History of the University

The roots of Alvernia University were planted in 1926 when the Bernardine Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis established an orphanage in the building now known as Francis Hall; eventually the orphanage became an elementary school. Beginning as a college for the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters in 1958, the institution became a four-year liberal arts school. Alvernia received its charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1960.

Alvernia soon opened its doors to female students from the laity while the first male students were enrolled in 1971. Since that time, the University has grown in both educational opportunities and enrollment.

Alvernia’s student population has grown from 23 freshmen and eight sophomores in 1958 to a current enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, men and women. Alvernia grants degrees as Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Social Work, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Graduate programs were added in 1999 and have grown to include seven master’s degrees (MA, MBA, MED, MSOT, MA-Community Counseling, MALS, MSN) and a recently added Ph.D. program in leadership.

On September 25, 2008, officials announced that it had attained university status and would be hereafter known as Alvernia University.


The Roots     The 50's     The 60's     The 70's     The 80's     The 90's     2000 and Beyond



The Roots



  • 1894:    Bernardine Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, originating in Poland, establish a ministry in Pennsylvania.
  • 1924:    On the site of a farm outside Reading, construction begins on the Administration Building that was to be later named Francis Hall. Construction was completed in 1925. The building was first an orphanage, then a high school; both operated by the Bernardine Franciscan order.


The 50's


  • 1954:    Sister Mary Zygmunta, first president of Alvernia, is first informed that the Bernardine community plans to establish a liberal arts college in order to prepare its young religious as future teachers.
  • 1955:    Sister Mary Zygmunta and Sister Mary Accursia enter Fordham University to begin their doctoral studies. Within three years, Sister Zygmunta earned a Ph.D. in American history and Sister Accursia earned one in education. Sister Accursia was the first Academic Dean at Alvernia.
  • 1958:    Mt. Alvernia High School becomes a college for sisters and postulants.
  • 1958:    Alvernia College established as a liberal arts college.


The 60's


  • 1960:    Alvernia receives its charter from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with the authorization to grant Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees.
  • 1961:    First foreign student accepted from Monrovia, Liberia.
  • 1961:    Allentown school superintendent selects Alvernia to serve as a teacher training center for all beginning lay teachers contracted to work in the diocesan school system.
  • May 28, 1961:    Four students comprise first graduating class.
  • Fall 1961:    First lay women accepted as students.
  • 1962:    Two halls in the Administration Building, Hedwig and Angela, are renovated for resident students.
  • November 1962:    First Alvernian is published.
  • October 17, 1963:    Rev. Walter J. Ciszek visits Alvernia College after his release from 23 years of Communist imprisonment. He was the brother of Mother Mary Evangeline, provincial superior of the Sacred Heart Province of the Bernardine Sisters and Sister Mary Conrad, assistant librarian at Alvernia.
  • March 19, 1965:    Groundbreaking for Veronica Hall
  • April 22, 1966:    Alvernia holds its first senior prom in the Garden Room of the Crystal Ballroom in Reading.
  • October 9, 1966:    Veronica Hall is dedicated, the Most Reverend Joseph M. McShea, Bishop of Allentown, presiding. The new dormitory was named for Sister Mary Veronica, who came with three fellow sisters to Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania from Warsaw, Poland to teach the children of immigrants in 1894.
  • October 1967:    James Bamford, former Mayor of Reading, is Director of Development at Alvernia.
  • October 26, 1967:    Bernardine Hall science and classroom building is dedicated by the Most Reverend Joseph McShea, Bishop of the Allentown Diocese.
  • November 30, 1967:    Commission of Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools announces Alvernia's full accreditation.
  • October 1969:    Montessori School opens


The 70's


  • October 1970:    Sister Mary Victorine, C.S.B., appointed second president of Alvernia.
  • 1971:    First male commuting students admitted
  • Fall 1971:    Art department opens studio in former green house
  • April 15, 1972:    Mrs. Muriel Humphrey, wife of presidential hopeful Hubert H. Humphrey, then Vice President of the United States, visits Alvernia.
  • 1973:    First male resident students admitted.
  • May 1973:    First male graduates from Alvernia.
  • 1974:    Institute for Law and Justice, an innovative four-year baccalaureate program in criminal justice introduced.
  • 1975:    Newly formed yet unnamed Alvernia men's basketball team plays its first winning game.
  • December 13, 1976:    A group of Italian businessmen and religious leaders arrive at Alvernia to coordinate plans for an International University in Montepulciano, Italy.
  • 1977:    Alvernia receives approval from the Pennsylvania State Board of Nurse Examiners for a two year Associate Degree Nursing program.
  • 1978:    Campus Center is constructed.
  • May 1979:    First Associate Degree Nursing class graduates.


The 80's


  • 1980:    First Chaplain assigned to Alvernia College.
  • February 3, 1980:    "This Month at Alvernia," a segment of the monthly "Metro Magazine" broadcast debuts on radio station WHUM in Reading.
  • May 1980:    First senior citizen student graduates as Alvernia's 1,000th student.
  • March 5, 1981:    Vincent Bugliosi, prosecutor of Charles Manson and author of Helter Skelter speaks at Alvernia on "The Manson Family and Cultism."
  • October 24, 1982:    Sister Dolorey inaugurated as third president of Alvernia
  • 1983:    Alvernia celebrates its 25th anniversary.
  • 1983:    Counseling Services initiated at Alvernia
  • October 13, 1983:    Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon) presents a 25th anniversary lecture on the topic: "The Nuclear Freeze Movement and National Policy."
  • October 15, 1984:    Camellia Sadat, daughter of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat speaks at Alvernia on "My Father, My President."
  • 1985:    Continuing Education Evening Division is created.
  • September 1985:    Alvernia adds two new science programs: an associate degree program for physical therapist assistant, and a bachelor's degree program in computer science.
  • October 19, 1985:    Administration Building is officially renamed Francis Hall.
  • July 27, 1986:    Sister Mary Victorine, CSB, second president of Alvernia from 1970 to 1982, dies at age 72.
  • October 1986:    Dr. Robert Z. Apostol is named Alvernia's first Vice President of Student Affairs.
  • April 27, 1987:    Consumer advocate Ralph Nader speaks at Alvernia.
  • October 14, 1987:    Physical Fitness and Recreation Center is dedicated by The Most Rev. Thomas J. Welsh, Bishop of Allentown. Rollie Massimino, head basketball coach at Villanova University, is a guest speaker.
  • October 17, 1987:    First Homecoming held.
  • April 6, 1988:    Watergate figure G. Gordon Liddy speaks at Alvernia.
  • September 15, 1988:    Sister Mary Zygmunta, first president of Alvernia from 1958 to 1970, dies at age 84.
  • October 28, 1988:    Vice President-elect Dan Quayle speaks at Alvernia.
  • 1989:    Administrative building housing admissions, public relations, and institutional advancement opens. (The building now houses the Business and Education departments.)
  • April 4, 1989:    Mike Farrell, actor and political activist, speaks at Alvernia.
  • October 3, 1989:    Alvernia sculpture, created by art professor Sister M. Theodorette, CSB, is dedicated.


The 90's


  • September 6, 1990:    Daniel N. DeLucca is named interim president of Alvernia.
  • October 3, 1990:    Groundbreaking for Franco Library 
  • 1991:    Dr. Frank A. Franco Library Learning Center is dedicated.
  • May 18, 1991:    Daniel N. DeLucca is inaugurated as fourth president of Alvernia.
  • September 2, 1992:    New townhouse residences and Nursing Resource Center are dedicated by The Most Rev. Thomas J. Welsh, Bishop of Allentown.
  • October 1, 1992:    Italian-American Research Center in the Dr. Frank A. Franco Library Learning Center is dedicated.
  • October 6, 1993:    First Fireplace Lecture is held in the Franco Library. Dr. Moylan C. Mills, Professor of Integrative Arts at Pennsylvania State University, Ogontz Campus, presents "Tennessee Williams: The Troubled Life and Triumphant Art."
  • 1994:    College governance system, with procedures for granting faculty tenure, is established.
  • May 1994:    First Professional Recognition is sponsored by the Franco Library.
  • 1997:    Alvernia receives national recognition when the John Templeton Foundation selects the college for their Honor Roll of character building colleges, citing the service requirement as an outstanding contribution to the community.
  • June 30, 1997:    Daniel DeLucca retires as president of Alvernia.
  • March 11, 1997:    Dr. Laurence W. Mazzeno is named Alvernia's fifth president.
  • 1997:    Alvernia's men's basketball team reaches the Final Four of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
  • February 4, 1997:    Alvernia's Website is officially established.
  • 1998:    Alvernia Seniors College opens.
  • 1999:    New Student Center and Anthony Hall quad-suite residence open.
  • 1999:    Our Lady of Angels convent opens in former President's House.
  • Fall 1999:    Alvernia begins offering Master's degrees in business administration, education, and liberal studies.


The 2000's


  • 2000:    Francis Hall convent wing is converted to a residence hall for women.
  • July 26, 2000:    Master's degree program in Occupational Therapy is approved.
  • December 2000:    Alvernia holds its first December commencement ceremony.
  • June 2005:    Dr. Laurence W. Mazzeno retires as president of Alvernia College.
  • July 2005:    Dr. Thomas F. Flynn becomes the sixth president of Alvernia College.
  • October 4, 2005:    Mychal Judge residence hall is dedicated. The building is named in honor of the Franciscan priest who was Chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He was among the casualties of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
  • Summer 2005:    Added two new athletic fields to Alvernia University Sports Park 
  • 2006:    Renovated second floor of Philadelphia Center 
  • Summer 2006:    Added Welcome Center to Student Center second floor, added pump house to Alvernia Sports Park, renovated Bernardine Hall West Wing
  • 2006:    O'Pake Science Wing is constructed
  • Fall 2006: Alvernia announces first doctoral program —Doctor of Philosophy in Leadership 
  • March 2007:    Board of Trustees approves new Strategic and Campus Master Plans.
  • Spring 2007:    Alvernia announces invitation to join Middle Atlantic States Collegiate Athletic Corporation (MAC).
  • August 2007:    Upland Center is renovated as the new home for graduate education.
  • July 2008:    Master’s degree program in Nursing Science for nurse educators is approved.
  • August 2008:   Campus Quad replaces parking lot in central campus; Student Center is renovated and expanded.
  • 2008:   New softball and baseball fields are constructed at Angelica Park
  • September 12, 2008:    50th anniversary celebration formally begins with Founders Day weekend events.
  • September 25, 2008:    Alvernia announces University Status in midday ceremony on the new Campus Commons.
  • 2009: Zygmunta and Pacelli Halls are Completed; Schlager Memorial track and multi-turf field is built
  • January 2009: $27 million fundraising campaign is announced — the largest campaign in Alvernia's history 
  • April 2009: The two month major exhibit "A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People" opens
  • June 2009: Carolyn and Jerry Holleran donate Cedar Hill Farm to Alvernia University. It serves as the president's residence.
  • June 2009: Alvernia partners with Leadership Berks
  • November 2009: A new 10,000 sq. ft. Schuylkill Center opens in Cressona Mall


The 2010's


  • February 16, 2010: Alvernia icon Sister M. Pacelli dies
  • Summer 2010: Kestrel Cafe renovated; entrance at Angelica Park on Rt. 10 added; Alvernia acquires Ken-Grill property
  • 2010: Began multiyear renovation of both Assisi and Siena Townhouses; renovated entrance to Bernardine Hall
  • 2010: Francis Hall Theater renovated and elevator added 
  • September 2010: Carole and Ray Neag endow professorships at Alvernia
  • October 1-3, 2010: Inaugural John Updike Conference held at Alvernia
  • Summer 2011: Renovated Philadelphia Center first floor, Bernardine Hall North Wing; created new Media Classroom on second floor of library; renovated Bernardine Lecture Hall and created new Media Suite; renovated Upland Center first floor and upgraded Veronica Hall.
  • May 2011: Alvernia and Reading Hospital partner for dual-enrollment
  • April 8, 2011: Alvernia celebrates the life of the late Sen. Michael A. O'Pake
  • September 2011: Francis Hall rededicated after expansion and renovations
  • Fall 2011: Acquired 951 Morgantown Road for administrative, receiving, mail room, and warehouse 
  • November 2011: Center for Student Life demolished to make way for new Campus Commons
  • February 2012: Doctorate in Physical Therapy (DPT) program announced
  • May 2012: Angelica Creek Park Environmental Exploration Center opens
  • Summer 2012: Completed Founders Village buildings 3 & 4
  • Summer 2012: Created the Learning Commons in Franco Library and renovated Bernardine Hall North Wing 
  • January 2013: Campus Commons building opens
  • Summer 2013: Renovated PEC CourtSide Café, created DPT lab in PEC 
  • 2013: Signed long term lease for all of Angelica Park including the athletic fields and courts 
  • October 2013: Closed Values & Vision Campaign with $31,604,787 raised 
  • October 2013: Reading Collegiate Scholars Program announced

A Franciscan Tradition