In honor of Pope Francis’ visit to D.C. today we’re looking back at Kevin Carey’s feature on Trinity Washington University, “one of the more remarkable and unacknowledged institutions in twentieth-century American higher education,” from our July/August 2011 issue.

Founded in 1897 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the tiny school in the city’s Northeast has produced an outsized number of powerful alumnae, including Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Pelosi. Carey writes:

it was more than an accident of demography that made Trinity the source of so many remarkable women. It was also the highly progressive culture of the place, imprinted on the institution by the nuns who started it and still very much evident on the campus today. In Catholicism, different religious orders describe themselves as each having a distinct “charism.” The term refers partly to the basic mission of an order, but also to a more intangible set of attitudes—a spiritual temperament that traces back to the group’s founding. The charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur involves running schools for women and girls. More than that, though, it entails a spirit of ambitious enterprise and fierce autonomy—a refusal to take no for an answer in the face of institutional authority. The origins of this religious order stretch back 200 years and 4,000 miles across the Atlantic. They help explain the accomplishments of an impressive number of women shaping America today.

You can read the full story right here.

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Matt Connolly works for a labor union in Washington, D.C. Previously he was an editor at the Washington Monthly.