‘Old’ gets older

Author: John Monczunski

American lifespan has dramatically increased over the course of the 20th century. A recent student study of longevity among Holy Cross Sisters at Saint Mary’s College confirms just how much.

The average age of death for Holy Cross Sisters increased more than 30.5 years during the course of the 20th century, according to a statistical analysis of the nuns’ community cemetery records conducted by Bristol Schmitz ’11. Schmitz found that, as the century progressed, fewer sisters died at younger ages while the average age of death rose dramatically.

The nuns’ experience mimics the trend for the U.S. population as a whole. In 1900, the average age of death was 47. By 2000, the average lifespan had increased to slightly more than 77 years of age, reflecting advances in public health and fitness.

The student research project had its genesis during a walk through the nuns’ community cemetery when Notre Dame Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Professor Patrick Dunn casually noticed that the age of death for many of the nuns seemed remarkably high. He later suggested that his student investigate the phenomenon for his class on statistical analysis.

As living testimony to the nuns’ increase in longevity, eight Holy Cross Sisters currently are at or over the 100-year mark. At 104, the most senior members of the “CSC Century Club” are Sisters Joseph Marie Cumiskey and Laurentia Boyle.

John Monczunski is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine.