'She was awesome'

Trinity community mourns loss of St. Michelle Germanson

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By Maria Maxham

Staff Reporter

On Oct. 21, Trinity High School announced the death of Sister Michelle Germanson, O.P, the former president of the school.

Germanson served as president of Trinity on Division Street in River Forest for 27 years. In 2017, she announced her plans to step down as head of the school, which she had overseen for 25 years. She was replaced by interim president Sister Judith Schaefer, O.P. until Laura Curley was appointed to the position in November 2019.

Germanson, known for her ebullient spirit and sense of humor, has been credited with saving Trinity High School during the 1990s, when it was at the brink of closure. Enrollment was suffering, and the board discussed closing the school at the end of the 1992-93 school year.

Because single-gender education wasn't as popular as it had been, Fenwick High School in Oak Park and Trinity were talking about the possibility of merging the two schools. But disagreements about whether the boards and administration of the schools should be kept caused the plan to fall through, and Trinity opted to stand alone.

In an interview with Wednesday Journal in 2012, Germanson said the consensus at the time was, "We can take our investment and try to build an awesome school and if we close at least we know we tried, or we'll make it."

Make it they did, bringing the International Baccalaureate program to Trinity, the second school in the state to do so. Initiatives to recruit students from Chicago and farther away suburbs prompted Trinity to provide transportation, and the school built up programs like theater, arts and sports.

The way subjects were taught was studied, and then changed, with the implementation of block scheduling.

Prior to coming to Trinity, Germanson had only taught and worked at co-ed schools, including her most recent position as dean at Dominican University in River Forest.

But although Germanson initially had doubts about an all-girl school and refused the board's offer several times before accepting the position as president, she later embraced the atmosphere, which she found empowering.

As the story goes, she was eating lunch in the Trinity cafeteria, while trying to decide if the presidency of the all-girls school was right for her. She began talking to some of the students, and that's when she knew.

"I could feel that there was something very unique about the all-girls environment," she said. "Somehow, it felt right."

Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University where Germanson previously served as dean of students, spoke highly of Trinity's leader for over two decades.

"She was awesome," Carroll said. "Her determination and personal will carried Trinity forward, and behind that was a deeply felt responsibility to the legacy of women's education. She had a bigger than life personality that galvanized the students, but she also had a serious commitment to that legacy."

Her love for Chicago sports was a big part of her personality, Carroll said. "She brought that in-the-stands cheerful competitive attitude to Trinity." The gymnasium at the school is named after her.

Carroll shared a story about Germanson attending a gala after a treatment for cancer.

"She had lost all her hair, and she came to the Trinity gala bald and extraordinarily beautiful," said Carroll. "She was regal, despite her illness. It was evidence of her determination and selfless nature. She wasn't afraid to share who she really was."

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Mary Prendergast from Chicago, IL  

Posted: October 23rd, 2020 1:09 PM

Thank you for the lovely tribute to the 'awesome' spirit that Sr. Michelle was, for past , present and future Trinity women. She was our very own RBG! Lord rest her bright and beautiful soul.

Pierangela Murphy  

Posted: October 22nd, 2020 10:44 PM

I am so sad to hear of Sister Michelle's death. My daughter attended Trinity and I have many memories of the force behind Sister Michelle. She could energize like no other. I feel honored to have known her.

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