Sister Elizabeth Candon, Longtime Educator, Is Dead At 90

02/02/12 12:04PM By Steve Zind
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Photo: Courtesy of Vermont Public Television
Sister Elizabeth Candon

(Host) Sister Elizabeth Candon has died at the age of 90.

Candon grew up on her family's Pittsford dairy farm.  As a student at Trinity College in Burlington she met the nuns of the Sisters of Mercy Order and decided to join. 

She spent 50 years at Trinity, including 10 as president.  She dedicated herself to social causes, especially helping the poor and she became the first woman to head a Vermont cabinet-level state agency.

VPR's Steve Zind has this remembrance.

(Zind) Sister Elizabeth Candon helped break ground for women who themselves were groundbreakers. 

(Kunin) "She was a role model as a strong woman leader."

(Zind) Long before she became governor, Madeleine Kunin was a newly graduated teacher, hired by Candon at Trinity College.  Kunin says Candon shattered any stereotypes about the cloistered life of a nun.   

(Kunin) "She was far from that.  She was open her ideas, she was open in her love of people, she was open in her rebelliousness."

(Zind) Candon spent nearly 50 years teaching literature at Trinity, even when she was president. 

Politics ran in her family and she worked on the campaign of the democratic candidate for Governor in 1976. 

After the election the Republican winner, Richard Snelling appointed Candon to head the Vermont Agency of Human Services.  The nun and the industrialist hit it off. 

William Gilbert was Snelling's Administration Secretary.

(Gilbert) "I saw her as one of the first truly modern women I'd ever worked with in Vermont."

(Zind) Candon talked about the appointment in a 2008 profile for Vermont Women in Higher Education, an organization she helped found.

(Candon) "As a Sister of Mercy, I take the usual three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  But then we take a fourth vow; to serve the poor, the sick and those in need. And if you look at the Agency of Human Services, that's who they serve."

(Zind) Candon personally opposed abortion but as head of the agency she supported using government funds for the procedure, arguing that otherwise low income Vermonters wouldn't have equal access to medical services.  Her position drew a public rebuke from the Bishop of the Burlington Roman Catholic Diocese.

(Zind) Sister Janice Ryan who also served as president of Trinity and in state government as deputy corrections commissioner lived with Candon and was with her when she died. 

Ryan says she asked her long time friend how she wanted to be remembered.

(Ryan) "She said, ‘Well, as interesting and fun and caring about people and their lives; especially the poor."

(Zind) Knowing that her life was ending, Candon drafted her own obituary, and Ryan says when word spread of Candon's illness hundreds of cards poured in - many from women who said Candon had helped empower them.

Ryan says no description of Candon is complete without acknowledging her life long enthusiasm for sports, especially the Red Sox and the New England Patriots, who'll be in this weekend's Super Bowl.

(Ryan) "I can't believe she went before the Super Bowl, unless she's going to help with a field goal."

(Zind) Ryan says every year the Sisters of Mercy hold a Super Bowl party. This Sunday, Sister Elizabeth Candon will be there - at least in spirit.

For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind.

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