guess is the reversal is because alumni banded together, pulled their donations, notified their diocese and media, and said we will not let Our Lady’s college be corrupted by secular gender ideology.”

Amanda Fischer, who graduated in 2020, expressed gratitude to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend for the role he played in helping Saint Mary’s reverse its decision.

“In addition to the overwhelming amount of negative backlash from current Saint Mary’s students, parents, alumnae, and beyond, I believe Bishop Rhoades’ statement regarding the change in admission policy and his meeting with President Conboy, which allegedly occurred on December 12th (the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe), all amounted to President Conboy and the Board of Trustees’ decision to return to the previous admission policy,” she told The Daily Signal. “I am edified by Bishop Rhoades’ shepherdly intervention, which quite frankly was needed at Saint Mary’s a long time ago.”

The news was also celebrated by Catholic leaders who keep an eye on institutions that profess to be Catholic.

“This is a very smart reversal and welcome affirmation of the need to protect the purpose and integrity of a Catholic college for women,” said Brian Burch, the president of Catholic Vote. “There is nothing unjust or discriminatory about protecting women from men who seek to redefine biological reality.”

“To be Catholic is to acknowledge the truth about ourselves, including the unique and complementary roles of men and women,” he added. “Those that seek to blur these truths must be resisted. Saint Mary’s College is to be commended for their return to sanity.”

“This is such welcome news in this season when we celebrate Christ, Wisdom become true man, and Mary, true woman and true Mother of the Son of God,” added Patrick Reilly, president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which recognizes colleges that are determined to provide a thoroughly faithful Catholic education. “This is the truth which is the foundation of Catholic education and not ‘the complexity of living our Catholic values in a changing world.’”

Rhoades, who oversees the Catholic churches and institutions within the diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, had strongly urged the Catholic college to rethink its decision.

“It is disappointing that I, as bishop of the diocese in which Saint Mary’s College is located, was not included or consulted on a matter of important Catholic teaching,” he said in a Nov. 27 statement, warning: “In this new admissions policy, Saint Mary’s departs from fundamental Catholic teaching on the nature of woman and thus compromises its very identity as a Catholic woman’s college.”

“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 continued.

“This ideology is at odds with Catholic teaching,” he added, before quoting Pope Francis. “In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis wrote: ‘It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’ It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift.”

Rhoades had concluded: “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.”


Mary Margaret Olohan
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Mary Margaret Olohan is a reporter for The Daily Signal.