In memoriam: Mary Katherine Tillman, professor emerita, Program of Liberal Studies

Author: Josh Weinhold

Mary Katherine Tillman Thumbnail
Mary Katherine Tillman
Mary Katherine Tillman

Mary Katherine Tillman, a professor emerita in the Program of Liberal Studies, died at Wellbrooke Senior Care Residence on Oct. 21, of complications associated with esophageal cancer. She was 81.

She was a member of the Notre Dame faculty for 33 years, retiring in 2006, a tenure that included serving as assistant provost from 1979 to 1982. 

Tillman was a scholar of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, writing a book and several extended commentaries on the works of the19th-century English priest, as well as the history and philosophy of liberal education. 

She published widely in scholarly journals and gave lectures throughout the U.S. and Europe, and in 2019 received the Gailliot Award for Lifetime Achievement in Newman Studies from the National Institute for Newman Studies.

"Katherine's love of St. John Henry Newman was infectious,” said Thomas Stapleford, an associate professor and former chair of PLS. “She did more than anyone else to deepen my appreciation and understanding of Newman's work, generously sharing books, answering questions, and teaching me about the scholar and Christian whom she so admired."

Tillman was born in St. Louis to two Saint Louis University professors, then earned degrees from Mundelein College, Saint Louis University, and the New School for Social Research in New York City. She taught at Rutgers University, Mundelein College, and Clarke College before coming to Notre Dame. 

She taught PLS’s Great Books Seminars, as well as courses on Newman, philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics. In 1985, she won the Sheedy Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest teaching honor in the College of Arts & Letters. 

She was known as a mentor to students but also to new PLS faculty, offering advice and encouragement on how to inspire confidence in students to take on great works by great minds.

“Katherine Tillman was a legendary teacher, a wonderful colleague and mentor to younger faculty, and an important scholar of the life and works of John Henry Newman,” said Stephen Fallon, the John J. Cavanaugh Professor of the Humanities in PLS and English. “I’ve always been grateful for her generosity in co-teaching a Great Books seminar with me when I arrived in 1985, which allowed me to learn from a master and to get to know Katherine as a friend.”

She is survived by her husband, Phillip R. Sloan, a professor emeritus in PLS and the History and Philosophy of Science program; siblings Claire Tillman Koch of St. Charles, Missouri; William L. Tillman (Susan) of Richards, Missouri; Thomas (Deborah) Tillman of Wentzville, Missouri; and by nieces, nephews, and step-children. 

A reception and remembrance service was held Thursday, Oct. 27, and a Mass of Christian Burial was held in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame on Friday, Oct. 28, followed by burial in Cedar Grove Cemetery at Notre Dame. Contributions in her name can be made to Catholic Relief Services.

Originally published by Josh Weinhold at on October 28, 2022.