Looking at the sequence of letters after her name, one can be impressed simply by her professional credentials and accomplishments. Mary Angela Shaughnessy, SCN, is known as Sister Angie to most. She has her doctorate in law and is well published with over 30 texts in circulation. In ministry, most recently at St. Catharine College for eight years, she served as the dean of the Graduate School. She also served as the school’s legal counsel, American Disabilities Act Services coordinator, and executive director of the Education Law Institute.
As her time at St. Catharine is drawing to a close this summer, the sense of community that exists at the school, and the role that Sister Angie plays in helping to create a family environment, is evident. Sister Angela worked tirelessly as part of a team to try and grow and strengthen the school. And now, she is working tirelessly to help students transition to a new school following the announcement that economic factors are contributing to the school’s closing.
Sitting with her at St. Catharine College’s cafeteria at lunchtime, what comes across most is her warm, engaging personality and the way she interacts with faculty, staff, and students. She seems to know everyone by name. And, it isn’t unusual to find her spending a few minutes speaking with a student, helping the student acclimate to her surroundings.
Amanda Mattingly, her assistant for four years, speaks affectionately of Sister Angie, “The students see her as a mother figure. She looks out for the students.” When a student’s brother passed away, the family was struggling to cover expenses. Sister Angie helped organize an effort to pay for the funeral.
Faculty members asked to describe Sister Angie call her a fixer and a problem solver. It’s the way her brain works. “Books, cats or clothing, she finds a home for everything.”
Human Resource director, Carlotta Brussell, describes her as very compassionate. “She has a passion for people, law and education.”
Associate Professor Jim Silliman says that despite her many responsibilities, she rarely let much get under her skin. “She has a cool head and that’s not always easy … but the problems just flow off her like water on a duck.”
Growing up, Sister Angie spent quite a bit of time in convents with her aunts, her father’s sisters, who were all Sisters. One was a Little Sister of the Poor and two were Sisters of Mercy. Sister Angie and her family all assumed that was where her path would lead. She attended Mercy Academy in Louisville. She says she is one of the few Louisville-born SCNs who did not attend Presentation Academy. “But my nieces have,” she adds. After taking a trip to Nazareth with a friend, Sister Angie’s vocation plans were altered. At Nazareth, she met Sister Gabriel Branscome and began a relationship. She witnessed a bond amongst the SCNs. She said it was clear that the Sisters she met at Nazareth really liked each other and she wanted to be a part of that. Her aunts were surprised and asked why she chose the SCNs, and Angie explained, “There was a lot of laughter, a lot of joy and that attracted me.”
Sister Angie is also friends with members of the Dominicans of Peace community. Her ministry with St. Catharine College (founded by the Dominicans) brought her into frequent contact with Dominican Sisters. Dominican Sister Elaine DesRosiers, an artist in residence, has become close to Sister Angie. Sister Elaine says when Sister Angie first came on board, she wanted to make her feel welcomed. “I really didn’t understand then how important she was in Catholic School Law. I just invited her for a cup of tea. She is great to spend time with.”
In the 1980s, Sister Angie was at Boston College working toward her doctorate. It was then that she found an interest in law. While earning her doctorate, she needed to take classes in law. “I thought they’d be awful so I took them first to get them out of the way,” she explains. To her surprise, she really enjoyed studying law. In 1992, she earned her doctorate of law degree (Juris Doctorate) from the University of Louisville’s School of Law.
All of Sister Angie’s ministries over the years have been in education. She spent nearly 10 years at Our Lady of Nazareth (OLN) in Massachusetts as a faculty member and in administration. She fondly remembers being principal at OLN, “I loved it. I would’ve stayed 100 years.” She spent the next 20 years serving in various positions at Spalding University in Louisville. Her titles included vice president for mission, legal counsel, and executive director of the educational law institute. In 1990, she began and served for 15 years as director of the doctoral program in education. She has served at St. Catharine College since 2008.
Each year Sister Angie organizes the National Law Symposium in Louisville. Now in its 14th year, the gathering brings together about 150 Catholic educators to hear speakers and to network with one another.
Her contributions to Catholic education were recently recognized by the National Catholic Educational Association who unanimously chose Sister Angie to receive its highest award, the Albert Koob Merit Award. Sister Angie’s service and contributions were recognized as having current significance at the national level.
Cindy Gnadinger, president at the school, speaks of Sister Angie’s impact on the rural Kentucky college, “She is a true giver. She has been a wonderful asset to the college.”
Sister Angie’s generosity and talents have led her to many activities, quite a few outside of education and law. From writing a column for a paper, a column she recently won an award for from the Catholic Press Association, to being involved in theater, Sister Angie seems tireless.
“She wears many hats and is very diverse,” Carlotta says. Those hats and diversity include her participation in the arts. She helped to revive the school’s drama club. “I found myself in three of the plays she directed,” Sister Elaine recalls. Sister Angie once had to unexpectedly star in the school’s performance of Oscar Wilde’s stage comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” when the female romantic lead got laryngitis. Sister Angie knew the lines well enough to fill in and the audience loved it!
Bettye Brookfield, the chair of the fine arts department, served on several committees with Sister Angie. She says Sister Angie came to the college in a very professional capacity and along the way became one of her biggest supporters. “Her generosity is unsurpassed. She’s not just a professional with a Ph.D. She is a golden hearted individual. It is my privilege to know her and work with her.”
Sister Angie says her ministry has been gratifying. “This is one of the best communities I know. I enjoy a smaller school. We have had many first generation college students. It’s rewarding to see students master something, to really learn something.” And, reflects Sister Angie, she has been able to get far more out of being at the college than she gave.
Now, as Sister Angie looks toward the future, she says she will continue to minister in education and to be a writer, especially after receiving the Catholic Press Association award. “I am very humbled, but see this as a sign that I am still called to write and teach. I will be increasing my involvement as senior distinguished fellow of Catholic education at Loyola Marymount University.”
Always guided by her faith, Sister Angie finds hope for all connected to St. Catharine College during this time of transition — the students, faculty, and staff, and for herself. “When God closes a door, we are told that windows open,” shares Sister Angie.