The St. Catherine University community lost two faculty emeritae this summer, each contributing significantly to St. Kate’s strong academic reputation. Mary Thompson, CSJ (Sister Gertrude), chemistry, died on June 25 at age 89; John Christine Wolkerstorfer, CSJ, history, died August 3 at 86. Both received bachelor’s degrees from St. Kate’s and served a combined 61 years of teaching at their alma mater.
“We have gained tremendous benefit from their legacy, the other outstanding faculty members who went before, and our current wonderful and inspiring faculty,” says Ruth Haag Brombach ’60, alumnae liaison.
Sister Mary Thompson earned her doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. She returned to St. Kate’s and served as a professor of chemistry from 1964 to 2000. Recognized by students and colleagues as a superb role model for women pursuing science careers, Sister Mary challenged students to engage in demanding research projects and to continue their education at the graduate level.
Under her leadership, chemistry at St. Kate’s was strengthened through grant-funded acquisition of modern scientific instrumentation, the inclusion of undergraduate research as an integral part of the curriculum, and American Chemical Society verification of the major.
Recognized by professional organizations, Sister Mary was a finalist for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education Professor of the Year award in 1984 and, in 1997, received the American Chemical Society’s Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. She gained additional status through summer work in the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago — when achieving the position was an enormous feat for a woman and a religious sister.
Sister Mary was very active in the campus chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and the national PBK organization. An accomplished musician, she played the cello and did beautiful work in calligraphy.
Sister John Christine completed master’s and doctoral degrees in American history at the University of Minnesota. She taught for 10 years in the archdiocesan parochial system and nine years in Catholic secondary education. With her doctorate, she taught history from 1973 to 1998 and was involved in several innovative programs at St. Kate’s. She was an early faculty member in the Weekend College, team-taught honors courses and was among the first to offer a history course on computer for the Distance Learning Program.
In the 1980s, she chaired an oral history project at St. Kate’s for 11 years and in 1992 co-authored with Rosalie Ryan, CSJ, the history of the college, More Than a Dream. She also wrote a history of the Catholic Aid Association in St. Paul, and, in 1999, You Shall Be My People, a history of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
A gifted teacher, Sister John Christine received Excellence in Teaching awards, in 1998, from the St. Catherine Alumnae Association and, in 2008, from the Myser Family Foundation.