The first weeks of the academic year have included magnificent fall weekends made to be spent on a beautiful college (or should I say, university) campus like Alvernia. As we look ahead, let us fondly recall the historic year just ended—less in nostalgia than as a launching point for continued progress.
It would be impossible to replicate last year’s excitement. We celebrated our 50th Anniversary, became a university, received national recognition for excellence in community engagement, and launched the “Values and Vision” fundraising effort. Now we get to build on this strong foundation to enhance the quality of an Alvernia education and the overall student experience. Let’s reflect on just a few examples.
Students returned once again in August to a dramatically improved campus. Just a few hundred yards from the recently renovated center of campus, featuring the Campus Commons and Student Center, is a new “South Campus,” with apartments for upperclassmen and an all-weather field and track for varsity teams, flag football and other intramural games, and informal recreation. 700 students now live on campus, but with the large new lot there are actually empty parking spaces!
Among last year’s celebrations was a Founder’s Day event that recognized the Sisters and lay leaders who built Alvernia. This year, we will honor still another local servant-leader, Paul Roedel, with our Franciscan Award. A few weeks ago, a large crowd gathered to hear a world-renowned Franciscan scholar deliver our first Founder’s Day Lecture, a now-annual event reflecting our vision to be a “Distinctive Franciscan University.” Initial discussions are underway to establish a Visiting Franciscan Scholar Program and to expand opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to visit Assisi and the Bernardine Sisters’ mission in the Dominican Republic. And we now have a Franciscan serving as University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry, Fr. Kevin Queally. Say hello when you see him around campus.
Last year we honored two distinguished emerita faculty members, Sisters Florence and Pacelli, as exemplars of the order of Catholic religious women who helped make Alvernia a place of transformational opportunity for women of all ages. This year we will bestow our Pro Urbi (“for the city”) Award on two outstanding women-centered organizations, Berks Women in Crisis and Mary’s Shelter/Mary’s Home, and also celebrate the local Visiting Nurse Association’s 100th anniversary by hosting a panel of health educators.
Mindful of our tradition, we will also join the universal Catholic Church in celebrating the “Year of the Priest” by honoring a priest at each of our commencements. And on December 7, we will host our new Bishop, John Barres, as he celebrates Mass on campus and visits the University and Bernardine Franciscan communities.
Building on the success of the Blessing Exhibit and earlier interfaith efforts, we will be taking further steps, in conjunction with key community partners, to make Alvernia a sacred space for interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue. Look for special events next spring.
Last year’s prestigious recognition by the Carnegie Foundation underscored Alvernia’s reputation for community service and civic engagement. Supported by the visionary philanthropy of our dear friends, the Hollerans, the Center for Community Engagement has made rapid progress. Staff from the Holleran Center and from Campus Ministry are leading the development of a comprehensive program for service and civic engagement. Faculty members, naturally, will take the lead on any curricular improvements, and a range of student clubs and activities will offer multiple options for such work.
To express our shared commitment to service, three days a year have now been designated as Alvernia Service Days: the feast of St. Francis, the Martin Luther King holiday, and Earth Day. Alumni and trustees will also participate along with the campus community.
Alvernia is also known for faculty members who are devoted teachers, committed advisors, and respected scholars. Last year, Ed Hartung and Bongrae Seok received tenure, and other colleagues were singled out for their contributions. To name just a few: Beth Berret received a national award for her advising of human resources students; Tim Blessing was a guest at the White House; Donna Yarri co-authored two books, one each with Alvernia colleagues Spence Stober and Marc Lucht; and Scott Ballantyne was a national finalist for a distinguished teaching award and also the winner of Alvernia’s Outstanding Teaching Award. We also mourned the loss of Phyllis Hay, whose summertime memorial service included unforgettable tributes from former students whose lives she had touched.
Our students’ appreciation for their faculty is a reminder that Alvernia is a place where faculty enjoy their work with students. At a time when many schools have been forced to shrink the number of faculty, we are fortunate that the large number of new faculty hired a year ago are back with us and eager to share their knowledge with their students. This year, Alvernia will be the national sponsor of the Sigma Tau Delta English Conference, an organization in which professors like Beth DeMeo and Carrie Fitzpatrick work closely with students and alums. And thanks to the efforts of Rose Chinni and other faculty, Alvernia will inaugurate a chapter of Delta Epsilon Sigma, the national honorary society for Catholic colleges and universities.
Alvernia’s reputation is growing too. For the last two years, we have welcomed the largest, best qualified groups of new students in our history, with many from outside Pennsylvania (including far too many Yankee fans but fortunately a few Red Sox fans too). We now compete against many of the area’s best schools in our new athletic conference, the MAC. Alvernia faculty and administrators are increasingly visible at regional and national conferences. We have received generous government grants to build classrooms in Bernardine Hall and to expand distance learning and related technology to connect our Pottsville and Philadelphia centers. And alumni, both near by and far away, continue to bring credit to their alma mater.
At two recent gatherings with student leaders, a “Pizza with the President” campus event and a reception at my house, I was impressed yet again by our students’ generosity of spirit as well as their talents and contributions. They are enthusiastic about their school and committed to making Alvernia even better. They remind me that amidst great progress and many accomplishments, a simple truth remains: the women and men of Alvernia continue to do well and to do good. In that we can all take pride!
Peace and All Good, Tom Flynn