Dr. Margaret H. Mahoney, a legendary professor of history whose life became inextricably linked with the history of Bellarmine itself, died in her native state of Montana on March 11, 2018. She was 86.
Dr. Mahoney began her career at Bellarmine in September 1958, where she was the first full-time, long-term woman faculty member at what was then an Archdiocesan college for men. She taught until 2012, amazing her students throughout the years by lecturing without any notes and starting exactly where she had stopped in the previous class.
“In 2012, she was leaning forward as she lectured, and she fell,” university historian Clyde Crews related earlier this year in an episode of The Pineapple, the Bellarmine Magazine podcast. “Students rushed forward to pick her up, but she was lecturing the whole time she was on the floor. That was typical Margaret Mahoney.”
Frank DeSensi ’63 took several of Dr. Mahoney’s classes. “They always started on the button and ended exactly on time,” he recalled, “and you couldn’t blink because you might miss a whole civilization.”
From 1965 until 1992, Dr. Mahoney was also the Director of the Cardinal Sections, Bellarmine’s first honors program. “She gave us opportunities for appreciating the arts, having tickets made available to us for theater performances and annual trip besides the weekly meetings,” said Bill Rybak ’73, a history major who was Dr. Mahoney’s work study his junior and senior years. He and his wife, Kaelin Rybak ’74, became good friends with Dr. Mahoney after graduation and had dinner with her at least once a year.
“I have always viewed Margaret as the first ‘Renaissance Man’ that I ever met,” he said. “Yes, I know Margaret was a woman, but she still was a ‘Man for All Seasons’ for me. While she had her Ph.D. in history, I am sure she could have gone into many other disciplines, from English to psychology.”
The Rybaks were instrumental in contacting graduates of the honors program, along with Dr. Mahoney’s many history majors, to raise more than $25,000 in 2000 to start the Dr. Margaret H. Mahoney Scholarship Fund, which today enables talented students with financial need to attend Bellarmine.
Dr. Mahoney was the chair of the Social Science Division from 1970-85 before Bellarmine switched to a system of academic schools. When Fr. Jeremiah Smith, OFM, retired in 1988, she became the second chair of Bellarmine’s History and Political Science Department, a position she held until a few years before her retirement. She was also the longtime chair of the Rank and Tenure, Waiver and Exemptions, and Awards Committees and a charter member of the Faculty Council.
Students twice voted her Teacher of the Year. She also received the William T. Miles Award; the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award; and the Msgr. Horrigan Award. From 1986-88 she was president of the Kentucky Honors Roundtable, which she co-founded in 1983.
In 2010, then-President Joseph J. McGowan presented her with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, making her the first serving faculty member so honored.
“As the first woman to lead Bellarmine, I am aware of—and profoundly grateful for—Margaret Mahoney’s pioneering role in building a culture where the contributions of women were welcomed and celebrated, both on campus and well beyond,” said current President Susan M. Donovan. “Beyond her significance as the first woman on our faculty, she loved Bellarmine and was loved by so many of our students across multiple generations. Her name comes up often when I meet with alumni, who cherish the time they spent in her classroom. We’re grateful for her many contributions and we will ensure her legacy and spirit live on at Bellarmine.”
Dr. Mahoney’s family suggests that donations in her memory go to the Margaret Mahoney Endowed Scholarship Fund. Designate your gift for that purpose at bellarmine.edu/give.
Send your memories of Dr. Margaret Mahoney to firstname.lastname@example.org.