Past NCEA President Sister Catherine T. McNamee Dies

Sister Catherine worked tirelessly to nurture diverse voices in Catholic education.

Arlington, VA – The National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) mourns the passing of Sister Catherine T. McNamee, CSJ. Sister Catherine was president of NCEA from 1986 – 1996. She was the first woman and the first woman religious to be president.

Sister Catherine joyfully dedicated her life to the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet through the ministry of higher Catholic education, serving the College of St. Catherine as president from 1979 – 1984 and in 2019 was appointed Trustee Emeriti. She held many distinguished leadership roles and board positions for national and international institutions, including her 10-year presidency of NCEA.

Sister Catherine and Monsignor John Meyers (NCEA President 1974 – 1986) posed together at an NCEA Convention & Expo."Sister Catherine was an inspiring presence at every NCEA Convention & Expo I can remember up to just a couple of years ago," said NCEA Interim President/CEO Kathy Mears. "She is fondly remembered for her tireless work in Catholic education and her exemplary and groundbreaking work in diversity and multiculturalism."

The NCEA annual President’s Awards were named for five past NCEA presidents and presented at a dinner opening the NCEA Convention & Expo each year. Among these elite awards is the Catherine T. McNamee, CSJ Award. The award named for Sister Catherine is presented to an individual or institution that offers exceptional leadership in promoting a vision of Catholic education that welcomes and serves cultural and economic diversity or serves students with diverse needs.

As one of her first tasks as president of NCEA, Sister Catherine planned the Papal meeting of Pope John Paul II in 1987 with Catholic education leaders. At the New Orleans gathering, the Holy Father called U.S. Catholic education "a gift to the Church and to the country" — a phrase that Sister Catherine often repeated throughout her presidency.

NCEA, under Sister Catherine’s direction, organized the National Congress on Catholic Schools for the 21st Century, which inspired the Seton Awards, honoring individuals who have made significant contributions to Catholic education. She also was instrumental in the roll out of The National Marketing Campaign for Catholic Schools and the annual NCEA Bishops’ Reception. An advocate for school choice, she led Catholic leaders in a meeting with President George H.W. Bush to advance this initiative.

Close to her heart was her desire to be a personal and Christlike example of a leader who embodied the values of social justice, inclusion and diversity. Her dedication to broaden and deepen diverse experiences and multicultural connections led her to serve with international organizations dedicated to Catholic education. Her deep roots in social justice guided her role as a commissioner on the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday Commission.

She held positions of influence with the International Federation of Catholic Universities, the International Organization of Catholic Education, the Inter-American Confederation of Catholic Education, the U.S. Catholic China Bureau, as well as many other academic institutions. In Chile, particularly, she served in education and extended the CSJ mission through La Familia de San Jose.

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In service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, NCEA strengthens Catholic school communities by providing professional development, formation, leadership and advocacy.