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National health leaders and future leaders honored

Left to right:  Mike Osterholm, St. Kates President Andrea J. Lee, IHM, Sister Mary Madonna Ashton CSJ 44, Kari Colucci 11 and Barbara Columbo.
Left to right: Mike Osterholm, St. Kates President Andrea J. Lee, IHM, Sister Mary Madonna Ashton CSJ 44, Kari Colucci 11 and Barbara Columbo.
Rebecca Zenefski 10.

Honoring a friend, mentor and “a person who could make a decision,” Mike Osterholm and his wife, Barbara Columbo, have endowed the Sister Mary Madonna Ashton Health Leadership Scholarship at St. Catherine University.

St. Kate’s nursing major Kari Colucci ’11 was awarded the scholarship Monday, Oct. 21. She was chosen by the nursing faculty for her leadership on campus and for her potential as a future healthcare leader.

A woman of "firsts"
Osterholm’s ties to Sister Mary Madonna Ashton CSJ ’44 go back to 1983, shortly after Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich appointed her Commissioner of Health following her 20 years as president of St. Mary’s Hospital. She was the first woman, the first nun and the first non-physician appointed to the post. She would serve the state until 1991.

Sister Mary Madonna appointed Osterholm as state epidemiologist and chief of the acute disease epidemiology section in 1984, where he would strengthen the department’s role in infectious disease epidemiology and bring it to national prominence.

Osterholm is now at the University of Minnesota in charge of areas dealing with food safety and epidemiology. Columbo is a legal policy and conflict management consultant and is an adjunct faculty member at the University of St. Thomas, Hamline and William Mitchell Schools of Law.

Osterholm and Columbo made the donation to St. Kate’s Alumnae Association in Sister Ashton’s honor. Their gift provides an annual scholarship to a woman student at St. Kate’s in the healthcare field.

Alumna and "Bond Queen"
Earning a bachelor’s degree in the relatively new field of sociology in 1944, Sister Mary Madonna Ashton began to lead and influence immediately. She was crowned the 1944 campus “Bond Queen” for enticing a record number of students to buy war bonds and stamps.

She received a master’s in social work from St. Louis University in 1946 and a master’s in health administration from the University of Minnesota in 1958.

A founding member of the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health Advisory Council, a trustee emerita and member of the St. Kate’s Centennial 100, Sister Mary Madonna was a trustee of St. Mary’s Junior College from 1974 to 1986 and at St. Catherine’s from 1986 to 1995 — shepherding both institutions through the merger that would, in 2007, become the Henrietta Schmoll School of Health.

After leaving state government in 1991, Sister Mary Madonna joined other Sisters of St. Joseph in creating Carondelet LifeCare Ministries in 1992. She retired as the president and CEO of the ministry in 2009.

Through the ministry, she spearheaded an innovative and compassionate effort to extend healthcare to uninsured citizens. A revered and highly respected leader statewide, Sister Mary Madonna remains committed to providing Minnesotans with affordable access to healthcare.

She has also served on numerous local and national boards and has been an advisor to national and regional governments and health-related organizations, including National City Bank, Catholic Charities, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the National Catholic Health Association.

She has been recognized for her many achievements with the St. Catherine Alumnae Association Award, the University of Minnesota Public Health Alumni Leadership Award and the U-MN Minnesota Medical Association Shotwell award, as well as honorary doctorates from St. Kate’s and Hamline University.  

Oct. 28, 2010 by Julie Michener

See also: Alumnae/i, , Healthcare, Social Justice, Students