OLLU dean retires after 58 years

Sister Isabel Ball celebrated for blazing a trail in higher education

SAN ANTONIO - In 1950, a young Isabel Ball graduated from Our Lady of the Lake College, entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence, then, in 1954, took the next step and began teaching chemistry there. 

Over the next 58 years, Sister Ball became Dr. Ball, with a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, a full professor of chemistry in 1974, and then from 1980 to 2003, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The University has been my life essentially,” said Sister Ball on Thursday at her retirement celebration at the Chapel Auditorium, where hundreds of students, former students, faculty and fellow congregants of the Sisters of the Divine Providence came to congratulate her.

Among the well-wishers was a former student who is now assistant professor of Chemistry at OLLU, Teresita Monguie. 

“As a female, it was great to see a female with a Ph.D in a very hard science like chemistry. She was an inspiration to me. Seeing the way she would work and the way she would teach, let me believe that I could do it too,” she said.

Sister Isabel did blaze a trail, working in a field that was filled mostly with men on what was not a level playing field. 

She says as a nun and a woman, it was tough. 

“Nonetheless, I didn’t give up. I didn’t let it phase me. I ignored it,” says the woman remembered for challenging her students and colleagues alike.

“No matter what your idea was, she would play devil’s advocate and suggest the opposite to see how well you thought through your thought process,” said Biology Professor Jim Hall, who Ball hired 24 years ago at her college.

OLLU gave the retiring sister 58 roses for 58 years, an iPad -- something she’s been wanting for quite some time -- and her own street: West Street on campus will now be called Sister Isabel Way.

Many say she is an icon for not just the university, but the city as well. 

She has held teaching positions at St. Mary’s University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Clayton Foundation for Biomedical Research at the University of Texas and Sacred Heart School in El Reno, Okla.

She also was inducted into the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1984. 

Her grant-writing efforts have resulted in more than $15 million dollars for OLLU, with some of the monies used to attain a Title V Grant that was used to update the labs at the University’s Metz Hall.

In her retirement, she says she will help out in the convent archives and remain committed to the university where needed.


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