The O’Pake Science Center. The Upland Center. Renovated classrooms in Bernardine Hall (with more to come!). A Student Life building. An expanded Student Center and new Green Campus Commons. The Baseball and Softball Complex in Angelica Park. An on-campus Track and Field. Apartments for juniors and seniors, with private rooms and full kitchens. And, yes, a very large parking lot.   

Over the last few weeks, at several student and alumni gatherings, it was inspiring to hear the universal excitement about the physical transformation of the campus and the pride in Alvernia’s progress. Those of us on the faculty, staff, and administration tend to focus on challenges ahead, needed improvements, the ways things might be better. But make no mistake: students understand they are at Alvernia at a historic time of rapid, positive progress. And they are delighted. 

But it is not simply about many new facilities and physical changes, important though they are to our students’ living and learning environment. Alvernia’s vitality also involves the quality of campus life and a spirit of active engagement.  

Perhaps a 10 –day stretch in late October makes the point. On consecutive nights, large crowds packed the Shander Room in the PEC and the Bonaventure Room in the Franco Library to hear the compelling testimony of a death penalty activist and an accomplished author who has written movingly about traumatic brain injury, especially as it affects those in combat. Campus Ministry sponsored the first event as part of their peace and justice program; Nursing faculty set up the second event in conjunction with their sold-out mental health conference and as part of Alvernia’s month-long Literary Festival, organized by Sue Guay and her team. A few days later, a large crowd returned to the Bonaventure Room for a sparkling session of the Alvernia Writers’ Series. And the Literary Festival concluded with a one-day symposium, featuring some founding members of the John Updike Society, and several other presentations featuring Alvernia authors. An Interfaith Peace Breakfast provided opportunity for contemplation. And the PEC was home to Gold Rush Night and the launch of the Winter Sports Season, followed by high-intensity intramural championships in male and coed flag football. And these are just the highlights! 

There were some memorable moments. Despite (or, really, because) she and her husband faced the unthinkable trauma of having their daughter raped and murdered, Vicki Schieber now devotes herself to educating people about the death penalty and to advocating for its abolition. She cited as reasons data on its racial and geographical bias, high cost and, most importantly, the fact that 138 people on death row have been exonerated. She also quietly observed that the values of her Catholic faith make support for the death penalty unthinkable. 

Vicki’s inner peace and deep spirituality were mirrored in Lee Woodruff’s witty and uplifting account of her journey with husband Bob (a famous journalist), as he suffered and recovered from a horrible bombing incident in Iraq. Her personal experience has made her an advocate for our veterans’ health care and a champion for the vocation of nursing. But most striking, in many ways, were the life lessons she (and Vicki) imparted about what it means to live a values-centered life full of compassion and generosity of spirit, absent of self-pity, and guided by love.  

Listening and seeing to Dr. Tom (no last name needed!), straight from the Mothership, strumming and singing provided memories of a . . . well, different sort. From his whimsical, poetic introductory crooning to the show-stopping “Stand By Me” closing number contributed by Rockin’ Ralph Thompson and a dozen other Alvernia faculty and administrators, the Alvernia Writers’ Session was a smash success. Student poets shared some very fine work. Professor Beth DeMeo read a marvelous sketch. Polly Mathis contributed an essay describing why she loves her work (Hint: it is ALL about our students) and left no doubt that she is an Alvernia treasure.  

Amidst all this activity, Alvernia took time to honor some of the best among us. At the annual President’s Dinner, Paul Roedel, former President and CEO of Carpenter Technologies was awarded the Franciscan Award. One of the deans of community service in Reading, Paul is an exemplar of the servant-leadership Alvernians espouse and aim to model in our communities. Two woman-centered organizations were honored with the Pro Urbe (“For the City”) award for their outstanding work on behalf of women in need of support—victims of domestic and/or sexual violence; young and expectant mothers without familial support. One of the two executive directors, Mary Kay Bernosky of Berks Women in Crisis, is herself an Alvernia MBA graduate. The other organization, Mary’s Shelter/Mary’s Home, has four former residents who are Alvernia alumnae as a result of a special scholarship program established several years ago.

During Homecoming Weekend, we inducted several outstanding alums into the Athletic Hall of Fame, including the 1991 Baseball Team, the pioneers of what is now a championship-level program, led by Coach Yogi Lutz. Alvernia staff member Suzanne Miller and Dr. Chuck Barbera, Director of Emergency Medicine at Reading Hospital, received our highest alumni awards. Beyond their professional work, both were held up as models embodying the Franciscan values of humility, collegiality, and service. 

It was a good week, don’t you agree? On to the next one! 

Flynn Files