Sister Margaret Patrice Slattery, CCVI, English Professor, Academic Dean, President and Chancellor
No one could ever say with a straight face that Sister Margaret Patrice was an easy English teacher. Students today would call her tough, but admit that she “knew her stuff.” And her former students learned how to think and write for a lifetime. After a long career in administration she decided to go back into teaching freshman English again, albeit briefly. In one early return class she asked the students to identify the parts of speech. One student volunteered enthusiastically and said with confidence: “Lips, teeth and tongue!” “Spare me” has been her trademark expression for years.
Sister Margaret came from Incarnate Word Academy in her native St Louis, earned her bachelor’s degree here and her MA from Marquette University Her teaching career and chairmanship of the English Department was interrupted only by her studies at other universities and then for the doctorate at the Catholic University of America plus post-doctoral study at the University of Edinburg, Scotland.
Her return to teaching was followed by the position of Academic Dean upon the retirement of Sister Clement Eagan, CCVI and then appointment as President in 1972. Both positions came during periods of great transition in the church and College. This included growing numbers of lay faculty and their participation in governance, changes brought by Vatican II, and coeducation in all departments and student life.
She extended the reach of the campus with a lay Development Board and the expansion of the Board of Directors to Trustees with lay membership and the first lay chairperson, and participation by the students in many areas, including pace setting membership on the Board of Trustees.
Meaningful change is never easy or comfortable, and the “we always did it this way’ mantra required great patience, understanding, and determination. Other challenges included the opening of UTSA, recruiting students and faculty, calls for greater inter-campus sharing, dealing with the need for new facilities and caring for aging campus structures. All this required wider public philanthropic support, an area for which the institution had not previously needed an organized effort. Her “to do” list was quite full. Sister declined a formal inauguration and asked the Board to use the money for scholarships.
Wisely she chose to build on the College’s strengths. The Nursing Building had been completed in 1971. The drama department was a rising star in the community after the arrival of professional actors in residence Ronald Ibbs and Maureen Halligan. Critics raved, audiences grew and plays went on tour. Other buildings were adequate for the moment but no one could ever accuse the tiny converted speech lab, Downstage, of that. And so she tapped the new Development Board with the idea of a new theatre and IWC’s first capital campaign called INworth was formed.
Support followed, and in 1981 the O’Neil Ford designed Elizabeth Huth Coates Theatre opened with no less a star than Gregory Peck offering the dedication speech thanks to her efforts.
Sister Margaret retired from the presidency in 1985 and became Chancellor and President Emerita upon the arrival of Dr Louis J Agnese, Jr. Because of her incredible reputation in higher education in the Texas community, Sister received: the Ford Salute to Higher Education for distinguished service, was awarded the Mirabeau B. Lamar Medal for Leadership in Learning by the Association of Colleges and Universities in Texas, was honored by the San Antonio Express-News for leadership in education and was elected into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame.
Sister Margaret Patrice wrote Promises to Keep, a fascinating two-volume history of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word which has been recognized as an outstanding publication by the Texas Catholic Historical Society. She has been acknowledged as one of San Antonio’s Brightest and Best and as one of the most outstanding women in the city. She was also awarded honorary doctorates from St Edward’s University and her alma mater,
In 2007, Sister celebrated her Diamond Jubilee marking her sixtieth year of service as a Sister. Today Sister has little need to say “spare me,” but plenty of “what next?”
This is part of our heritage. Making a difference.