Madeleva, Mary, Sister
MADELEVA, MARY, SISTER
Poet and educator; b. Mary Evaline Wolff, Cumberland, Wisconsin, May 24, 1887; d. Boston, Massachusetts, July 25, 1964. She attended public elementary and high schools in Cumberland (1893–1904) and spent one year at the University of Wisconsin, before entering St. Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana, in 1906. She received her A.B. in 1909, a year after joining the Congregation of the Holy Cross. After a period of teaching at St. Mary's, she took her M.A. (University of Notre Dame, 1918) and taught at Sacred Heart Academy, Ogden, Utah, until she went to the University of California at Berkeley (1922–25). There she was awarded a Ph.D. in English. She was president of St. Mary-of-the-Wasatch (Salt Lake City, Utah) from 1926 to 1933, spent a year at Oxford University, England, and in travel in Europe and the Holy Land (1933–34), and was appointed president of St. Mary's College (1934), holding that post until 1961.
Sister Madeleva was the first of the U.S. nun-poets to achieve national and international fame. Her 12 volumes of verse, for all their modernity, reveal her wide knowledge of medieval culture and manifest, in their deliberately colloquial diction, a kinship with the religious poems of John Donne, one of her favorite authors. Her interest in the Middle Ages led to studies on Chaucer, the Pearl, Julian of Norwich, and Hilda of Whitby. Her prose works appeared in some 36 publications and covered a wide variety of topics—the familiar essay, poetic composition, 19th century poetry, and many authors.
Sister Madeleva's influence on education was stimulating and widespread, through membership in educational associations, lecturing, and writing. Her vision was evident in the establishment at St. Mary's of the first graduate program in sacred doctrine for women and the interdepartmental major in Christian culture; she helped begin the sister formation movement. Her published works include Chaucer's Nuns and Other Essays (1925), Pearl: A Study in Spiritual Dryness (1925), A Lost Language and Other Essays (1951), My First Seventy Years (1959), The Four Last Things: Collected Poems (1959), and Conversations with Cassandra (1961). The whole of Sister Madeleva's work and notes are currently kept at both St. Mary's College Archives and at the Holy Cross Sisters Provincial Archives in Notre Dame, Indiana.
Bibliography: k. kennelly, "Wolff, Sister Madeleva (Mary Evaline)," Notable American Women: Modern Period, A–Z (Cambridge 1980). m. e. klein, Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, C.S.C., Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, Indiana: A Study in Presidential Leadership 1934–1961 (Ph.D. diss., Kent State University, 1983).
[m. j. rauh]