Mount Mary University’s Madonna Endowment provides support to address the immediate needs of student mothers. (Submitted photo)

Dr. Christine Pharr, the outgoing president of Mount Mary University, recognized a need in the community: more than 30,000 single mothers are attempting to attend college in Wisconsin alone.

The statistics for young parents suggest the odds are stacked against them.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, fewer than 2 percent of teen mothers finish college by age 30, and young women who give birth while attending a community college are 65 percent less likely to complete their degree than women who do not have children during that time.

Mount Mary University is committed to changing these harrowing statistics by creating the Madonna Endowment, a fund that helps its parenting students with the myriad expenses and challenges they face.

The Madonna Endowment, created one year ago, consists of two separate funds: one to address the immediate needs of the growing number of student mothers now and one to provide long-term sustainability into the future. The fund will not only provide academic support but will also provide direct support to meet the needs related to motherhood and raising children.

One in four U.S. undergraduates is a parent and 70 percent are mothers, many of them single mothers. Almost half of all African-American women in college are raising children, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research.

Student mothers face unique challenges when striving to complete their educations. One substantial need is access to safe and affordable housing. The new Trinity Woods Intergenerational Center, formed in a three-way partnership between MMU, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Milwaukee Catholic Home, will have 24 units to house student single mothers and their children under the age of 12 (who live and eat for free). This novel approach to student housing hosts private residences for the retired SSNDs and local seniors, with a town center where all residents can be brought together for fellowship.

Pamela Owens, vice president of alumnae and donor relations for MMU, explains that the fund will support any single mother who has a need — even those who do not live in Trinity Woods and those who are not considered “typical” single mothers.

MMU now has staff members devoted to helping its parenting students connect with resources as part of their job. MMU has been able to help several of the single mothers not only with childcare but also with diapers and medical bills, as well as navigating various government supports, like Wisconsin Shares. Early childhood development facilities for as many as 100 children and toddlers are part of the Trinity Woods plan.

Owens shared the university’s joy at the program’s success: the endowment continues to grow, and the first student who received these funds and had lived in Trinity Woods has graduated.

“It’s just great to see the impact on these mothers and to see them walk across the stage at graduation,” Owens said. “It’s really amazing.”

MMU is changing the lives of single mothers — including those who have been divorced or widowed.

Owens shared, “We had one woman. I think she had seven children. It totally transformed her life to come and get her degree. She’s an entrepreneur now. She’s written a book.”

The pro-choice rhetoric often pits mother against child, explaining that the child’s life inevitably derails all chance of success for the mother. This false dichotomy can frighten vulnerable women, especially those already in poverty. Nearly 25 percent of those in a single-mother household live in poverty.

Catholics are called to support and empower that new mother as she faces the new reality of parenthood. For women who have not yet had a chance to complete their education, an unexpected pregnancy can change the entire arc of their lives.

This fund hopes to ensure the arc ends with professional success.

To learn more and support the Madonna fund, visit or contact Owens at 414-930-3380 or