Professor emerita Mary Thompson, CSJ (Sister Gertrude), died on Sunday, June 25, 2017, at age 89. A St. Catherine University alumna, class of 1953, she was a professor of chemistry at the University from 1964 to 2000.
Mary attended St. Kate’s after graduating from Visitation High School. In 1949, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and was given the name Sister Gertrude. She took her first vows in 1952, and her final vows in 1958. During that time, she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from St. Kate’s, where she became a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She went on to earn a master’s degree in chemistry at the University of Minnesota and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.
Mary’s teaching career began at Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, where she was a science and mathematics teacher. In 1964, she joined the faculty at St. Kate’s, teaching chemistry and natural sciences. She was promoted to associate professor in 1969 and to full professor in 1978. She served as chair of the chemistry department 1969–1990 and as Endowed Professor of Science 1986–1989.
Under Mary's 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 chemistry major.
Recognized by her students and colleagues as a superb role model for women pursuing science careers, Mary challenged students to engage in demanding research projects and to continue their education at the graduate level. She received many research fellowships, which enabled her to maintain an active scholarly life. Her work as a teacher and mentor set the stage for St. Kate’s increasing commitment to preparing women scientists.
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.
Upon her retirement in 2000, she was given the title of faculty emerita. That same year, alumnae and friends of St. Kate’s chemistry department established the Sister Mary Thompson Scholarship to honor her dedication to women in science. The scholarship provides assistance to a St. Kate’s student pursuing a degree in either chemistry or pre-medicine.
During St. Kate’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2005, Mary was named one of the Centennial 100 for her influential role in the University’s history and development.
Her hobbies included calligraphy and playing piano and cello. In retirement, she wrote grants for the CSJ Ministries Foundation and served as the treasurer of the CSJ St. Paul Province.
Mass of Christian Burial was held on July 5, 2017 in Our Lady of Presentation Chapel in St. Paul, Minnesota.
To contribute to the Sister Mary Thompson Scholarship Fund, click the link below and choose Sister Mary Thompson Scholarship Fund as your gift designation.