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Alvernia Mourns the Loss of an Institutional Treasure

Date: 2/19/2010

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Alvernia is mourning the loss of one of its greatest leaders, Sister M. Pacelli Staskiel, OSF, who touched the lives of generations of students and inspired community members throughout the region. She died Tuesday evening, Feb. 16, at Reading Hospital. Hundreds of Alveria community members attended a funeral mass in her honor, Friday, Feb. 19.

“Sister Pacelli is an Alvernia treasure, representing our best selves and our highest aspirations as an academic community,” said Dr. Thomas F. Flynn, president of Alvernia University.

President Flynn delivered a moving eulogy during the mass celebration. (Click here to read the eulogy.)

“She was a visionary academic leader, a devoted teacher-scholar, a Renaissance woman, and a delightful and witty colleague who helped define the university for more than 50 years," said Flynn. "Foremost, she was a Bernardine Franciscan Sister, a woman of faith and prayerful service to her God. May she rest in peace.”

Sr. Pacelli joined the Alvernia faculty in 1960, two years after the college was chartered. In the 50 years since, she touched many of the school’s programs as an instructor, director, and dean, receiving the titles of Dean Emerita and Professor of English and Communication Emerita.

She penned two books, Threads: A Tapestry of Alvernia College (2007) and Designed to Serve: The Place and Persons of Francis Hall (2008), and was honored with a Doctorate of Humane Letters during Alvernia’s culminating 50th anniversary commencement in May of 2009.

In an unsurpassed legacy that has reached many in the Alvernia community, Sr. Pacelli will be remembered for opening doors to many non-traditional students—when others had already turned them away—with the simple words, “How can we help you.”  She continued to teach innovative courses through 2009; courses that quickly filled to capacity with students looking for insight from the teacher with a dynamic reputation - and insight they received.

“When you get to be my age,” Sister Pacelli said, “and you look back over your life, you realize you could have made this choice or that. I want young people to know that your life comes down to the choices you make.”

Sr. Pacelli is also credited for starting Alvernia’s Criminal Justice program in 1974. At the time, she was the only woman in the nation to head a college criminal justice department. More than 200 students, mostly male police officers who came to be known as ‘Pacelli’s boys,’ joined the forward-thinking program, virtually making the college co-ed overnight.

Sr. Pacelli would have celebrated 60 years in the Bernardine Congregation this year. About her choice to become a Bernardine Sister, she has said, “Religious life is a rewarding life; there’s no doubt about it. If you wholeheartedly accept a religious vocation, you have the best of two worlds. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Sister Pacelli left an indelible footprint on the Alvernia community. She nurtured this institution with her wisdom, leadership, scholarship, and her unflinching devotion to religious life. She will be missed.

• Read a biography on Sister Pacelli

• Read the citation for Sr. Pacelli’s honorary degree, given during commencement ceremonies in May 2009.

• Click here to share your memories of Sister Pacelli with the Alvernia community

  • History: Established as a private four-year liberal arts college in 1958, Alvernia celebrated its 50th year by being awarded university status in 2008.
  • Heritage: Founded by the Bernardine Sisters, a Catholic religious order, the university embraces the Franciscan core values of service, humility, collegiality, contemplation and peacemaking.
  • Motto: “To Learn, To Love, To Serve”
  • Campus: The main campus in Reading is 121 acres, with two satellite campuses in Philadelphia and Pottsville (Schuylkill County).
  • Location: Our residential campus is situated three miles from center-city Reading, in the scenic Blue Mountain area of Eastern Pennsylvania.
  • Enrollment: 3,000 students attend Alvernia including 1,500 traditional undergraduates, 600 continuing education students, and 780 graduate students. Over 77% of first-year students live on campus.
  • Faculty: Our professors are accomplished scholars, experts in their fields, and supportive mentors. The student-to-faculty ratio is 14:1. Most classes are 20 students or fewer.
  • Athletics: NCAA Division III, member of the Commonwealth Conference of the Middle Atlantic States Athletic Corporation and member of Eastern College Athletic Conference, 8 men’s and 10 women’s intercollegiate sports.