Marguerite Taylor had her own personal cheering section at the University of Notre Dame’s 178th Commencement Ceremony.
Nearly 30 family members and friends turned out to watch Taylor, 80, receive an honorary doctorate of laws. “We love you!” a voice cried out as she was acknowledged onstage. That excitement was immediately reflected by Taylor’s additional loved ones and others in the crowd – students, community members, former colleagues and more – as a chorus of applause and well wishes erupted from the nearly 25,000 attendees.
Taylor was one of five distinguished leaders in science, business, music and community service bestowed with honorary degrees during the 2023 ceremony and was nominated by University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. Honorees typically have achieved acclaim in national and international arenas, but Marguerite Taylor is a local legend.
In conferring Taylor’s honorary doctor of laws, Charles and Jill Fischer Provost John T. McGreevy described her as a “loyal daughter of South Bend and beloved matriarch of the Northeast Neighborhood who has dedicated her life to improving her hometown and building stronger communities so that all can flourish.”
Click here to view the presentation of Taylor’s honorary degree.
Taylor says she was shocked to learn that she would be an honorary degree recipient. Holding any type of degree from an institution of higher education was an idea that had long passed for the 1962 graduate of South Bend’s John Adams High School. She enrolled in classes at Indiana University South Bend after high school but never finished her collegiate studies.
Over the years, Taylor started a family and pursued her career interests. She raised two children, Lamar and Michael, and had a successful career at Head Start of St. Joseph County. She took an early retirement after about 15 years, retiring from the organization as director of Human Resources. However, she found that she wasn’t a fan of not having something to do every day.
“I just didn’t like it,” Taylor said of retirement. So she kept busy by volunteering at Notre Dame’s Robinson Community Learning Center (RCLC). Her work was so well received, that she ended up being offered a job.
Lessons learned from her mother
Taylor is the former assistant director for adult programs and community ambassador at RCLC. Her responsibilities included overseeing the delivery of educational opportunities for the center’s older participants and representing the center on a number of community boards and organizations.
However, her efforts on behalf of RCLC – which sits in the Northeast Neighborhood, just south of Notre Dame’s campus – predate its opening.
Born and raised in the neighborhood, Taylor grew up working alongside her mother Renelda Robinson to address the needs and concerns of the area. Robinson served as director of the Northeast Neighborhood Service Center for nearly two decades and was a longtime community activist.
It’s hard for Taylor to remember a time when she didn’t accompany her mother to various meetings and events. And while she may not have always liked it in the beginning, Taylor learned to appreciate the value of what they were doing.
“I used to go to stuff under protest,” she shared. “My mother told me one time when I was complaining, ‘Well, you can stand out here and complain and moan and groan, and nothing happens. Or you can go inside and try to make a difference.’ And that’s what I’ve done my whole life.”
The mother-daughter duo was so well known for community organizing that they were among the first people Rev. Don McNeil, C.S.C., founder of Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns, called on to help explore the idea of establishing a neighborhood educational center.
The women hosted small meetings with their fellow Northeast Neighborhood residents where they discussed the best uses for a center and the ways that it could enhance the lives of the area’s residents. They also worked with other key neighborhood leaders and Congregation of Holy Cross staff to engage additional stakeholders in cooperative conversations to plan the unique campus-community partnership. They brainstormed numerous ideas, with the resulting vision of a location with multi-generational educational programming as well as a place that fostered relationship-building for the entire community.
The center, which opened in 2001, would go on to be named for Taylor’s mother, who died before its completion.
A well-deserved recognition
"The honorary degree is the University's formal recognition of Marguerite's commitment and dedication to building positive change in the South Bend community and more specifically in the Northeast Neighborhood,” said Tim Sexton, associate vice president for public affairs. “The establishment of the Robinson Community Learning Center and the revitalization of the neighborhood are the result of the work and vision of leaders like Marguerite."
Sexton knows Taylor well. The two have worked closely together for more than 20 years – both in the community and at Notre Dame. He describes her as an incredible community advocate who never sits idly by, even after her 2014 retirement from the Robinson Community Learning Center.
“A woman of deep faith with the courage of her convictions, her wise and candid insights and indomitable spirit make her a force to be reckoned with,” Provost McGreevy said of Taylor at the Commencement Ceremony.
The ceremony and the events leading up to it were wonderful, Taylor said, but the best part of the weekend was having her grandchildren and a great-grandchild in attendance. Although they don’t live in South Bend, they stay in close contact and always show up to support her. (Sadly, Taylor’s two sons died within the past three years.)
Since leaving RCLC, she has been designated staff member emeritus in honor of her service and many contributions to the center. She also remains active on the boards of the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization, Northeast Neighborhood Council, Real Services, South Bend Heritage, and Martin Luther King Foundation Committee.
For Taylor, it’s about continuing her family’s legacy and making a lasting, transformative impact on her cherished community.
“I belong to a lot of boards. They do virtual meetings, so I can stay home. I go up [to RCLC] several times a month, and they’re always happy to see me. And I'm still talking to residents about Notre Dame,” she said. “You have to love what you do, and I do. … Life is good.”