Good Morning. I am Tom Flynn, President of Alvernia University. I am honored to say a few words in tribute to Elaine, and I thank Pastor LaFauci for the invitation to do so. I speak in particular on behalf of those at Alvernia closest to Elaine, certainly her students, her science and math colleagues, and others on our faculty and staff who knew her for many years.
All of us at Alvernia, especially Elaine’s longtime colleagues, extend our sympathy to her family and her friends, especially those in her parish community. Know that we grieve with you, but that like you, we are comforted in knowing that this good, dear woman is free from pain and at peace, no doubt by this time having already adopted some of heaven’s stray pets.
She did love animals, didn’t she, dogs and horses in particular. That I knew, but it was fun this week to discover that, with two of her colleagues, she also loved to discuss smooth jazz or professional football.
Colleagues recall her kind attention to the health of their pets. Elaine didn’t just like animals; she cared about them. Listening to others describe this side of her made me think of Alvernia’s patron, St. Francis of Assisi. For Elaine, as for Francis, animals were blessed because they were a special part of God’s creation, to be treated with love and respect.
My Franciscan reference is natural because Elaine is one of our longtime faculty members who still today connects all of us at Alvernia to our foundresses, those bold and daring Bernardine Franciscan Sisters. It was the Bernadines who just over a half century ago founded and built the special place up on Mount Alvernia, for many years a tiny college, now a thriving, regional university.
Elaine was a proud alumna from the college’s earliest years and a prize student of one of our legendary faculty members, Sister Alodia. I am told that Sister inspired the young chemist, encouraged her to seek a graduate degree, and recruited her to the faculty.
And Elaine took up Sister Alodia’s challenge and established her own legacy: helping to create the O’Pake Science Center, a distinctive Forensic Science program, and a laboratory health and safety program. One of her senior colleagues circulated a great picture this week of Elaine standing proudly at the opening of our Science Center.
Elaine devoted well more than half her life to Alvernia—especially to her dear students . . . and her equally dear departmental colleagues, the “A” Team. A year ago, I was honored to recognize her for 35 years of service. Her smile said it all. As it always did. Like all of us, my moments with Elaine always, always, were lit by her smile, even as I knew she was in pain.
Colleagues who saw her daily and knew first-hand of her health challenges marveled at her habitual cheerfulness and interest in their lives and how they were doing. “Hey, how ya doing,” she would inevitably call out to one of her oldest friends on the faculty.
“Never a complaint about her own situation,” she was, this colleague remembers, “always looking outward to someone else, always cheerful, always encouraging.” This preoccupation with the wellbeing of others is a treasured memory that, I suspect, unites everyone here this morning.
“I always knew she would be here to listen to me,” notes one young colleague. “She knew how to brighten your day. She was a great listener and her take on life meant so much to me.”
Another young colleague emphasizes the calming effect Elaine had on her students and on him, especially when they or he were under stress. An older colleague has a wonderful way of capturing this essential element of Elaine: “She was a safe harbor for both students and faculty,” he remarks. “She listened without judgment with a calm mind and manner. Any advice was nearly always on the mark.”
All her colleagues treasure the memory of Elaine’s kindness and care for her students. One colleague put it simply: “she loved her students, and they loved her,” including her memorable off-the-wall analogies in chem class. “Elaine was genuinely ‘old school,’ recalls one of her former deans. “For her the goal was teaching, and her teaching philosophy was that anyone could learn when there was patience and effort by both parties.”
But this commitment to students and to colleagues went well beyond the professional; for Elaine, Alvernia was a second family. Her devotion to and care for individual members, as it had been for her mother and grandmother, was unwavering and unequivocal. And in and through this selfless devotion, she strengthened the Alvernia community, especially the “collegial spirit” connecting her science and math colleagues.
Contemplation, humility, peacemaking, collegiality, and service. Alvernia University’s core values. The wonderful living legacy of our earliest Sisters. It is not surprising that Elaine was drawn to this community.
One of her senior colleagues says it best: “Elaine embodies the University mission, truly expressing the Franciscan ideal of ‘knowledge joined with love,’ serving others, always putting other needs before her own.”
May she rest in peace.