Commitment to service marks women of McAuley
Kristen McQueary email@example.com | (708) 633-5972 April 22, 2011 5:26PM
Elizabeth Doody Gorman (from left), Bridget Gainer, Kelly Doyle Coakley and Courtney Greve, shown in the Cook County Building on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, are among Mother McAuley alumnae who have careers in public service. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 23, 2012 2:15AM
After 12 years covering government and politics for the SouthtownStar, I have encountered numerous graduates of Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
The litmus test is pretty simple: If she’s smart and sassy yet warm and earthy, career-focused yet devoted to family, opinionated but open-minded, bold yet approachable, cosmopolitan in stilettos or carefree in a T-shirt, comfortable in both a church pew and a sports bar, she’s probably a Mother McAuley graduate.
She might be an elected official, a behind-the-scenes adviser, a lawyer or a social worker. She might be a boss or a subordinate, a prosecutor or a bailiff.
She might be a Republican who opposes abortion or a Democrat who supports gay marriage.
She is, most likely, a public servant who is comfortable in her skin and illuminated — but not indoctrinated — by McAuley’s Christian, Catholic principles.
And she probably has three names.
“I don’t think in high school you think about things in terms of ultra liberal or ultra conservative, but you have so many wonderful teachers, counselors and deans who challenge you to think outside the box,” said state Rep. Emily Klunk McAsey (D-Lockport), a 1996 McAuley graduate who is serving her second term in the General Assembly. “You are not afraid to share your perspective.”
The statistics bear out the anecdotal. Eighty percent of McAuley’s 2010 graduates were enrolled in a four-year college after graduation. The rest planned to attend two-year schools.
Mother McAuley, located in a nondescript quadrant of semi-suburban Chicago, remains one of the state’s largest and most prosperous all-girl high schools with an average of 350 girls per graduating class.
Nearly everyone I interviewed mentioned Mother Mary Catherine McAuley, for whom the school is named. She founded the Sisters of Mercy, who focused their faith on serving those in need.
“I am a public servant, first and foremost,” said Annie Coakley, an assistant to the city of Chicago’s commissioner for housing and economic development. “Mother McAuley instills that in you. There is a heavy focus on political science, social justice, the economy and the service side of being a Catholic.”
Her sister-in-law, Kelly Doyle Coakley, class of 1994, is an assistant Cook County state’s attorney who is developing a law society at Mother McAuley. Through word of mouth alone, she recently compiled a list of more than 400 graduates practicing in the legal field, many of whom are prominent attorneys and judges in the Chicago area.
“We are who we are because we went to Mother McAuley,” Doyle Coakley said. “Being at an all-girls school means you see women leaders all around you. They are the club presidents, the class presidents. Having that foundation when you’re a teenager is important.”
Kathleen Strand, class of 1997, is a consultant with the Illinois Federation of Teachers. She stacked her resume with an impressive list of employers shortly after graduating from journalism school. She worked her way through Democratic political circles, eventually helping to coordinate Hillary Clinton’s presidential primary in key states.
Strand wasn’t bashful about sharing her opinions and challenging the campaign’s veteran players. Last year, she served as chief spokeswoman for Alexi Giannoulias’ U.S. Senate race.
“It definitely was not unusual for me to be the only woman in the room,” she said of her early days in Washington, D.C.
“There is a dearth of women in politics,” added Courtney Greve, a newspaper reporter-turned-spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr. “We are products of an all-girls school that encouraged us to state our opinions. And it helps to not be distracted by boys in high school.”
Two Cook County commissioners, Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) and Bridget Gainer (D-Chicago), graduated from McAuley.
“The school really establishes ‘Be comfortable with who you are,’” said Gorman, who keeps her maiden name attached to her public profile due to McAuley connections.
Indeed, they are everywhere, the women of McAuley.
“They’re in my parish now in LaGrange,” said Kate Kelly, a 1986 graduate and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “It’s interesting. We’re everywhere. We’ve all gone on with that sense of community service. I was Volunteer of the Year at the YMCA in my area.
“You don’t stop giving. Mother McAuley keeps pushing you.”