A Petite Nun With a Large Presence: or, Xavier University’s MVP Sister Rose Ann Fleming

by Anna Blanch on March 16, 2010

So, I’m following March Maddness from over here in Scotland. But with a twist – I’m looking at from the perspective of the Academic performance of the athletes. I wrote a post about the Academic Tournament yesterday and today I want to share with you the story of one faithful woman shepherding a team to the finish line.

I have an immense respect for the commitment and service of many nuns. I was educated at a school founded by the Order of St Joseph – an order begun by an Australian woman, Mary MacKillop who will be canonised by the Catholic Church later this year as a Saint. The ‘brown joeys’ as they are known have left an extraordinary legacy in primary (read: elementary) education in the eastern states of Australia. 

I’m not talking about an Australian here though. I am talking about Sister (Dr.) Rose Ann Fleming, who has been an Academic Advisor at Xavier University since 1985. Since the 5 foot 4, 77 year old nun took over the role, she has graduated every single player who played in his senior year. That’s 77 players. Apparently, she oversees the 2 hours a night study hall, and the schedules and assignments of every single player. She wakes them up before dawn, stops practices and knocks on their doors if they miss a meeting, fall behind on assignments or reading. I did mention she’s been doing this for 25 years right?

Oh, and did I mention that in 1991, the coach named Fleming the team’s Most Valuable Player and in 2000, she was inducted into Xavier’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

The more I read about the respect the players, including 3 current NBA players, and the coach and administration have for her, the more amazed I became. But then, here’s the kicker:

She has lived on campus since 1983, when she was teaching at Xavier, in a dorm that for a long time housed the men’s basketball team.[…] She rises at 4 a.m. for an hour of prayer and meditation. Then she usually spends an hour or more at the computer, often researching law cases that she takes on for Volunteer Lawyers for the Poor. (A law degree is one of several she holds, including Master’s degrees in English, business administration and theology, and a doctorate in education administration.) She exercises on an elliptical trainer, lifts weights and swims. Daily Mass is at 8. By 8:30, she is usually in her office, overseeing two other full-time advisers and two volunteers who help her track Xavier’s 271 athletes in 17 sports. 

This description of her day inspires me. Her obvious faithfulness is an incredible witness to me of the way she serves those around. 

 Read the whole New York Times Article for a discussion on NCAA graduation and retention rates.


Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD student in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland.

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