The story behind the Women of Courage Wall


Jenna Burch /XPress photo

The Women of Courage Wall, located in the downstairs Virginia Piper Center, consists of 11 exceptional women with personally signed letters and portraits. The wall has been up since the Virginia Piper Center was built in 1994 and has progressed since then to exemplify women of excellence for Xavier students.

Many Xavier students walk by the Women of Courage Wall every day without realizing the stories behind it and the effort that went into it.

Former Xavier student, Janet Scott, had the initial idea of creating the Women of Courage Wall. “A psychologist once told me ‘women need to read about successful women in all different fields; they have to get it in their minds that they too can succeed at anything that they want.’ So I selected women who are very unique and from poverty backgrounds, who reached for the stars and got caught on the moon!”

“Mrs. Scott contacted the people up on the wall, got a portrait of them, got a saying from them, had the saying scripted and had them sign it,” said the president of Xavier, Sister Joan Fitzgerald.

Scott told Fitzgerald that she wanted Mother Teresa to be part of the wall, and Fitzgerald gave Scott the contact information of a Xavier alumnae who did a documentary on Mother Theresa. From there, the Xavier alumnae gave Scott the contact information of a woman she knew who worked hand-in-hand with Mother Teresa.

Eventually, Scott was able to pitch her idea to Mother Teresa over the phone. “There is an interesting theory that we are only six connections, or degrees of separation, away from any person in the world,” said Scott. “You really can do anything, you just have to be inspired by the right people, and that’s really what the wall’s all about.”

The women included on the wall are Sister Mary Joan Fitzgerald of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sisters (BVM), Heather Farr ’82, Haley Scott DeMaria ’91, Emily Ell ’99, Mother Teresa, Cindy McCain, Rosa Parks, Margaret Thatcher, Elizabeth Dole, Maya Angelou and Virginia G. Piper.

Among these exceptional and impactful women is Haley Scott DeMaria, who graduated from Xavier in 1991 to become a star swimmer at the University of Notre Dame.

On her way back from a swim meet at Northwestern, Scott DeMaria was in a tragic bus accident, and she was told that she was paralyzed from the waist down and would never walk again. Scott DeMaria, however, was “stubborn and determined to walk, and wasn’t going to stop until she reached her goal.”

With the love and support of Xavier, family, friends, and prayer, Scott DeMaria fully recovered and was not only able to walk, but swim again. Scott DeMaria shared her journey to recovery in her book, What Though the Odds: Haley Scott’s Journey of Faith and Triumph, which was assigned in the Xavier 2020 summer reading curriculum.

“My greatest strength when I was younger, at Xavier and in college, was my stubbornness and competitiveness. That, plus great medical care and prayer, is what got me through the paralysis,” said Scott DeMaria.

Xavier has acknowledged Scott DeMaria’s courage and unflagging perseverance by including her on the Women of Courage Wall, where she serves as one of the 11 inspirations and remarkable examples to the current Xavier students.

Perhaps the best example of a “woman of courage” is the Virgin Mary, whom Fitzgerald so beautifully references in her letter on the Women of Courage Wall. “Each day, I pray that young women will be led by the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that they will become aware of their dignity as young women,” said Fitzgerald.