Regis College holds first Women of Distinction gala

BOSTON — Regis College in Weston, the only remaining Catholic women’s college in the United States, held its first-ever Women of Distinction gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston. The event honored two former presidents of the college, both Sisters of St. Joseph, the order that runs the college.

“Sister Jeanne d’Arc O’Hare and Sister Thérèse Higgins you are extraordinary women for an extraordinary time,” said Regis’ president, Mary Jane England.

“Sister Jeanne d’Arc O’Hare was the best teacher I ever had,” recalled England who graduated from Regis in 1959. “Fifty years ago when I was a student at Mount St. Joseph’s Academy, her history class opened the wide horizons of the world and nourished my longing for knowledge and justice.”

Sister Thérèse has always been an advocate for women, England continued. She gave many honorary degrees to acknowledge the achievements of women who had not yet received national recognition.

“As the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, you are women who speak to the future,” she said. “Your legacy at Regis insists on the intelligent participation in the events of the world and our beloved Church.”

Sister Joan Duffy, CSJ, president of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and member of the class of 1965, gave the invocation, saying that the sisters are called to be women of unity and reconciliation. Sisters Jeanne d’Arc and Thérèse were gifted with wisdom and through Regis gave students knowledge, learning and diversity.

Doreen M. Zankowski — master of ceremonies, graduate of the class of 1981 and member of the board of trustees — introduced the honorees.

“Their grace, beauty, integrity, perseverance, and love of learning and nurturing have set them apart and they are truly women of distinction,” she said. “With courage, enormous intellectual curiosity that knew no boundaries, coupled with their vision and never wavering commitment, they defined Regis in the lives of thousands of Regis women who passed through the halls.”

Dinner was followed by remarks from Emily Rooney, the host and executive editor of WGBH-TV’s program Greater Boston, who spoke about what it takes to be a woman of distinction.

“It’s a lot easier in Massachusetts to be a man of distinction. Here we are in the spring of 2005. Almost one year ago today this state approved the first legal same-sex marriages. By any measure this is a liberal state,” she said. “Our entire congressional delegation is Democratic, 100 of the 160 state legislators are Democratic, our big city mayors are Democratic, their challengers are largely Democratic. The only thing missing in this equation, frankly, is the women.”

Rooney said she was stunned that Massachusetts ranks 20th in the percentage of women in the legislature. She then spoke about several women who served or wanted to serve in office.

The speaker was followed by a presentation of diamond pins with the emblem and seal of Regis College to Sisters Jeanne d’Arc and Thérèse. Portraits of each sister were unveiled and will be placed in the Kerns Conference Center at Regis.

Dawn-Marie Driscoll, who graduated from Regis in 1968, introduced Sister Jeanne d’Arc, saying she sent Regis graduates “flying out into the world.”

“We thank you and we love you,” she added.

Sister Jeanne d’Arc said she was honored and accepted the recognition in the name of all the Sisters of St. Joseph who have served Boston since 1873. She was one of five girls in her family who attended Regis and graduated in 1939.

“My Regis education prepared me well for graduate school, for teaching and for living a full life — intellectually, socially and culturally in a diverse and global society,” she said.

Virginia Pyne Kaneb from the class of 1957 introduced Sister Thérèse.

“You have been loved. You have been a model,” she said. “We thank you for everything you have given us.”

Sister Thérèse spoke about her dream of attending Regis, which began at age 10 when she visited her sister at the college.

Six years later when she was ready to attend school, she had to apply to places her family could afford after the death of her father. Regis only gave one scholarship each year, and Sister Thérèse was not the recipient. Her mother urged her to “keep on praying,” she said.

“Unbeknownst to me, she took herself by streetcar from Winthrop to Weston to meet the president of Regis whom she did not know. That day they talked about dreams and how they come true,” she said. “That September 1943 Regis gave two scholarships.”

Sister Thérèse said her mother took on two jobs to pay the difference.

Both her mother and Regis gave her a formula for helping dreams coming true, and the gala is proof that dreams will keep coming true for others, she said.

Each of the two women received a standing ovation after her remarks.

Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley gave the benediction, speaking about the sacrifice religious sisters have made in order to teach. They give their lives in order to pass on the faith.

“As Catholics, we are very proud of our wonderful Catholic school system,” he added.

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