A poem for February

By Joan Milligan

Things to be loved 

by Sister M. Madeleva, C.S.C.

The Carceri, soft rain in February,
These two stone oaks, this sky of Giotto’s blue,
Beds of hepatica and fritillary
In this square garden plot that Francis knew:

These things are to be loved I know. I love them
In their still world, uplifted from the plain.
I choose for you the diffident dearest of them,
White fritillaries in the Umbrian rain.

Sr. Mary Madeleva Wolff (1887-1964) was an extraordinary woman. She studied at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana; at Oxford; and at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Ph.D. in 1925. She returned to St. Mary’s in 1931 as its president, leading the prestigious liberal arts college for nearly 30 years.

University of Dayton Libraries hold 21 books by Sr. Madeleva, who wrote poetry, literary criticism, and books on women’s education. Collected Poems, the most recent donation to the US. Catholic Collection, was praised in the New York Times when it was published in 1947. Our copy was signed by the author for Sister M. Elise of Victory Noll Sisters. Most of the books we acquire for the U.S. Catholic Collection are donations from retired Religious and from libraries of religious organizations.

Sr. Madeleva believed in higher education for women and made theology available for study by all. Before she started an experimental summer program in 1943, theology classes were not available for lay people. She was friends with many notable scholars and writers of the time, including Edith Wharton and C.S. Lewis.  She corresponded with Thomas Merton for 15 years, although they never met.

Sr. Madeleva said she believed in truth above all else. When she came across writing she thought inferior, she could be harsh. After being asked by a superior to critique the poetry of a priest in his order, “She wrote directly to the priest himself to recommend that he destroy all his material so as not to ‘blaspheme by the mediocrity of his work’.” (from the biography Madeleva, by Gail Porter Mandell)

Selected titles by Sr. Madeleva:

About Sr. Madeleva:

- Joan Milligan, Special Collections Cataloger

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