Sr. Ann Ida Gannon became president of Mundelein College in 1957, a time when some people joked its students were “Mundle Bundles” who went to college only to meet marriageable men and earn an “MRS” degree.
But Sr. Ann Ida saw a future with many paths for women.
At St. Louis University, she had earned a doctorate in philosophy. And at Mundelein, operated by a teaching order known as the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs), she was surrounded by nuns who were historians, scientists and lawyers.
She presided over the women’s college through 1975, witnessing and welcoming waves of cultural change, supporting students and nuns as they marched for civil rights in Selma or a living wage for farm workers.
Back in 1966, she might be found giving a talk to the Temple Sholom Sisterhood on “Feminism and Faith.” In the 1970s, she helped mediate debates among students and faculty on how to protest the war in Vietnam and the killings of four unarmed student protesters at Kent State University by the National Guard.
“She was ahead of her time in many ways,” said Sr. Jean Dolores Schmidt, a fellow BVM and chaplain for the Loyola University men’s basketball team. “She was cracking the [glass] ceiling early.”
“She was so forward-looking on just about everything that she did,” Sister Joan Newhart, a sibling of comedian Bob Newhart, said in a 2015 tribute on her 100th birthday.
Sr. Ann Ida died Sunday at 103 in the Caritas Center at Mount Carmel, the Dubuque mother house for her order. For 85 years, she was a BVM.
Mundelein, founded as a women’s college, is now part of Loyola University. But when she was growing up in Rogers Park, the daughter of George and Hanna Murphy Gannon, it was just being built.
She was taught by BVMs at St. Jerome’s grade school and Immaculata High School.
In 1951, she became an instructor at Mundelein. There she found accomplished nuns, she said in an oral history with the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership at Loyola University, BVMs who “took for granted that women could do these things, and were going to do them…and the result also inspired our women students to do the same, to consider that the world was open.”
Then, “To my surprise, after six years of teaching philosophy, and the way things were done in those days, I received a letter which simply said ‘You have been appointed the president at Mundelein College.’ ”
“I could spell ‘president,’ ” she joked, “and that was just about it.”
She had bright blue eyes and a serene air that mingled humor and gravity. Often, “She was the first woman to be on all-male boards,” said Sr. Jean. “She just so well represented religious sisters, and she was asked to give talks all over the country” at commencements. And, she earned 26 honorary degrees, Sr. Jean said.
After retiring, she spent a year’s sabbatical at the University of Notre Dame, where a friend, Rev. Ted Hesburgh, was president.
“One of her great thrills was going to football games. I think they got free tickets to go,” said Sister Jean. “Before that, she had never been to a football game in her life –– the Golden Dome.”
Sr. Ann Ida was a 1975 recipient of Notre Dame’s prestigious Laetare Medal for service to Catholicism. Other recipients have included Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, capital punishment foe Sister Helen Prejean, musician Dave Brubeck, social justice activist Dorothy Day and actor Helen Hayes.
Before becoming a professor, Sr. Ann Ida taught at St. Ferdinand grade school and St. Mary High School in Chicago.
She’s survived by her sister, Joan Gannon, who is also a nun.
Visitation is from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Friday in the Marian Hall Chapel at Caritas House, followed by sharing of memories and a luncheon break, said Angie Connolly, a spokeswoman for the religious order. A funeral mass is planned at 1:15 p.m. Friday in the Marian Hall Chapel. Burial will be in Mount Carmel Cemetery in Dubuque.
Contributing: Madeline Kenney