Indiana Catholic women’s college reverses transgender admission policy

A person holds a "Trans" banner in this illustration photo. After a recent change in their admissions policy resulted in a "sense of division" in its community, St. Mary's College in Indiana has reversed course and returned to its former policy. The now former policy, which had been approved in June, read, "St. Mary's considers admission for undergraduate applicants whose sex is female or who consistently live and identify as women." (OSV News photo/Sergio Perez, Reuters)

(OSV News) — A Catholic women’s college has reversed its recently updated admissions policy on applicants who identify as transgender, following public pushback and the local bishop’s call to uphold Catholic teaching on the inherent connection between sex and gender.

In a Dec. 21 statement provided to OSV News, and addressed to the St. Mary’s College Community, the board of trustees of St. Mary’s College, a Catholic women’s college in Notre Dame, Indiana, announced it would return to its “previous admission policy,” which limited enrollment to women.

“When the Board approved this update, we viewed it as a reflection of our College’s commitment to live our Catholic values as a loving and just community,” the statement said. “We believed it affirmed our identity as an inclusive, Catholic, women’s college. It is increasingly clear, however, that the position we took is not shared by all members of our community. Some worried that this was much more than a policy decision: they felt it was a dilution of our mission or even a threat to our Catholic identity. Moreover, we clearly underestimated our community’s genuine desire to be engaged in the process of shaping a policy of such significance. As this last month unfolded, we lost people’s trust and unintentionally created division where we had hoped for unity. For this, we are deeply sorry.

“Taking all these factors into consideration,” the statement said, “the Board has decided that we will return to our previous admission policy.”

A copy of the statement was posted to X, formerly Twitter, Dec. 21 by St. Mary graduate Clare Anne Ath, a government affairs manager for the pro-life nonprofit Human Coalition. Ath said that “generations of faithful Catholic SMC alums … were prayerful on this matter and made their concerns known.”

Also vocal was Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, in whose diocese the school is located.

In a detailed statement released Nov. 27, Bishop Rhoades had lamented the college’s decision, saying that “it is disappointing that I, as bishop of the diocese in which Saint Mary’s College is located, was not included or consulted on a matter of important Catholic teaching.”

He had urged St. Mary’s board of trustees to correct the new admissions policy, which he said “(departed) from fundamental Catholic teaching on the nature of woman.”

Bishop Rhoades said in his statement that “the desire of Saint Mary’s College to show hospitality to people who identify as transgender is not the problem. The problem is a Catholic woman’s college embracing a definition of woman that is not Catholic.”

In a new statement provided to OSV News Dec. 21, Bishop Rhoades said he was “happy and grateful that Saint Mary’s College has returned to its previous admission policy.

“I am grateful to the Saint Mary’s College Board of Trustees and administration for listening to the voices of the many students and alumnae who embrace the perennial truth of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching that the human person is created by God with a sexual identity, embodied as male or female, with a unity of body and soul,” Bishop Rhoades said. “I pray for Saint Mary’s ongoing ‘fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church’ (Ex corde ecclesiae 13), an essential characteristic of an authentically Catholic college or university. That message also includes love and respect for all our sisters and brothers, including those who may identify as ‘transgender.’

“We must never separate truth and love, since the truth of the Gospel includes the fundamental commandment to love one another and love is only authentic if it is grounded in truth,” Bishop Rhoades continued. “May truth and love abound at Saint Mary’s as it moves forward to bring unity to the college community.”

The reversal negates an admissions policy approved by the school’s board of trustees in June, which opened up undergraduate admission to “applicants whose sex is female or who consistently live and identify as a woman.”

A Nov. 21 email from college president Katie Conboy had advised students and staff that applicants who identify as transgender would be considered for admission in 2024.

While Conboy had asserted that the initial change was both “in line with best practices for today’s college students” and St. Mary’s mission, the board said in its Dec. 21 statement that during a meeting earlier this week it had “reflected on the sense of division we have experienced in our campus community and among our extended alumnae family since this decision was communicated.

“This has weighed heavily on our minds and in our hearts,” said the board. “There have been many voices responding to us from many places and perspectives. We have listened closely, and we have heard each of you.”

Earlier this year, St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, located in Collegeville and St. Joseph, Minn., respectively, adopted a similar policy to St. Mary’s College. The institutions, sponsored by the sisters and monks of the Order of St. Benedict, decided to allow “applicants who were assigned male at birth as well as those who were assigned female or male at birth but now consistently live and identify as male, transgender, gender fluid or nonbinary” to enroll.

Founded in 1844 by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, St. Mary’s College is located near the University of Notre Dame and has 1,600 students. As of 2019, the college has a $201.6 million endowment.

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