Holy Family University names new president

A new lead­er: Sis­ter Maur­een Mc­Gar­rity was named Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity’s fifth pres­id­ent last Wed­nes­day. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

By John Loftus

North­east Times

Sis­ter Maur­een Mc­Gar­rity wasn’t late for din­ner last Wed­nes­day.

“I’m usu­ally late,” she said last week, but she knew she couldn’t be tardy May 14. It was too im­port­ant a day, and she knew the oth­er sis­ters of her con­greg­a­tion would be wait­ing for her.

Sis­ter Maur­een, Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity’s prov­ost, was named the private Cath­ol­ic school’s fifth pres­id­ent last Wed­nes­day, and she knew the din­ner would be a cel­eb­ra­tion. On Ju­ly 1, she will suc­ceed Sis­ter Francesca On­ley, the uni­versity’s fourth pres­id­ent who an­nounced her June re­tire­ment earli­er this year. Sis­ter Francesca served as Holy Fam­ily’s pres­id­ent for 32 years.

Sis­ter Maur­een, too, has a long his­tory with the school and has, she said in a May 16 in­ter­view, seen it evolve over the years. Holy Fam­ily is her alma ma­ter, and she joined the fac­ulty as a bio­logy teach­er in 1976.

“Even at that time, we were start­ing to un­der­go change,” she said. Back in the na­tion’s bi­cen­ten­ni­al year, she said, Holy Fam­ily was a lib­er­al arts col­lege. However, the school’s nurs­ing and oth­er pro­fes­sion­al pro­grams star­ted to take on mo­mentum, she said.

The small Tor­res­dale com­muter col­lege foun­ded by the Sis­ters of the Holy Fam­ily of Naz­areth in 1954 had grown in­to a uni­versity by 2002. Holy Fam­ily now has three cam­puses -— North­east Philly, New­town and Ben­s­alem. The school’s un­der­gradu­ate and gradu­ate stu­dent pop­u­la­tion is now about 3,000 and its stu­dents come from all over the world. The school’s stu­dents were al­most all Cath­ol­ic when Sis­ter Maur­een star­ted teach­ing there, she said, and Cath­oli­cism re­mains pre­dom­in­ant. However, a quarter of the private uni­versity’s stu­dents now are of oth­er faiths, she said.

The school has blue-col­lar roots, too.

“Fifty per­cent of the stu­dents are their fam­il­ies’ first gen­er­a­tion in col­lege,” she said.

Sis­ter Maur­een, 68, is from Kens­ing­ton and at­ten­ded school at As­cen­sion par­ish be­fore go­ing to high school at Naz­areth Academy in Tor­res­dale. She later taught there, too. She has a mas­ter’s de­gree in bio­logy and a doc­tor­ate in mi­cro­bi­o­logy with a spe­cialty in im­mun­o­logy.

Al­though Sis­ter Maur­een as­sumed ad­min­is­trat­ive posts over the years — among them, vice pres­id­ent for aca­dem­ic af­fairs and prov­ost — she con­tin­ued teach­ing un­til about eight years ago when the de­mands on her time be­came too great for her to con­tin­ue in the classroom. And, there are plenty of de­mands on her time. She has a small sign on a book­shelf in her of­fice that should be fa­mil­i­ar to any­one whose pro­fes­sion­al life is busy: “Let me drop everything and work on your prob­lem.”

Sis­ter Maur­een’s work­ing day be­gins about 8 a.m., she said, and con­tin­ues un­til mid­night with time out for din­ner with the oth­er Holy Fam­ily sis­ters, many of whom didn’t know she was a can­did­ate to take the uni­versity’s reins when Sis­ter Francesca re­tires June 30.

In Janu­ary, when Sis­ter Francesca an­nounced her re­tire­ment, a search com­mit­tee was set up to find her suc­cessor. Pref­er­ence was to be giv­en to a Holy Fam­ily sis­ter. 

Teach­ing bio­logy had giv­en Sis­ter Maur­een plenty of good memor­ies and an odd one, too. Sis­ter Maur­een’s stu­dents once paid someone to dress as a birth­day cake and come in­to the bio­logy lab and sing “Happy Birth­day” to her. Sis­ter said such sing­ers are trained to put on a happy face, but that was tested as the cos­tumed per­former came in­to a lab with 30 dead cats on dis­sec­tion tables.

“Her face curdled for just a second,” Sis­ter Maur­een said.

Over the years, stu­dents and their fam­il­ies have as­sumed what she calls a “con­sumer men­tal­ity.” They be­lieve, she said, that their col­lege edu­ca­tions are ser­vices they pay for, so they ex­pect to pass be­cause they paid.

High­er edu­ca­tion is ana­log­ous to a health club mem­ber­ship, Sis­ter Maur­een said. Paid mem­ber­ship doesn’t guar­an­tee good health. You have to use the ex­er­cise ma­chines. You have to take ad­vant­age of the dif­fer­ent op­por­tun­it­ies mem­ber­ship provides. Sim­il­arly, stu­dents have to work out edu­ca­tion­ally.

She re­called a stu­dent who was forced to re­take a class so she could gradu­ate six months after she had ex­pec­ted to. The stu­dent ini­tially was bit­ter about the school’s de­cision, Sis­ter Maur­een said, but later told her, “Nobody ever cared about me as Holy Fam­ily did.”

Sis­ter Maur­een’s in­ten­tion for her pres­id­ency is to “con­tin­ue the tra­di­tions that we have star­ted and to build on them,” she said. “I want to be known for be­ing in touch with the com­munity … and to make de­cisions based on listen­ing.”

She takes the uni­versity’s name ser­i­ously. It is about fam­ily, she said. Not every­one who comes to the uni­versity, she knows, has a strong sense of fam­ily.

“I want them to have it here,” she said. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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