Two Sets of Sisters, a Catholic Priest, and Silver Award Winner?

Which NPC sorority founded on this date 105 years ago counts among its founders two sets of sisters and a Catholic priest? Hint, it is the same NPC sorority whose former National President was honored this year by National Interfraternity Conference with a Silver Medal. It’s Theta Phi Alpha, of course. Happy 105th Birthday!

On August 30, 1912, Theta Phi Alpha was founded at the University of Michigan. Although founded on August 30, Theta Phi Alpha celebrates Founders’ Day on April 30, the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena.* St. Catherine is the patroness of the organization and her motto, “Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring, ” is Theta Phi Alpha’s motto as well.

At that time Theta Phi Alpha was founded, Catholics were not always welcome in the other fraternal organizations on campus. Moreover, the University of Michigan is likely the only state university which can count a Catholic priest among its founders. In 1817, Father Gabriel Richard was a co-founder of the Catholepistemiad of Michigania which later became known as the University of Michigan. (The University celebrated its 200 birthday a few days ago!) He served as its Vice-President from 1817-21. In 1821 he was appointed to the Board of Trustees and served until his death in 1832. So, it is therefore interesting to note the Catholic connection between the Catholic sorority and the state university founded by a Catholic priest.  When Theta Phi Alpha was founded, the Catholic hierarchy was of the belief that Catholic women should be attending Catholic colleges and universities. Giving Catholic women the opportunity to join a Catholic sorority could provide an opportunity to keep them close to their Catholic roots at a secular institution.

In 1909, Father Edward D. Kelly, a Catholic priest and the pastor of the university’s student chapel organized Omega Upsilon. He believed that the Catholic women at the university should have the opportunity to belong to an organization  that “resembled the Catholic homes from which they came.”

After Father Kelly left campus and became the Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, Omega Upsilon was struggling.  There were no alumnae to guide the organization. Bishop Kelly’s vision that the Catholic women at Michigan should have a place to call their own was still alive even though he was not on campus. He enlisted the assistance of Amelia McSweeney, a 1898 University of Michigan alumna. Together with seven Omega Upsilon alumnae, plans were made to establish a new organization, Theta Phi Alpha.

The Founders of Theta Phi Alpha

Theta Phi Alpha’s ten founders are Amelia McSweeney, Mildred M. Connely, May C. Ryan, Selma Gilday, Camilla Ryan Sutherland, Helen Ryan Quinlan, Katrina Caughey Ward, Dorothy Caughey Phalan, Otilia Leuchtweis O’Hara, and Eva Stroh Bauer.  Seven of them were Omega Upsilon alumnae and two were undergraduate members of Omega Upsilon.

According to the NIC press release:

Dr. Mari Ann Callais began her tenure in the fraternal movement as a fraternity/sorority life professional at both Mississippi State University and Southeastern Louisiana University. Throughout the 25 years that have followed, and counting, Dr. Callais has become a sought-after keynote speaker and facilitator for fraternity and sorority leadership events, a staff member of Delta Delta Delta Fraternity serving as Senior Director of Special Initiatives, and as national president of Theta Phi Alpha, among other notable roles serving the fraternal industry.

Congratulations Theta Phi Alpha and Mari Ann!

** Saint Catherine was canonized in 1461. From 1597 until 1628, the feast of Saint Catherine of Sienna was celebrated on April 29, the date she died. In 1628, due to a conflict with the feast of Saint Peter of Verona, hers was moved to April 30. In 1969, the Catholic Church reinstated her feast date as April 29. 
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