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Caldwell, Mary Gwendoline

CALDWELL, MARY GWENDOLINE

Philanthropist who was instrumental in inaugurating the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.;b. Louisville, Ky., 1863; d. New York City, Oct. 10, 1909. Mamie, as she was called, was the daughter of Mary Eliza (Breckenridge) and William Shakespeare Caldwell. She and her younger sister, Mary Elizabeth (later the Baroness Moritz von Zedtwitz), moved to New York City with their father after the death of their mother. In 1874 their father died, leaving his daughters a considerable fortune. They attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart, New York City, where they first made the acquaintance of Father John Lancaster Spalding, a fellow Kentuckian on leave from the Diocese of Louisville, who was then assistant pastor of St. Michael's Church in New York and later the first bishop of Peoria, Ill. Through her friendship with Bishop Spalding, Mamie became interested in the idea of a university or higher school where Catholic clergy could be educated.

At the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884, Miss Caldwell's offer of $300,000 for the founding of a national school of philosophy and theology was made known to, and accepted by, the bishops in council, with the stipulation of the young heiress that she was to be considered the founder of the institution. Thus was inaugurated the work that later led to the establishment of the catholic university of america.

In 1896 Miss Caldwell married the Marquis Jean des Monstiers-Merinville in Paris, with Bishop Spalding officiating. Three years later the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., awarded its Laetare medal to the Marquise. However, on Oct. 30, 1904, the world learned through an Associated Press announcement that the former Miss Caldwell had renounced Catholicism. The Marquise, who died in her stateroom on the North German liner, the Kronprinzessin Cecile, as it lay anchored outside New York, was buried in Louisville.

Bibliography: c. j. nuesse, The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History (Washington, D.C. 1990). c. w. gollar, "The Double Doctrine of the Caldwell Sisters," Catholic Historical Review 81 (1995) 372397.

[d. f. sweeney]

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