June 14, 2013

Providence Sister Jeanne Knoerle was Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College president

Special to The Criterion

Sister Jeanne Knoerle, a Sister of Providence for 64 years and president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for 15 yearsSAINT MARY-OF-THE-WOODS—Sister Jeanne Knoerle, a Sister of Providence for 64 years and president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for 15 years, died on June 10 at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, where she resided. She was 85. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Sister Jeanne also was well known for her involvement in many community groups and activities in the Terre Haute area. At the college, she founded the highly acclaimed distance learning program, only the second such program in the United States at the time. She also has been credited with steering the college through a difficult era of transition during her time in leadership.

“To say Sister Jeanne Knoerle was a remarkable woman understates the case. Sister Jeanne possessed many gifts. She had keen intelligence, a penchant for analysis and action on behalf of whatever ministry or cause she embraced,” said Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence.

“Sister Jeanne centered her life on her belief in the God of Providence; that belief impelled her to love God’s people and the entire cosmos created by God. Sister Jeanne loved the congregation of the Sisters of Providence, and most certainly loved Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She worked enthusiastically for the good of both congregation and college,” Sister Denise added.

“Sister Jeanne’s passing is a profound loss, not only for the entire college community but also in the Wabash Valley community where she was highly respected,” said Dottie King, president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. “Her work was always groundbreaking. I, as others, found her to be energetic, visionary and positive—always positive. To me, she was a treasured friend, a trusted confidant and a mentor. I will miss her greatly.”

Sister Jeanne, formerly known as Sister Mary Gregory, was a native of Lakewood, Ohio. She entered the congregation on July 22, 1949, from St. Angela Parish in Fairview Village, Ohio. She professed perpetual vows on Jan. 23, 1957.

She received a bachelor’s degree in drama from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a master’s degree in journalism, a doctorate in comparative literature with an emphasis on Chinese literature, and a master’s degree in business administration, all from Indiana University. She also received honorary doctorate degrees from six Indiana colleges and universities, including Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, both in Terre Haute.

Former Terre Haute Mayor P. Chalos once said about Sister Jeanne, “She opened Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to Terre Haute and made the city and Saint Mary’s cohesive.”

She was named a Woman of Influence in Terre Haute in 2012. She previously had served as a member of the board of the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, Wabash Valley United Way, board of directors for Indiana Vocational Technical Institute, Terre Haute Medical Education Foundation, Mental Health Association of the Wabash Valley, Hospice of the Wabash Valley, Union Hospital and Woods Day Care/Pre-School.

She was a Fulbright Scholar and was a recipient of a Ford Foundation Fellowship and the John K. Lamb Award in Terre Haute, a prestigious honor for service to the community.

She formerly served as chairperson of the Indiana College Press Association, past president and founding member of the Alliance for Growth and Progress in Terre Haute, and chairperson of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). She received the Theodore Hesburgh Award from ACCU. She also attended a White House program hosted by Rosalyn Carter while she was chairperson of the ACCU.

She was president of the Indiana Conference of Higher Education, director of the Federal Home Loan Bank, and director of the Lilly Endowment Religions Division. She envisioned the concept of the Our Green Valley Alliance in Terre Haute and served as its first president.

She was honored at Sister Jeanne Knoerle Day in Cleveland in 1983, so proclaimed by Mayor Greg Voinovich. She was honored by a resolution passed in the Indiana Senate in 1984 for her leadership at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

She was the co-founder of Woods Associates, a consulting firm to assist not-for-profit agencies with strategies, planning, management and marketing.

She also received awards for her creative work with alpaca fiber and worked as a volunteer at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She taught at schools in Indiana, Illinois and Washington, D.C., and she served as a visiting professor at Providence University in Taiwan.

Prior to becoming president at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1968, she served as a professor and assistant president, then served as chancellor after her presidency.

She was an author, publishing a book titled The Dream of the Red Chamber, a critical study of a Chinese classic. She also was a frequent contributor to other publications and to the Sisters of Providence website. She was an avid bird-watcher and was well known in the Terre Haute bird-watching community.

Sister Jeanne is survived by one sister, Anne Schram of Los Altos, Ca. She was preceded in death by a brother, Harold M. Knoerle, Jr.

Friends may make memorial contributions to the Sisters of Providence, 1 Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN 47876, to further education for sustainable living, or to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Pomeroy Pride Campaign, 1 Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, IN 47876. †

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