Believing in the Power of Being Mighty: Sister Pat’s Presidency

On July 1, 2002, after weeks of meeting with campus officials and community leaders in preparation for assuming the presidency of Immaculata University, Sister Patricia Fadden arrived in her office, sat down at her desk, arranged her pencils and said: “Now what do I do?”

After 15 years of service, Sister Pat will step down as the president of Immaculata at the end of June. Since that first day she has not looked back. Sister Pat has, indeed, figured out what to do, steering the University into uncharted waters and continuing to move Immaculata forward.

“Sister Pat was the leader the University needed to make its presence known in the wider marketplace,” stated Sister Roseanne Bonfini, IHM, Sister Pat’s predecessor. “During my time, we were still patching holes and bringing technology to a new level.” Before Sister Pat took office, Sister Roseanne introduced her to her constituencies, showed her where the hidden closets are and, Sister Roseanne joked, “shared the secret that no matter what you decide, there will always be someone who thinks you are operating from another planet.”

One of the most important and historic moments of Sister Pat’s presidency came early with the decision to transition the University to coeducation. As a former member of the Immaculata Board of Trustees, Sister Pat was well versed in the issues facing the University in the early part of the 21st century and understood that the 387 students enrolled in the Women’s College could not sustain the ship for much longer.

After she had been on the job for a little more than three months, the Board of Trustees approved a viability study for the Women’s College, which housed the traditional undergraduate population. When the study concluded and it was discovered, to no one’s surprise, that the pool of high school females seeking a single-sex college was dwindling, the trustees voted in October 2003 to accept males into the Women’s College and rename it the College of Undergraduate Studies.

The night that the Board of Trustees met to make this monumental decision is a memory that Sister Carroll Isselmann, IHM, then vice president for Academic Affairs, remembers very fondly. “There were an array of emotions experienced by the executive team as we awaited the Board of Trustees’ decision on the recommendation to go coed. All of us, including Sister Pat, shared a sense of anxiety, suspense, wonder, followed by relief and exhilaration on moving forward as an institution. It was a roller coaster that we were all riding as a single unit!”

“I believe of all the things we did—or anything that I did here—I think that [moving to coed] was one of the best decisions,” Sister Pat stated.

In addition, Sister Pat noted that Immaculata did it the right way. “We could have gone coed the very next year [2004] but we waited two full years to renovate the dorms, coordinate the sports teams, create a marketing plan, and put in place the implementation teams.”

Opening that first year with 30 percent male enrollment, the transition went very smoothly. So smoothly that Sister Pat’s main question from alumnae was, “What are the boys like?”

Her reply: “The boys are the brothers, cousins, and boyfriends of your daughters and granddaughters.”

Growing up as the oldest child in a family with two sisters and two brothers, Sister Pat was accustomed to having boys around. In the idyllic American neighborhoods of Delaware County, PA, during the 1950s, she and her siblings walked to Sacred Heart Grade School and came home for lunch each day. Later she attended Villa Maria Academy in Malvern, PA, and immediately after graduating, Sister Pat entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) congregation with her band (a group of women entering a religious congregation at the same time).

After taking her final vows and graduating from Immaculata as a Math major, she took her first assignment as a classroom teacher for fourth and fifth graders and music instructor at Seven Dolors School in Wyndmoor, PA. For the next several years, she vacillated between her love of music and math; she wanted to teach both. However, when pressed to make a choice between the two, math, which kept her in the classroom more often, won.

When looking back on her teaching career, which she acknowledges was quite a few years ago, she notices that some things never change, such as outlandish excuses from students. She laughs when saying that they are probably the same excuses that their mothers and grandmothers had given. Hearing stories from current faculty, Sister Pat does not see much difference from one generation to the next.

However, she does notice that students today are much more capable with and dependent upon technology, so continuing to think of creative ways to keep their attention is paramount. According to Sister Pat, running a classroom is really akin to a live performance. The ability to bring the lesson alive in ways that help students understand the material is at the crux of teaching. “Whether you are using technology or asking them to participate in a group discussion does not matter as long as the message is reaching them.”

After spending her early career in the classroom, Sister Pat joined the ranks as an administrator serving as assistant principal for academics at Cardinal Dougherty High School for eight years, principal of Archbishop Prendergast High School for five years, and then principal of Villa Maria Academy from 1999 to 2002. Using her expertise in educational matters, Sister Pat spent most of the 1990s working as director of secondary curriculum and instruction for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office of Education.

In 2011, Cardinal Justin Rigali, former Archbishop of Philadelphia, appointed Sister Pat to the Blue Ribbon Commission, which focused on creating a strategy for the future course of Catholic education, including elementary and secondary education, within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s five counties. In addition, during her presidency at IU, she also held leadership roles within the Foundation for Catholic Education, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, the NCAA Colonial States Athletic Conference, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education (SEPCHE) Presidents’ Council.

Immaculata always benefited from the accumulated knowledge, experience, and thoughtful leadership that Sister Pat demonstrated throughout her career; she has influenced and touched many lives.

“Sister Pat was a great leader for the University during the transition to coeducation and these last years of uncertainty in higher education,” stated Stephen J. Pugliese, Ph.D., former IU vice president for Student Development and Engagement. “For me, she served as a great mentor, encouraging and guiding me personally, professionally, and spiritually.”

As the vice president in charge of “all things students,” Pugliese often attended various Immaculata sporting events. His fondest memory of Sister Pat was when she cut down the net at the conclusion of the men’s basketball championship game in March 2008 (IU won that game 85 to 68).

Although Sister Pat was not at Immaculata during the 1970s when the Mighty Macs were celebrating their three national basketball championships, she made up for it by experiencing a re-creation of the “glory days” when the feature-length movie depicting the Mighty Macs’ first championship season was filmed on campus in the summer of 2007.

In fact, Sister Pat’s office and the presidential suite were commandeered to represent the fictional president’s 1970s office (portrayed by Academy-award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn).

Marie Moughan ’87, former executive director of University Communications, noted that Sister Pat was open to anything that the film crew requested. “When the artistic director wanted to repaint Sister Pat’s office a different shade of beige, Sister Pat had no problem with it,”
commented Moughan.

During those days of shooting, the hallway outside her office on the first floor of Villa Maria was where the camera crew set up shop. “All quiet on the set” meant no talking or else the scene would have to be reshot. A few years after the movie was produced, Sister Pat rubbed shoulders again with Hollywood elite while attending two red carpet movie events, including the official premiere, and the DVD release party.

The Mighty Macs are not the only mighty force on campus. Unbeknownst to her, the University’s tagline, “Be Mighty,” has become the unofficial tagline for Sister Pat herself. According to Sister Roseanne, that is exactly what happened during Sister Pat’s term: Immaculata continued its upward trend under her leadership, with growth in the endowment, implementation of coeducation, the creation of online degree programs, and the expansion of campus buildings and infrastructure.

“Be Mighty at Immaculata University! Indeed, Sister Patricia Fadden has role-modeled this wonderful message throughout her presidency,” stated Neumann University President Rosalie M. Mirenda, Ph.D., who will be retiring after 22 years at the helm. As members of SEPCHE, Mirenda and Sister Pat know each other well.

“As a colleague, I have always admired and respected Sister Pat for her wisdom, her insights, and her integrity. Many a moment, I witnessed Sister’s commitment, conviction, and compassion—so critical to discussion and decision-making within our Catholic higher education institutions,” Mirenda declared.

In addition to the connections that Sister Pat has developed within the education field, she has also supported the local community. State Senator Andrew Dinniman commented, “As an educator, Sister Pat’s expertise is virtually unmatched and I have been fortunate to call her a friend. I offer my best wishes for her richly deserved retirement. However, I have no doubt that Sister Pat will continue to play a leading role at Immaculata and in the IHM community.”

Whatever her new role will be, Sister Pat is ready to take on a new challenge. Serving as president has sharpened many of her characteristics.

So many people admire Sister Pat’s ability to think on her feet. Leslie Bokoski ’12, Sister Pat’s administrative assistant since 2011, noted that Sister Pat looks at things in a different light and is very insightful—even when speaking extemporaneously.

The alumni always seem to appreciate her remarks and her humor. After many years of writing and giving speeches, Sister Pat explains how she prepares for presentations with the precision of a former Math major: “Find a unifying thought and determine what it is that you want to say.” She notes that she typically writes the first sentence and then writes the last sentence—filling in the blanks later—or literally “on the fly.” Her speeches are often very profound.

During her inauguration speech, Sister Pat compared Immaculata to the Olympics:

“Part of the tradition prior to the opening of the Olympics is to carry the lighted torch through the host country, arriving at the Olympic site in time for the opening ceremonies. Along the way, small, sometimes sleepy crowds of people gather to cheer for the runner and to support the spirit of the games. At the end of the run, the small torch ignites the huge cauldron and, thanks to the miracle of satellites and television, millions of people in the stadium and across the globe cheer in support.

“For 82 years, Immaculata has carried the torch of excellence through small, cheering, supportive crowds: by achieving University status, Immaculata has lit the cauldron, inviting the scrutiny of a much larger audience. Our charge is to ensure that the applause of the moment remains committed, cheering support.”

Support for Sister Pat and Immaculata comes from all directions. The first time that Barbara Lettiere ’72, current chair of the Board of Trustees, met Sister Pat was when Sister Pat and a former vice president flew to Charlotte, NC, to ask Lettiere to join the Board. “They flew down early in the morning and I met them,” she remembered. “However, it was so early that no restaurants were open yet so we ended up eating breakfast at the Holiday Inn…this was my first encounter with Sister Pat,” she laughed.

After several years on the Board and three years serving as chair, Lettiere has spent much time getting to know Sister Pat and states that perhaps her greatest trait is her sense of humor. “You wouldn’t think that Sister Pat has the sense of humor that she does…but she does indeed. I think it’s important in balancing how you deal with things.”

Lettiere stated simply, “Immaculata will miss her, and I know I, personally, will miss her.”

After three terms as president, which is second only to Sister Mary of Lourdes (president from 1954-1972), Sister Pat has found her way and made her mark at Immaculata.

What does Sister Pat wish for the incoming president?

That he or she:

  • Has as happy a tenure as I’ve had
  • Receives the same overall support as I have received
  • Is able to understand the values of a small religious college
  • Helps us find a niche
  • Gets to know the people who are here and builds on their strengths
  • Can “get on board” quickly
  • And that he or she “will like us!”

Thank you, Sister Pat!

After Sister Pat’s 15 years of working closely with the Immaculata campus community, several members wanted to express their admiration of and appreciation for her.

“I am most grateful for Sister Pat’s leadership through changes and challenges, her IHM spirit, and her undeniable love of the University.”
—Mary Kate Boland, M.A., dean for Academic Affairs

“Sister Pat, you have always faced every new challenge in life saying: ‘I will do the best I can.’ Congratulations on 15 years of living up to that motto, your father would be very proud!”
—Sister Marita Carmel McCarthy, IHM, Division of Education and lifelong friend

“How many university presidents live in a dorm room? Ours has lived in the dorm for her entire presidency, not in an executive mansion. Sister Pat and I chatted many a night, sometimes as the fire alarm clanged away and the students shivered outside. She would help any way that she could. She was a calm and reasonable voice for me many times.”
—Jack Merrylees, Campus Safety and Protection

“Possessing the rare leadership qualities of insight, vision, focus, sensitivity, versatility and patience, Sister Patricia Fadden has led Immaculata University through change, new horizons and strategic challenges while retaining a deep commitment and integrity to the mission and CORE values of ‘what is’ Immaculata. Service, drive and dedication have marked her style.”
—William Carr, DMA, Steinway Artist/professor of Music and Chair, Music Department

“It’s hard to believe that 15 years have passed since Sister Patricia Fadden was inaugurated as our President. She has been the president almost as long as I’ve been employed here and so for me, she IS the face of Immaculata. I will miss her and certainly wish her well.”
—Tina Floyd, director of Undergraduate Course Management and Off-Site Programs

“Sister Patricia Fadden helped Immaculata Athletics grow into the strong, sustainable program we have today. The beautiful facilities and impact they have had on our University will last for many years into the future, and we are deeply indebted to Sister Pat for her immense contributions.”
—Patricia A. Canterino ’12 M.A., director of Athletics and Recreation

“Sister Patricia has been a true advocate for students and the student experience. She keeps all of our students at the forefront of the decisions made to provide them the best academic and extra-curricular experiences.”
—John D. Stafford, Ed.D., vice president for Student Development and Engagement

“Sister Pat, it has been a pleasure working under your leadership for the past 15 years. Thank you for your presence at countless alumni events; for your concern and compassion shown towards others, and your wonderful sense of humor.”
—Karen DeLucia Matweychuk ’83, director of Alumni Relations

“Sister Pat’s commitment to the Immaculata mission is contagious, and has always inspired me to think of my role here at Immaculata as not just a job that I do every day, but a stewardship, a calling to something greater that requires the highest level of commitment. I am fortunate to have served this University under her administration.”
—Jason Clemonds, maintenance manager, Facilities Department

“Sister Pat was one of the important reasons why I came to Immaculata University.  I have greatly appreciated her wisdom, guidance and candor—as well as her sense of humor. Her tenure at Immaculata has been remarkable.”
—Maria Green Cowles, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Affairs

“I have known Sister Patricia Fadden as a colleague in Catholic education for more than 25 years. What is easily recognizable and discernible with Sister Pat is her joyful IHM spirit and commitment to gospel values in all that she does. She is, has been, and will continue to be a blessing to her IHM community and to all who know and love her.”
—Thomas F. O’Brien, Ed.D., dean of the College of Graduate Studies

“Sister Pat Fadden has served Immaculata University, as well as the IHM community, with tremendous skill and dedication. I will miss seeing Sister Pat on IU’s campus, but I look forward to hearing about her future endeavors on behalf of the IHM community.”
—Sister Elaine Glanz, IHM, professor of English

Author: aduncan

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