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O’Pake leaves more than $1.5 million to Alvernia

Date: 4/6/2011



It seems that even the afterlife can’t slow the late Sen. Mike O’Pake’s propensity to give back.

The Reading, Pa., native who died last December after serving nearly four decades in the Pennsylvania state senate as a champion for all those in need, left Alvernia University a bequest in excess of $1.5 million, the largest bequest received in the institution’s history.

Recognizing the Senator’s personal commitment to Alvernia’s emphasis on ethics and leadership, and in commemoration of his life of service, the university is using the funds to establish the O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership, and Public Service.

“This is truly a remarkable gift for which we are deeply appreciative,” said Alvernia’s President Thomas F. Flynn. “Mike O’Pake would be so pleased today, humble about his role but proud to be helping shape Alvernia’s future as a distinctive Franciscan university, committed to personal and social transformation as well as to academic excellence.” 

Flynn described O’Pake as a brilliant man who understood that knowledge was hollow without the practice of charity, guided by deep learning about ourselves and our world.  “And he understood, too, as an Alvernia trustee, that more than ever the future of our democracy requires students and indeed all of us to become, in the words of our university mission statement, “engaged citizens and ethical leaders with moral courage,” said Flynn. 
 
The O’Pake Institute joins the O’Pake Science Center, a campus landmark dedicated in 2006, as permanent reminders of the statesman’s transformational impact on the institution. According to Alvernia’s Provost Shirley Williams, The O’Pake Institute is an expansion of the university’s Center for Ethics and Leadership, launched in 2006 alongside the Holleran Center for Community Engagement.

“The Center for Ethics and Leadership has been a nucleus for dialogue on contemporary ethical issues, particularly as they involve the challenges of leadership,” said Williams. “It has promoted values-based leadership among our students as they work with faculty and our community partners.” 
 
Moving forward, the newly christened O’Pake Institute will build on that work, with an additional emphasis on public service. “The Institute will house the many leadership programs of the university created for a range of individuals including honors students and other student leaders; those pursuing doctoral degrees in Leadership Studies; and professionals active in Leadership Berks,” said Williams. “It will support students and faculty engaged in community-based research and will sponsor programs and activities that address important community needs.”

In addition, it will link members of the Alvernia and surrounding communities in efforts to foster civic leadership and public service and it will highlight the university’s distinctive emphasis on ethics education.
 
In January, the university learned that the Senator had selected Alvernia to house his entire collection of political papers related to his remarkable career in state government. This historical archive will eventually have a presence in the Franco Library and elsewhere on campus where it can be accessed by historians, scholars, and students.
 
To move the O’Pake Institute ahead, Alvernia is launching a national search for a director to help attract a pool of talented individuals capable of guiding the direction of the Institute.  Initial programming will be introduced in the upcoming academic year, with the Institute fully operating by fall 2012.

“Mike O’Pake embodied the best that we seek in our elected officials,” said Flynn. “He was called the People’s Senator with good reason. He not only was there for us, he was there with us, at meetings of all kinds, parades, church dinners, theatrical productions, food banks, and soup kitchens. 

“As we look back with fond memories of our dear friend, and with profound gratitude for his magnificent gift, we look ahead in anticipation of much good work to advance the study and practice of ethics, leadership, and public service by students, faculty, and the wider community,” said Flynn.

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  • 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.