Sr. Ann Ida Gannon, former professor, president of Mundelein College and namesake of Loyola’s Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, passed away June 3 at the age of 103.
Mundelein College was a Catholic, liberal arts college for women, which opened in 1930 on what is now Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. It was incorporated into Loyola in 1991.
The Gannon Center was founded in 1997 as the legacy of Mundelein College and Sr. Ann Ida’s tenure as president. It serves to support and promote female academia within the university.
Those who knew Sr. Ann Ida, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) for 85 years, describe her as a devoted sister, innovative educator and persistent leader.
Before her 18-year tenure as president of Mundelein College, Sr. Ann Ida watched Mundelein grow from a unique perspective.
A Rogers Park native, Sr. Ann Ida was born near Mundelein’s future home. She grew up attending Catholic school in the area, during which she and her school band played at Mundelein College’s opening ceremony in 1930, according to Sr. Jean Dolores-Schmidt, Loyola’s BVM Resident Chaplain and a longtime friend of Sr. Ann Ida.
While Sr. Ann Ida moved on to enter the BVM and begin her career in teaching, she soon returned to Mundelein as a philosophy professor and became president in 1957.
In a short 2014 biography, Sister Ann Ida is described as an astute and forward-thinking president. The book, written by Robert Aguirre and edited by Janet Sisler, emphasizes how Sr. Ann Ida challenged the sisters and students at Mundelein to achieve a standard unprecedented for women during that time.
“She was a great leader, she was a feminist in the true sense of the word, not fighting to get what she wanted, but trying to get people to rationalize what she was trying to do for the betterment of women,” Sr. Jean said.
Sr. Jean joined Sr. Ann Ida at Mundelein College in 1961, though they originally met in 1940 while attending DePaul University.
“I knew her for a number of years, we were very good friends, she was very good to me, we worked hard together at Mundelein,” Sr. Jean said.
Sr. Jean remembers their time together at Mundelein as productive. She said Sr. Ann Ida almost always had projects going on as president and made sure to include the other BVM sisters.
“I always loved to help her because she was so organized that her projects would take about half the time you thought it would take,” Sr. Jean said.
Even with the ongoing projects, Sr. Ann Ida made sure there was also time for fun.
According to Sr. Jean, it wasn’t uncommon to find the BVM sisters having a Sunday night barbecue outside on the eighth floor of the Mundelein building.
“We always had fun when we did that, all of the sisters together,” Sr. Jean said.
Sr. Ann Ida’s presidency was colored with the ongoing social changes of United States in the 60s and 70s.
One such moment came on Nov. 22, 1963 when former President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Austin.
According to Sr. Jean, the dean of the college had to call students down to the auditorium for the announcement because Sr. Ann Ida was in Washington D.C. for a meeting.
“The dean made the announcement that the president has been shot and we all thought it was Sister Ann Ida [who died] because she was away … girls started to cry,” Sr. Jean said.
While the dean quickly clarified the President of the United States had been killed, not the President of Mundelein College, the moment was a testament to Sr. Ann Ida’s impact on the Mundelein community.
In 1970, four students at Kent State University were shot and killed, and nine more were injured, for protesting the Vietnam War. Students around the country led strikes at their universities, and the students at Mundelein College were equally eager to express their dissent.
Sr. Ann Ida addressed the situation with such ease Fr. Baumhart, then executive vice president at Loyola, requested her assistance with his university according to Sr. Jean.
“… she handled that situation so well with the students and the faculty. Whatever she did, she did very calmly,” Sr. Jean said.
Sr. Ann Ida extended the same social awareness and activism shown in her presidency beyond her work at Mundelein College.
After stepping down as president, Sr. Ann Ida served on boards throughout the nation including with the The Newberry Library, The Chicago Police Board and St. Louis University, according to the biography. She was the first female or religious person on more than one occasion.
“Sister Ann Ida was the quintessential host,” the BVM said in an obituary on their website. “Other-centered and gracious, she greeted friend and stranger alike with warmth and encouraging words. On first meeting her, one would never guess she had a lifetime of ‘firsts’.”
Notably, Sr. Ann Ida was appointed as a member of the Presidential Task Force on Women’s Rights and Responsibilities by President Nixon.
She also was co-chair of ERA Illinois, according to the biography, where she advocated for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. However, the ERA was never ratified in Illinois during her time on the board.
“That was one thing she regretted all her life, that she didn’t get [the Equal Rights Amendment] passed,” Sr. Jean said.
On May 30, almost two weeks before her passing, Illinois finally passed the ERA
Janet Sisler, former director of Loyola’s Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, paid tribute to Sister Ann Ida in a bereavement notice sent to the university community June 5.
Sisler spoke of her appreciation for the opportunity to work with Sister Ann Ida as director of the Gannon Center.
“I learned much from her, and at each encounter I came away with a deeper appreciation for her sheer genius and immense love,” Sisler said.
A memorial was held June 8 at Mt. Carmel in Dubuque, Iowa. The BVM provided a livestream of the wake and funeral service to accommodate those who weren’t able to attend the ceremony.