Former Dominican president stays active on campus
Sister Jean Murray speaks during the dedication of a Dominican University residence hall in her name on Sept. 27. | Photo courtesy Dominican University
Updated: November 19, 2012 2:01PM
RIVER FOREST — Among her lifetime of firsts, Sister Jean Murray of Dominican University was the first female member of the Oak Park Country Club.
“I don’t remember ever playing a round of golf there though,” quipped Murray, an avid golfer and a former president of the university. “(The club membership) must have come at the end of my tenure or it was a social membership.”
Murray, 85, still golfs, participates in Aqua Motion classes at the Gottlieb Center for Fitness in Melrose Park, plays bridge, is part of a book club, does the special events cooking and a majority of the other cooking for herself and the three other sisters she lives with, annually travels to France, and mentors at Dominican.
“I keep busy,” Murray said.
Murray, who served as university president from 1981-94, has been bestowed an honor few see in their lifetime – a college residence hall named in her honor. Dominican has renamed the former Centennial Hall, a dormitory on campus since 2003, as “Sister Jean Murray Hall.”
A friend of Murray’s, who is a professor at a state university, was taken aback by the move, noting his university names buildings posthumously, fearing the honoree’s name is later dragged through the mud because of wrongdoing.
“The Board of Trustees apparently had no doubts,” the diminutive Murray smiled. “They’re confident I’m not going to be too wild.”
The River Forest native and Trinity High School graduate was the first Dominican president elected by a board of trustees. She said the constant glare of the spotlight, not only as university president but as university president living on campus, eventually got to her.
“I think it is true more so today than when I was president, but as president you are always in the public eye,” Murray said. “And I was residing on campus. When you are on campus, you are always on call, always visible. You have no private life.”
It was during her time as president that Murray moved into an Oak Park home three miles from campus with three other sisters.
During her tenure, Murray led a revamp of the curriculum, giving it more of a liberal arts core; strengthened the university’s foreign studies options for students; and oversaw the first $1 million gift to the university, given in honor of one of her lost classmates at Rosary College. Rosary was renamed Dominican in 1997.
As president, Murray strengthened the university’s observance of Founders Day in honor of the Rev. Samuel Mazzuchelli, who started the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters – of which Murray is a member – and St. Clara’s Academy, an all-girl’s school that eventually grew into Dominican University.
“We still have a party on his birthday and we have cake,” Murray said.
A member of the Dominican faculty since 1961 and a longtime French teacher, Murray is relishing her role as president emerita, allowing her to mentor others.
“I help out as needed,” said Murray, who has no plans for retirement. “I encourage and instruct staff in departments … I go to programs and events. I show an interest in what the (students and faculty) do.”