Professor of the Year Reflects on Decades of Saint Mary's History


Lawrence Cory, a student at Saint Mary's during the 1930s and a professor in the Biology Department since 1952, was honored as Professor of the Year at a ceremony on March 27.

Cory's amphibian research has brought him into contact with virtually every inch of the campus during his more than 55 years here. He and generations of his students have traipsed through Las Trampas Creek in search of salamanders, and today he teaches courses in the state-of-the-art Brousseau Hall.

"Professor Cory has taught genetics and biology courses to hundreds of pre-med students and general biology majors," Provost Sally Stampp said in her opening remarks. "He now mostly offers introductory courses to non-science majors, believing that current citizens, in order to be informed voters, need to have some knowledge of science."

During his keynote address, Cory -- who celebrates his 90th birthday this spring -- regaled the crowd with anecdotes dating back to his first visit to Moraga in 1927, a year before the College moved its campus from Oakland.

A huge fan of Saint Mary's football during his childhood, Cory shared stories about the team's legendary cross-country train trips to New York to face Fordham in the late 1920s. He recounted one yarn about Coach Slip Madigan's dubious claim to have captured the Fordham Rams' mascot (which Cory says was an impostor, picked up from some farmers near Stockton on the team's ride home).

Saint Mary's was so associated with football, Cory said, that one San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist wrote that the College's huge "SM" logo painted on the hill above the Chapel stood for the legendary coach "Slip Madigan." Not long after that, Cory joked, "the SM was moved to another hill (behind the dormitories) and "a 'C' was added to remove any ambiguity."

Cory said much has changed since his first few decades at Saint Mary's, the most remarkable difference being the status of women on campus.

In the late 1940s, Cory noted, there were no women in the student body or on the faculty. During the Brothers' Superior General's visit from Rome in 1948, the few women working at the College were asked to stay home.

"Women were not ignored, but positively rejected," said Cory, and were asked to hide "when the boss came in from headquarters."

Today, after more than 35 years as a coeducational institution, nearly two-thirds of the students and half the faculty members at Saint Mary's are women, a far cry from Cory's student days in the 1930s.

Cory offered insights into what he called "ecclesiastical misogyny" within Christianity, dating back to the third century when church leaders adopted Aristotle's ideas of reproductive science, which remained unchallenged until the 18th century.

Pointing out disparaging statements about women made by saints ranging from Augustine to Aquinas, Cory said that element of the church's history is key to understanding its ongoing evolution.

"We are what we are today because we were what we were," Cory said. "That's true of any organism, and it's true of the church."

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications