ST. LOUIS – Sister Caroleen Hensgen, SSND, a School Sister of Notre Dame, died Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, at St. Mary of the Pines in Chatawa, Miss., from cancer. She was 98 and an educator for 60 years as a teacher, administrator and superintendent of a school system. She served as the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas from 1967-91. She was the first woman to be appointment the superintendent of schools for a Catholic diocese in the United States.
The funeral Mass will be held on Monday, Oct. 21 at St. Teresa Church in Chatawa. Visitation is at 9:30 a.m. with Mass at 10:30 a.m., followed by burial in the St. Mary of the Pines cemetery in Chatawa.
A Mass of Remembrance for Sister Caroleen will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, November 18 at St. Monica Catholic Church. Bishop Farrell paid tribute to Sister Carolee, saying, "We mourn the passing of this legendary Catholic educator but we celebrate her life and significant contributions. Sister Caroleen had a major impact in the Diocese of Dallas by leading our Catholic schools in providing outstanding quality education that positively formed hundreds of thousands of students who are leaders in our community today. She was also a staunch defender of the civil rights of all citizens. Let us pray for the repose of the soul of this great woman and my dear friend, and may perpetual light shine upon Sister Caroleen."
Sister Caroleen was born in St. Louis. She entered the congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame from St. Ann in Normandy, Mo., and professed first vows in 1935. She earned a bachelor’s in Latin and English in 1944 and a master’s in Latin in 1949 from St. Louis University.
Sister Caroleen first served as a teacher in elementary grades at St. Francis Solanus in Quincy, Ill., in 1933. From 1940-48, she taught in junior and secondary schools in St. Louis and Belleville, Ill.From 1948-67, she was principal at Notre Dame High School in St. Louis; St. Paul High School in Highland, Ill.; St. John Junior High School in Burlington, Iowa; Redemptorist High School in New Orleans; and Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge, La. She also served as supervisor of 13 elementary schools for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
In 1967, Sister Caroleen was the first woman to be named as a Catholic school superintendent in the United States when she was appointed superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Dallas. She served in the position for 24 years.
In an article in the Texas Catholic in 1993, she was described as demonstrating feisty candor and spunk for which she was known. As superintendent, she “gradually gained acceptance, making staunch friends among those who first ignored her and, many years later, winning election to the executive committee (of the Chief Administrators of Catholic Education) and awards for her contributions to Catholic education.”
As Dallas superintendent, Sister Caroleen focused on the importance of education for everyone. She has been described as “a professional educator ahead of her time,” and she looked to change systems. She was conscious of issues of social justice and racial equality. For instance, in 1971, she put an unprecedented freeze on Catholic school enrollment to block transfers of public school students trying to flee court-ordered segregation. The freeze lasted seven years. She said it was an issue that affected the entire city, and they all had an obligation to help solve it.
From 1991-93, she was an education consultant for the Diocese of Dallas and from 1993-2002, she conducted educational research before retiring in Coppell, Texas, and then Chatawa, Miss., earlier this year.
Throughout her educational career, Sister Caroleen served on many boards and committees, including the New American Schools Development Corporation, an education advisory panel to President George H.W. Bush’s initiative for education, “America 2000.” Other affiliations include the United States Catholic Conference advisory committee on federal assistance, Texas Catholic Conference superintendent committee, Sammons Foundation board, Community Action Program for the War on Poverty for Dallas County, University of Dallas education advisory committee and more.
Sister Caroleen has no immediate survivors.
Memorial contributions may be made to the School Sisters of Notre Dame Retirement Fund, c/o Mission Advancement, 320 E. Ripa Ave., St. Louis, MO, 63125-2897.