LMU’s Original “Riot Grrrl”: Sister Raymunde McKay, RSHM

Today’s post was written by Librarian-in-Residence, Katherine Donaldson. 

In celebration of this week’s Grrrls on Film festival and Women’s History Month the Library is highlighting Sister Raymunde McKay, RSHM, who served as Marymount College President during the affiliation and merger with Loyola University. “Riot grrrl” is a term associated with female empowerment. As someone who forged a path for women at LMU and who heavily influenced the University’s mission as a whole, Sister Raymunde is one of LMU’s original riot grrrls.

Sister Mary Raymunde McKay was born in Northern Ireland in 1916. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics and a Masters and Ph.D. in economics from Fordham University in New York City. In 1936 she joined the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM), a congregation of Catholic women religious who placed themselves “at the service of those who are most in need of justice, especially women and children” and who have a strong tradition of educating women.

In 1961 Sister Raymunde was asked to take on the role of President at the relatively new Marymount College Palos Verdes campus. During her tenure she enacted a number of changes, including introducing the Encore Program for mature women to return to college, instituting the federally funded Upward Bound program, and authorizing Marymount to admit male students. When it became clear to Sister Raymunde that enrollment at the isolated Palos Verdes campus was decreasing, she began talks with Loyola University President Charles Casassa, SJ about moving to the Westchester campus. At the time, Loyola was the only Jesuit University on the west coast to have no female students.

After much discussion it was decided that Marymount would move its four year program to the Loyola campus in 1968, and that the two schools would be affiliated, but autonomous. Before moving to the Loyola campus, Sister Raymunde also negotiated a merger with Mother Mary Felix Montgomery, CSJ of St. Joseph College of Orange. Under the Marymount name, both the RSHM and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange would administer the college. During this time Sister Raymunde remained the president of Marymount College’s Palos Verdes and Westchester campuses as well as served as the sole woman member of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges accrediting commission.

While Sister Raymunde was instrumental in moving forward both the affiliation and ultimately the merger of Loyola and Marymount, she was determined that the Marymount legacy would live on. In an interview with former LMU History professor Mike Engh, she recalled a conversation she had with Sister Renee Harrangue, who served as a trustee during the merger: “Finally [Sister Renee] came one time, she was dead beat. She said ‘they’re not going to put any of the Marymount name there. They want to just keep it Loyola.’…I said to her, ‘Go back and tell them: no Marymount, no merger.’” And in 1973, the two schools did merge under the name of Loyola Marymount University.

After the merger, Sister Raymunde stepped down as president. She remained on the board of trustees for a time, and after traveling to Europe, returned as an economics professor at Marymount, Palos Verdes and at Loyola Marymount. Eventually she returned to New York, where she served as interim president at Marymount Manhattan College in 1986. She retired in 1994 and settled at the Marymount convent in Tarrytown, New York, where she would die in 2003 at the age of 86.