Donor inspired by professor, lifelong friend

Madeleine Smith (below) stayed connected to SIU by sending postcards during her travels abroad.

Madeleine Smith (below) stayed connected to SIU by sending postcards during her travels abroad.

By Jeff Wilson

Tom Catania’s continued support of SIU is largely derived from the inspiration he received from one influential professor, Madeleine Smith.

Catania, a 1967 graduate, set up the Madeleine Smith Memorial Scholarship Fund to honor the woman who guided him as a student and befriended him afterward.

“She was like no other person I’ve known. She had a brilliant mind,” he said. “She really inspired me.”

Smith came to SIU (then Southern Illinois State Normal University) in 1929. She taught French as part of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. She retired in 1971 but kept in contact with the university by sending postcards during her travels abroad.

From April 1943 to November 1945, she served as a member of the Signal Corps in the War Department in Washington, D.C. In 1946, she was selected as one of 100 American French instructors to visit France as part of a goodwill visit.

“She was working for us, for our government,” Catania said. “That’s says something about her, too.”

After receiving his degree in foreign languages and literature, Catania taught high school English and some French in Chicago. He and Smith continued their friendship until she passed away.

“She was a teacher in the truest sense of the word, like Socrates,” Catania said. “She taught by example. I tried to pass on a little bit of what I got from her. Besides being smart, she was a great person.”

Catania said he hopes his gift will honor Smith’s legacy and ensure that students have opportunities available to them.

“I think that it’s important to give young people an opportunity to find a school that gives them an education and the tools they need,” he said.

The goal of the Forever SIU fundraising campaign is to increase student scholarships and opportunities. To learn how you can help, visit


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