Sister Elizabeth helped me learn, at a tender age, the value of kindness coupled with stern resolve and human values. President of Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont, she would go on to become
Secretary of The Agency of Human Services where she was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights — not always a popular issue with the Bishop in the 70’s and 80’s. With these personal qualities, and as a member of a large and politically influential extended Vermont family, she was a force to be reckoned with.
When I first met Sister Elizabeth as an adult, she was the Chair of the Vermont Higher Education Council, the statewide group of all colleges and universities, public and private. She had volunteered to head up a study group to take a look at what we were doing at the community college project as part of the process of determining whether we should become a public institution in Vermont. We had enemies on the Council and only a few friends, but given the situation, there was no way I could say “no” to the offer.
I met with Sister Elizabeth to plan for the visit and I voiced my concern. Eyes twinkling, she replied,” sometimes you just have to trust the process and the people.” The commission was named, the visit came and went, and the report was written and submitted. Although it contained cautions, it was, on balance, very positive and our cause moved one step closer to acceptance.
When I called on Sister Elizabeth to thank her, she held up her forefinger and said, “No thanks necessary. This was important to do. Now you have to go forward and get very good at what the college is doing. That will be all the thanks I need.” When I asked her why she took the risk to her reputation and standing, she replied, very firmly, “The Lord’s work is not always done by people in cloth or with religious intent. The people of Vermont need this college.”