Former Mercy College president named woman ‘who changed history’

Mary Agnes Mansour
Agnes Mary Mansour

It’s Women’s History Month so the many and varied contributions of women to society are getting some of the attention they deserve all year. One woman with a strong connection to Detroit Mercy is on a list of women who changed things for the better.

WDIV-TV Channel 4 News has named Agnes Mary Mansour one of eight Michigan Women who changed history.

Mansour graduated from Mercy College of Detroit in 1953 and continued her education as she followed her calling to become a Sister of Mercy, taking perpetual vows in 1959. After earning a doctorate in biochemistry from Georgetown University, she became chair of the Mercy College Department of Physical Science and Mathematics and coached the women’s basketball team.

In 1971 she became president of Mercy College, which she ran for 12 years during which the College grew in both programming, facilities and enrollment. She ran for U.S. Congress in 1982, calling elected office “an important ministry” and a way to work for change on a broader scale. She did not win, but late that year, while still president of the College, she was named to head newly elected Gov. James Blanchard’s head of the state’s Department of Social Services. The position put her at odds with the Archdiocese of Detroit because that department oversaw Medicaid funding for abortions. The Vatican became involved and, eventually, Mansour was told to leave her position with the state or leave the Sisters of Mercy. The story made national headlines with Catholics across the country divided over what she should do. Mansour chose to leave the Sisters of Mercy, a resignation the order did not accept, and ran the Department of Social Services successfully until 1987.

Mansour served on the boards of several organizations and founded the Poverty and Social Reform Institute to help children living in poverty. In 1988, she was elected to the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

She died in 2004 at the age of 73 and is buried alongside other Sisters of Mercy in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Mich.

Do you know other alumnae of Mercy College of Detroit, University of Detroit or University of Detroit Mercy who made an important mark on history? Let us know here and you may see them in a future post during Women’s History Month.


  1. Anonymous

    Yes: Mary Ellen Howard, RSM needs to be in that Hall of Fame for Michigan. Activist, hospital administrator, champion for the working poor in Detroit through the Cabrini Clinic, champion for water rights,

  2. Shel Silver

    I graduated from Mercy in 1976 and was a full time faculty member from 1979-1983. Almost 40 years later I can still say she was the best college president I ever worked with. Two personal moments highlight for me the kind of person Agnes Mary Mansour was:

    When my father passed in 1981 she had the college hold an on campus memorial service and brought in a cantor to officiate.

    When I was working late one afternoon she came into my office and ordered me to leave because she was concerned I would be late for my family’s Passover Seder.

    She was truly a great leader and a wonderful person. She was one of the many people who made Mercy College a very special place.

    Shel Silver, J.D.
    Professor and Chair, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Program
    College of Liberal Arts
    Ashford University

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