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Sr. Ellen Leonard: Woman of Distinction

On International Women's Day, March 8, Sister Ellen Leonard was announced as one of the women who will receive the YWCA 2005 Women of Distinction Award in the category of Religion and Education. The award is given to women who "have made extraordinary contributions to improving the lives of other women and girls."

"I feel very honoured and happy to share this award with some wonderful, inspiring women," said Sr. Ellen. The eight other recipients included: Ebonnie Rowe (arts and entertainment), Sylvia Chrominska (corporate leadership), Beth Jordan (social justice), Margaret Norrie McCain (philanthropy and volunteerism), Dianne Schwalm (mentorship), Tonika Morgan (young woman of distinction) and Dianne Martin (special award, posthumous). Previous recipients over the past 25 years include Doris Anderson, Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Margaret Atwood, and Barbara Turnbull.

Sister Ellen has spent her life advocating for women's equality in both the church and academia. One of the first women hired to teach theology in Canada, Dr. Leonard is a leader and a role model for women of every denomination.

At the University of Toronto's Hart House, each of the eight women spoke about a woman who inspired her. Sr. Ellen spoke about Sister Dorothy O'Connor, principal of St. Joseph's College School when she was a student there.

"She was a Sister of St. Joseph - I looked at her from a distance and wished I could be like her when I grew up," said Sr. Ellen. "She encouraged me in my studies and continued to inspire me throughout her life."

Dianne Schwalm, a graduate of St. Joseph's Morrow Park High School, named the Sisters of St. Joseph as the women who truly inspired her.

Judy Rebick talked about her book, "Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution." She said that young women today inspire her in how they already believe that "we can change the world."

The 25th annual Women of Distinction awards dinner will take place on May 31, 2005 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Sister Ellen's words about Sister Dorothy O'Connor

Sister St. Stephen was principal of St. Joseph's College School when I was a student. She was a Sister of St. Joseph, an intelligent, capable woman who was committed to the education of young women. She was beautiful dressed in her long black habit. I looked at her from a distance and wished I could be like her when I grew up. After graduation from St. Joseph's College School, I joined the Sisters of St. Joseph. On March 19, 1952, I received the habit and the religious name of Sister Loyola. When I looked in the mirror, I was pleased to see that I looked like Sister St. Stephen.

Years passed and many changes occurred in religious congregations of women. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960's called for renewal in the Roman Catholic Church. In response to this call, women religious made some dramatic changes in dress and lifestyle. We returned to our baptismal names. Sister St. Stephen became Dorothy O'Connor and I was again called Ellen.

Dorothy was in the forefront of the renewal that followed Vatican II. She was involved in the organizational development of our congregation and facilitated the drafting of our revised constitutions. She was an active woman, a teacher, and administrator and a friend. Dorothy was always open to new ideas. She was an avid reader, a person who loved riddles and good music. She encouraged me in my studies and continued to inspire me throughout her life. Her death occurred March 19, 2002. She was almost 96. I remember her as strong but gentle, supportive, understanding of others — a true source of inspiration. I see her beautiful smile and remember her as a gracious woman who encouraged other women to develop their gifts.

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