Start of a New School Year

This blog was originally posted on September 9, 2016. As we welcome new students and share in old traditions, we hope you enjoy reading about the new school year activities at Mundelein College!

Universities around the country are now in full swing. Returning students fall into a familiar routine while incoming freshman spend their first days figuring out class schedules and getting the lay of the land. Articles and photographs in the Skyscraper give some idea as to how Mundelein College* students rang in the new school year. Freshman and upperclassmen alike participated in socials, dances, and a Big Sister program.

Students advertising Freshman Day, 1936

Students advertising Freshman Day, 1936

Much information about the new students can be found in the Skyscraper. Yearly, the front page of the newspaper featured a photo of the “First Ladies.” The women featured in the photos were students from the incoming freshman class that were the top students in their high school class. The newspaper recognizes all incoming students with articles containing demographics and statistics of the incoming freshman class. These include what schools, states, and countries the students came from as well as if there was an increase in enrollment. Staff and faculty are also recognized, including one article highlighting that the new faculty studies in seven countries. Continue reading

Graduation Reflections: Mundelein Commencement Through the Years

WLA graduate assistants and Master’s in Public History Angela, Rothman and Emily Muszynski, pose with fellow graduate Matt Labbe before their Commencement ceremony on May 7, 2019. Rothman and Muszynski each earned a Master’s in Public History and Labbe earned a Master’s in United States History.

It’s graduation time at Loyola University Chicago, and I’ve enjoyed looking back at commencement photographs from the collection of Mundelein College. Mundelein College, founded and operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), provided education to women from 1930 until 1991 when it affiliated with Loyola University Chicago.

I helped reprocess the Mundelein College Paper Records and wrote the collection finding aid alongside Project Archivist Caroline Lynd Giannakopoulos. We arranged, described, and housed archival objects for patron use. The Women and Leadership Archives, in Piper Hall on Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, holds the many, many boxes of processed materials from the Catholic women’s college. Today, Mundelein’s skyscraper building is known as the Mundelein Center for Fine and Performing Arts. The Women and Leadership Archives preserves the college’s memory through a variety of records.

Continue reading

Digitizing Mundelein

Our unassuming file cabinets

There is a lot of history stored here in the Women and Leadership Archives, so it would be easy to overlook the three black filing cabinets tucked away in a corner of our reading room. That would be a mistake, though, since those drawers contain the Mundelein College Photograph Collection.* In other words, they hold an estimated 40,000 photographs and slides (yes, you read that correctly) captured during Mundelein College’s more than sixty-year history.

Continue reading

From Barrington to ‘Nam: A Teacher’s Effort to Bring ‘Home’ to Her Student Soldiers

Archival collections offer a unique glimpse into someone’s life that we do not get from just a biography. Sometimes the seemingly random pieces or folders offer the most complete picture of a person or organization. Katherine DeLage Taft’s connection to the Vietnam War is an example of this that I personally love.

Katherine DeLage Taft, no date

Continue reading

Peace Studies Through the Years: Mundelein’s Legacy at Loyola

This post was written for Dr. Elizabeth Fraterrigo’s Fall 2018 Women’s and Gender History course. It is part of the Sesquicentennial Blog Project, which seeks to share stories from Loyola University and Mundelein College in anticipation of Loyola’s 150th anniversary in 2020-2021.


Compared to subjects offered since Loyola’s founding, Peace Studies is a relatively new program at Loyola University Chicago. Its history, however, stretches much further back than its start in 1994 as an interdisciplinary minor. The program’s roots can be traced to Loyola’s neighbor, Mundelein College, a women’s Catholic school that operated from 1930-1991 in what is now Mundelein Center. The story of the Peace Studies program’s journey from Mundelein to Loyola is a fascinating one, and it reveals the ways people at both schools thought about the meaning of peace.

Continue reading

Ora Benton: Student Smuggler to the Soviet Union

This past September I attended the Class of 1968 Reunion/Gannon Center 25th Anniversary to help work an oral history listening station. While I was there, I talked with a Mundelein graduate that went on a study abroad trip to the Soviet Union. She mentioned that some girls on the trip brought blue jeans with them to sell to Russians. I was interested in the idea that some women on the trip smuggled goods into the country, and decided to look into the 1982 Soviet Union study abroad trip in our archives. In the Alumnae series of the Mundelein College collection I found an account of the trip from 1980 Mundelein graduate, Ora Benton.

Ora was busy packing her bags for the trip. She had to fit everything she needed for the ten-day trip, but she was not worried about space; she was worried about getting through Soviet customs. Ora, and forty-three other students, alumnae, and friends of Mundelein College* were preparing for a study abroad trip to the Soviet Union in December of 1982. Shortly after Mundelein planned the trip the Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry (CASJ) contacted Ora and other participants of the study abroad trip. The organization asked the students to help them deliver gifts and religious material to “Refusenik” families in the Soviet Union.

Refusenik families were Soviet-Jewish families that wanted to emigrate, but the USSR refused to grant them exit visas. The women were immediately hesitant to help the CASJ. Visiting the Soviet Union during the Cold War was already nerve-wracking and now the organization wanted them to smuggle in religious “contraband.” A representative with the Chicago Action for Soviet Jewry assured them the actions were neither illegal nor dangerous. Ora and her classmate ultimately conceded to visiting one family in Moscow and one in Leningrad. Gifts for the families included menorahs, bibles, Jewish reading material, clothes, and food. What the women did not know was the Soviet Union had strict laws prohibiting the distribution and teaching of religious material.

Arriving in the Frankfurt Airport, the bags made it through customs with only a small issue of metal casing on the bible setting of the detector. While the women were not particularly worried about security in Frankfurt, the metal detector scare on the bible increased anxiety about bag checks in the Soviet Union. After landing in Moscow, both Ora and her classmate made it through customs without any issues. The customs officials did not flag of confiscate any material in the suitcases.

Once in the Soviet Union, tour guides kept the group busy with a packed itinerary. Despite their busy schedule, Ora and her classmate found time to make their way to the first Jewish household. Still uneasy and concerned about surveillance, the women were careful not to use their hotel phone or call a taxi to the hotel. Ora recalled finding a taxi after walking down a couple blocks from the hotel.  At the first home, they met an American whose father brought him to the Soviet Union during the depression. He had settled in Moscow with and his wife and son. The family tried to immigrate to Israel, but the Soviet Union denied their request to leave.

On the last day of the trip, the students made contact with the family in Leningrad. They only had one hour to visit before they had to catch their flight back to the United States. The Leningrad family, much like the family in Moscow, were very welcoming to the Americans. Their four-year-old daughter showed off her English skills, reciting children’s rhymes her father had taught her. After visiting for an hour and distributing the gifts, Ora and her classmate departed for the hotel to pack their things for the trip home. All the students and alumnae made it safely back to the United States despite smuggling contraband into the Soviet Union and breaking several Soviet laws.

*Mundelein College, founded and operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), provided education to women from 1930 until 1991, when it affiliated with Loyola University Chicago.

Molly is a Graduate Assistant at the WLA and is in the first year in the joint Public History/Library Information Science program with Loyola University Chicago and Dominican University. She enjoys running, reading by the lake, and cheering on the Cardinals despite being surrounded by Cubs fans.


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.




A Few of My Favorite Things: Kate’s Top Collections

Over the course of my two years at the Women and Leadership Archives (WLA) I’ve had the privilege to work with a lot of the collections we hold. From academics, artists, homemakers, social justice activists, women religious, nurses, politicians, business leaders – almost any vocation or subject you could name we’ve got a collection in which a woman or group of women were involved and rocking at it. Though I’ve yet to come across a collection that didn’t engage me, I have to admit that I have my favorites. What follows is my “hit parade” of my favorite collections at the WLA:

Continue reading

A Haunting of the BVMs

With the start of October comes many changes; cozy sweaters, hot chocolate, pumpkin spice, and, of course, Halloween.  There is nothing more appropriate for this month than a good scary story, and luckily, here at the WLA we have one in our very own collection! There is an account told by Sister Mary Ernestine, BVM* of stories she heard from Sister Isabella Kane** of strange happenings experienced by her and other sisters. Here is that story:

Sister Isabella Kane was about fourteen years old when she entered the BVM Community and having experience with piano, she was sent to teach music. She was a natural and enjoyed her time teaching, but especially loved painting in the music room after night prayers when it was empty. One night Sister was painting when the door suddenly flew open. Thinking it was one of the sisters trying to mess with her, she paid it no mind and shut the door. She settled down to continue painting when the door flew open again. After checking the hallway and finding it empty, she ran to bed.

Mother Superior Mary Isabella Kane, BVM

That wasn’t the last time Sister Isabella would experience strange occurrences.

Sister Isabella and the other sisters rented a large three story double house to be used as a school as well as house the sisters. The sisters living in the convent complained of noises: banging on doors, knocking of wooden beds, and other demonstrations of what they believed was “the Evil One.”

One sister was thrown off her bed, another was unable to control violent trembling as night approached, and one more found as she headed down the stairs, two fireballs appeared in the landing. Though the superior was not convinced of any haunting (and believed it to be all coming from the sisters’ active imaginations), she agreed to move from that home for everyone’s health.

Though we have no way to be sure if it truly was “the Evil One” haunting the sisters, the mystery still persists. So Happy Halloween everyone, hope it’s a spooky one!

*BVM stands for Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a religious order out of Dubuque, IA.

**Sister Isabella later served as Mother Superior of the BVMs from 1919-1931.

Tina Figueroa is a Sesquicentennial Scholar at the WLA working to highlight Mundelein in the upcoming 150th anniversary of Loyola. She is currently working on her masters degree in Digital Humanities. Tina is a reformed ice cream hater and is a fan of the flavor Savannah Buttermint at Jeni’s.



Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Virginia Piper: More Than A Donor

Piper Hall, 2005

Many visitors to Loyola’s campus and Piper Hall, where the WLA is located, are amazed by the beautiful white marble mansion and its incredible location on the shores of Lake Michigan. We are always answering questions about the history of the building as a home and as a library for Mundelein College. However, we do not often talk about how the house got its current name.

Like most buildings on university campuses, Piper Hall was given its name by important donors. In this case, Virginia Galvin Piper donated funds to Mundelein College and had the building named after her late husband, Kenneth Piper. The building was later renamed the Virginia G. and Kenneth M. Piper Hall in honor of the couple.

I myself had not given much thought to who these people were, until I came across several files in the Mundelein College collection containing correspondence, informational pamphlets, and a book written to share the life and legacy of Virginia G. Piper. In this book, I found a story more enthralling and inspiring than I ever imagined.

The story of Virginia Piper is intertwined with the story of Chicago. It has more human drama and heartache than a novel. There is romance, tragedy, transformation, and even a mysterious unsolved murder. Lucky for you, the text of the book, Devotedly Virginia, has also been put into a lovely website where you can read all of the challenges and triumphs of Virginia and the many individuals who shaped her life. Trust me, it is much more interesting than you might think.

In this post, I would like to share some of the highlights of the story and add details about Virginia Piper’s relationship with Mundelein College and her deep friendship with the college’s longtime president, Sister Ann Ida Gannon.

Portrait of Virginia, 1965

Born in 1911, Virginia grew up with humble roots and a loving family. Her close relationships with her mother, her sister, her grandmother, and many female friends shaped the woman she became. As a young woman, she worked hard to help her parents through the Great Depression and did not marry until she was 33. This first marriage, to Motorola founder and public figure Paul Galvin, transformed her life. Along with love and happiness, the union led to Virginia’s conversion to Catholicism and her introduction to the world of philanthropy. When Paul died in 1959, Virginia chose to take control of the Paul V. Galvin Charitable Trust. This began her forty-year career as a philanthropist.

Virginia took her new position seriously. She met with bankers, stockbrokers, and financial advisors to learn everything she could about the job ahead of her. Her active involvement in every aspect of her charitable giving was unique at that time, especially for a woman.

According to Virginia’s biography, the remarkable woman’s relationship with Mundelein College began with a phone call to another remarkable woman, college president Sister Ann Ida Gannon, in 1964. Virginia likely saw Mundelein as a perfect fit for charitable gifts, as it shared the late Paul Galvin’s dedication to education and faith. The first gift recorded in the Mundelein records is a $300,000 donation to build a 350-seat auditorium in the college’s new Learning Resource Center. The Paul V. Galvin Memorial Hall was dedicated on October 30, 1969. At this event, Virginia introduced her friends at Mundelein to Kenneth Piper, a longtime friend and vice president of Motorola. The couple had fallen in love and were married later that year.

Galvin Hall Dedication

In 1972, it was announced that Virginia planned to give $300,000 to set up a scholarship endowment to provide full tuition scholarships to top students. The Mundelein records hold a number of letters Galvin Scholars wrote to Virginia updating her on their successes and thanking her for the role she played in their education.



Galvin Scholarship news, 1972

Even in times of personal transition, Virginia remembered Mundelein College. When she and Ken bought a home in Arizona where they would live most of the year, letters show that she gave her dining room furniture and Oriental rug to the college.


Mundelein recognized Virginia’s contributions to the college and many other causes by giving her an Honorary Degree at the 1974 Commencement ceremony. On June 8, a memorial mass was held for Paul Galvin in Galvin Hall before the Pipers and their friends attended the Commencement where Virginia was honored. Many letters from Virginia, Ken, and other friends describe the special day and the gratitude they felt for the experience.

Honorary degree letter, 1974

Ken Piper was a great supporter of Virginia’s work. Letters between Virginia and Sr. Ann Ida reveal that Ken worked “so diligently and hopefully” on plans for a Women’s Executive Institute at Mundelein that he would support. Unfortunately, Ken passed away suddenly in January of 1975 before these plans could be realized. Sr. Ann Ida flew to Arizona as soon as she could and stayed by Virginia’s side for 10 days to help her through the difficult time, a testament to their strong bond.

Virginia lived another 24 years after losing her second husband and dedicated the rest of her life to her work. Just eight months after Ken’s death, Virginia returned to Mundelein College for the dedication of the Kenneth M. Piper Hall, Center for the Study of Religious Education.

Virginia continued to give to Mundelein for scholarships and other projects. After the affiliation with Loyola, she took great interest in the plans for a women’s center to carry on Mundelein’s legacy. She was one of the first donors to the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership and continued to give generously to the project that was named after her dear friend.

Gannon donation letter, 1993

Virginia Piper and Sr. Ann Ida continued their friendship through letters, phone calls, and frequent visits until Virginia’s death in 1999. Her last gifts and those given by the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust after her death went towards renovations to Piper Hall. At the rededication of the white mansion by the lake in 2004, the new home of the Gannon Center and Women and Leadership Archives was renamed to reflect the generosity of both Virginia and Kenneth Piper.

Over 50 years after she began supporting the education of women at Mundelein, Loyola students and the community are still benefiting from Virginia Piper’s contributions. Virginia did not attend Mundelein or grow up in the Catholic faith or have any other personal connections to the school. When looking for projects to support, she saw the potential and the value she was looking for in Mundelein College. And today, when we look at this woman who contributed so much to the growth of Mundelein College, we see someone who embodied the strength, leadership, compassion, and grace that the small Catholic women’s college strove to instill in each of its students.

Learn more about Virginia Galvin Piper’s life and philanthropic work through Devotedly, Virginia and The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, which continues her work. You can also learn more about her relationship to Sr. Ann Ida Gannon and Mundelein College at the Women and Leadership Archives.

You can tour Piper Hall yourself during Open House Chicago on October 13, 2018!

Caroline Lynd Giannakopoulos is a Project Archivist at the WLA currently processing the Mundelein College Records. She is a graduate of the Public History Masters Program at Loyola University of Chicago.



Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.


Mundelein College and Prince the Collie


The Art Deco Skyscraper building under construction in 1930.

Mundelein College was founded in the same year that the stock market crashed. In 1929, while the American economy was crumbling, Mundelein College and its unique home, the Mundelein skyscraper, was rising. It took an indomitable person to see that it was done, and the college’s co-founder, Sister Justicia Coffey, BVM, was just such an individual. Sister Justicia had a vision which included a superior Catholic education for young modern urban women. The skyscraper was the setting for that vision, but Sister Justicia knew that an excellent education required exceptional teachers. Sister Justicia approached the construction of both the building and the faculty with equal vigor and procured whatever either task demanded. While blueprints and the careful inspection of steel beams were imperative for the building, the teachers required a rapid accumulation of graduate degrees and for the elevation of their spirits, Prince, a tri-color collie.

This summer, my colleague, Nathan Ellstrand and I have been building “Voices from Mundelein,” a web media portal which highlights the staff, alumnae, and faculty of Mundelein College. It includes oral histories which feature the earliest years of Mundelein College. In her rich oral history, long-time Mundelein faculty member, Sister Irma Corcoran reflects fondly on memories as wide ranging as Sister Justicia Coffey’s unique style of leadership and the college’s pet collie, Prince.

In her 1997 audio interview, Sister Irma Corcoran, BVM, claims that she was a member of the college community for the entirety of Mundelein’s sixty-one year existence. Sister Irma arrived as a faculty candidate in 1929 when the skyscraper was dedicated and left in 1991 when Mundelein affiliated with Loyola University Chicago. She recalls that Sister Justicia created a significant portion of her coterie of faculty members by gathering young novitiates of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) who had completed college degrees, a rare commodity indeed. She then sent them to distinguished universities to complete their graduate studies with an injunction to return to Mundelein and disseminate their new-found knowledge. Sister Irma was one of those novitiates. She was sent to Columbia University to study English, one of the few women, and the only sister in the student body. Ultimately Sister Irma returned, taught, and became a renowned Milton scholar.

When Sister Irma first arrived, the skyscraper was not yet completed and she and her fellow graduate school headed novitiates were quartered in what she calls “the little green house” next door. As did all of the founding faculty members, Sister Irma wore many hats and in addition to teaching, she served as a general porteress for the college. She brokered purchases from coal to eggs and dealt with contractors, visiting clergy, and what she calls insistent BELLS. She especially remembers her fellow porter of the canine variety, Prince. Sister Irma reports that the black and white collie pup had a bark that “would intimidate an army.” Prince took his responsibilities seriously, and guarded the little green house assiduously. One time, Sister Irma recalls, he barked “terribly” and she went to the front door and found the postman pinned to the porch railing with his heels in the air.

Photos of Prince are featured prominently in the Mundelein College Yearbook of 1931.

Guarding the porch was not Prince’s only function, it can be inferred from Sister Irma’s interview that he walked the sisters each day after breakfast, in the company of Sister Justicia Coffey. Sister Justicia made it a point to get acquainted with each new novitiate and the latest to arrive was always the chosen companion for the daily morning walk. They would walk the city streets from Kenmore to Rosemont to Sheridan, and finish by looking over the lake and then turn toward the skyscraper which Sister Justicia inspected with a gimlet eye assessing the days’ construction. Often, Sister Irma recalls, Justicia would chat with the workers, whom she knew by name, inquiring about orders and making suggestions.

Sister Irma’s memories conjure up the image of two habited sisters, one middle aged the other, young, pausing on a Chicago street corner, engaged in deep conversation, perhaps about construction, teaching, or the persistent BELL with Prince tugging at his lead, distracted by the prospect of the postman’s anticipated daily arrival. Sister Irma reveals that Justicia understood the importance of foundations whether they were made of steel or of individual characters. She knew that both required a detailed understanding that springs from the constancy of daily rituals like a brisk morning walk with Prince.

An image of Prince guards the final page of the Mundelein College Yearbook of 1932.


More information about Sister Justicia Coffey and Mundelein College is available online through the Loyola University Libraries Digital Special Collections or in person through a visit to the Loyola University Chicago Women and Leadership Archives.

Bruce, pictured here, is the current canine porter and guardian of the door for the author of this blog, Janette Clay. Besides being an inveterate daily walker, Janette is a PhD student in the department of history at Loyola University Chicago and member of the summer staff at the WLA.


Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives Blog is designed to provide a positive environment for the Loyola community to discuss important issues and ideas. Differences of opinion are encouraged. We invite comments in response to posts and ask that you write in a civil and respectful manner. All comments will be screened for tone and content and must include the first and last name of the author and a valid email address. The appearance of comments on the blog does not imply the University’s endorsement or acceptance of views expressed.