“Love of truth, beauty and the life of the mind, and a deep respect for the dignity and worth of the individual. These were the educational ideals set forth by the Dominican Sisters in 1890 when they founded Dominican. These were the ideals embraced by Sister Aquinas throughout her life,” said Dominican University of California President Joseph R. Fink.
“Sister Aquinas was much loved by all of us at Dominican, and this joyful person who we all admired for her grace, spirit, and commitment will be greatly missed.”
Sister Aquinas was born on June 17, 1931 as Mary Manson Nimitz, daughter of Chester and Catherine Freeman Nimitz.
In August 1947, she entered Dominican Convent Upper School in San Rafael during her junior year and two years later began her studies at Stanford University, graduating with a major in biological sciences in December 1952.
After a semester of work toward a master’s degree in zoology at UC Berkeley, she entered the novitiate. She became Sister M. Aquinas, made her first profession, and immediately returned to Berkeley to finish her master’s degree in 1955.
In 1957, Sister Aquinas began three years of teaching at Dominican Convent Upper School before returning to Stanford University for her Ph.D. in biological sciences.
In January 1964, Sister Aquinas began 16 years of teaching biology at Dominican College. She also served the College as academic dean (1978-1989), interim president (1987-1988), and vice president for institutional research (1989-2002). In 2002, Sister Aquinas officially retired from the University.
Only days after her retirement celebration, she was back at work, leading Dominican’s emergency preparedness efforts. Sister Aquinas developed and maintained Dominican’s Emergency Operations and Response Plan, designed to coordinate the use of University and community resources immediately following a major disaster. Last year, she received a commendation from the Marin County Board of Supervisors for her emergency work.
In recent years, Sister Aquinas saw it as her mission to preserve the Dominican heritage on campus. Faculty, students, and staff frequently received e-mails reminding them about important feast days of saints who are significant to the Dominican order. Sister Aquinas also participated in orientation for new faculty and staff. Her overview of the University and the Dominican order provided a valuable lesson in history.
Sister Aquinas also relished her role as “grandmother of Dominican’s biology department.” At last November’s groundbreaking ceremonies for the University’s new science and technology center, Sister Aquinas spoke to the assembled guests about how she had watched with pride the growth of the department.