Monday, March 9, 2015

Sister Mary Michel Boulus (class of 1947): Educational Leader

March is Women's History Month. To celebrate, our Spartan Stories this month will feature alumni from the Woman's College, North Carolina College for Women, or State Normal eras. 

The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Jumela Ann Boulus arrived at the Woman's College from her home in China Grove, NC in the Fall of 1943. She majored in mathematics, and participated in numerous extracurricular activities, including the Catholic Students organization and Square Circle (a student group focused on the study of math). As the leader of WC's Service League during her senior year, she raised an all-time high $3000 during the school's annual Campus Purse Drive. She also served as president of the Interfaith Council during the 1946-1947 school year, leading an effort to salvage and scrap enough paper to buy a $100 government bond for the campus chapel fund. For her work, she was one of ten WC seniors elected to Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges.

Boulus in 1947 Pine Needles yearbook
Boulus graduated from the Woman's College in 1947 and taught math at Concord (N.C.) High School for two years. During her summer breaks, she continued her education, earning certificates in guidance and constitutional law from Columbia University and UNC Chapel Hill. She also earned a master's degree in mathematics from John Carroll University (Cleveland, Ohio) in 1959.

On August 2, 1949, she entered the Sisters of Mercy religious institute after a meeting with Sister Mary Immaculata. Boulus offered to drive one of the Sisters back to the convent in Belmont after Sunday mass. While there, Boulus was introduced to Mercy Sister Mary Immaculata Dulohery. Sister Immaculata asked Boulus, "Why don't you come teach for the greatest principal on earth and you'll never have to worry about money again?" And a few months later, she took her vows.

After joining the Sisters, she continued to teach mathematics in Charlotte area schools, including O'Donoghue High School and Charlotte Catholic School. By 1966, Sister Michel had joined the teaching faculty at the Sacred Heart College, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college for women in Belmont, NC. And in 1967, she became the college treasurer. Then, in 1975, she was named the college's president, becoming the first UNCG graduate to lead a four-year college or university.

Under her leadership, Sacred Heart College created a number of educational programs to aid people in need. A special education teaching certificate program was created in 1976. And in 1979, an English language institute was founded for non-native speakers. An adult degree program was also developed in 1979, and in 1982, the college began offering 12 credit hours of classes free to unemployed citizens of Gaston County. Unfortunately, the college closed in 1987 due to decreased enrollment and funding issues.

Sister Michel, 1981 Sacred Heart College yearbook
In addition to her work as president of Sacred Heart College, Sister Michel advocated for education for young people in Lebanon. During the 1970s and 1980s when Lebanon was in the midst of a civil war, she was instrumental in providing academic scholarships to Lebanese students attending U.S. colleges and universities. She was also involved with the work of the Lebanese in North Carolina Project at North Carolina State University (now part of the Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies).

In 2011, she was honored by the President of Lebanon for her service to the Lebanese people. In presenting her with the Presidential Shield of the Republic of Lebanon, President General Michel Sleiman called Sister Michel "a leading example of those American Lebanese." UNCG honored Sister Michel with the Alumni Distinguished Service Award and an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1977.

On December 9, 2012, Sister Mary Michel Boulus passed away at the age of 86.

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