This visionary leader, justice advocate, lover of people and cultures, joyfully dedicated her life to Catholic education. Always sociable, Catherine’s friendships spanned her lifetime and touched people in four continents as she lived the Sister of St. Joseph charism to love God and neighbor without distinction, doing groundbreaking work in diversity and multiculturalism and cherishing especially the Familia de San Jose (lay associates) in Chile.
Born November 13, 1931 in Troy, NY, Catherine died peacefully at Regina Senior Living Residence in Hastings, MN on August 30, 2020. In 1957 Catherine joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Albany, NY Province. Her educational journey included a BA in Spanish (1953) from the College of Saint Rose, Albany, NY; an M.Ed. in Spanish and Secondary Education (1955) from Boston College; and a PhD in Philosophy and Letters (1967) from the University of Madrid, where she acquired the bright blue doctor’s cap with fringe all around that she wore for academic events.
A gifted teacher, Catherine served as Spanish Professor and Academic Vice President at the College of St. Rose. Albany, NY (1961-1975); President of Trinity College, Burlington, VT (1976-1979); and President of the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University), St. Paul, MN (1979-1984). During her presidency at the College of St. Catherine, she ensured that the college continued as a first-rate academic institution preparing women to lead and influence for positive social change. As a passionate supporter of international studies, Catherine initiated a longstanding exchange program with Junshin Junior College in Japan. In 2012 St. Catherine University established the Catherine T. McNamee International Student Scholarship to celebrate the exchange. Additionally, she served as professor of Multicultural Perspectives (2006-2008), as a member of the Board of Trustees (2013-2019), and as Trustee Emerita beginning in 2019.
As the first woman president of the National Catholic Educational Association, (1986-1996), Catherine helped coordinate the meeting of St. John Paul II with U.S. Catholic educational leaders in New Orleans. She also led Catholic leaders in a meeting with President George H.W. Bush to advance school choice initiatives. In her presidency Catherine aimed to strengthen NCEA’s international presence and participation, which happened in part when she led Catholic educators to meetings with administrators in Russia, Australia and Mexico.
Convinced that all must have a place at the table, Catherine sat at many, participating with the International Federation of Catholic Universities, the International Organization of Catholic Education, the U.S. Catholic China Bureau, the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, Academic Institutions and Boards across the US, as well as the Inter-American Confederation of Catholic Education, where in 2004 she was honored with the Jesús Maestro (Jesus the Teacher) Award in recognition of a lifetime dedicated to Catholic education.
Catherine realized a lifelong dream when she served on a Congregational Mission in Chile (2000-2005), where she taught social justice at the Catholic University in Talca, and accompanied beloved members of La Familia de San Jose (CSJ Lay Associates). Beginning in 2008 to 2013 Catherine was chosen from among her peers to serve on the CSJ Congregational Leadership Team. In 2012 Catherine made the decision to transfer to the St. Paul Province of the Congregation where, until retirement, she volunteered in many ministries both in and beyond the province.
Catherine is preceded in death by her parents Thomas and Kathryn (Quinn) McNamee and is survived by many cousins, colleagues, dear friends, and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates.
A celebration of Catherine’s life will be held on Friday, October 16, 2020 at St. Catherine University in Our Lady of Victory Chapel, 2004 Randolph Avenue, St. Paul. Doors will open at 10:30 a.m., with Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00 a.m. Following the service, guests are invited to the Rite of Committal at Resurrection Cemetery in Mendota Heights. Guests are welcome to join the funeral procession behind the lead car. Social distancing, limited seating (100), mandatory wearing of masks will be observed. For a link to the livestream of the celebration, please complete the RSVP form at stkate.edu/mcnamee. Memorials preferred to St. Catherine University and the Sisters of St. Joseph Ministries Foundation.
Sister Catherine, rest in love and peace.