by Cynthia Busin Nicola, EdD
At this year’s Carlow Day, alumna and faculty member Cynthia Busin Nicola shared an inspiring keynote address at the Academic Convocation. Speaking to the incoming class, Nicola took them back over the last 90 years to share the founding of the university by the Sisters of Mercy, and how they can continue the heritage of mercy in their community and in the world today, specifically calling attention to this year’s value of Sacredness of Creation. The following is Nicola’s address:
One of my favorite past times is walking through graveyards. To me, graveyards are historic monuments to the people who have lived before us that have impacted our lives and, in their own way, the world. St. Xavier’s in Latrobe is one of my favorites. My Aunt, Sr. Rose Dalle Tezze, is buried there. Some of my former Carlow professors are there, most of the original Mercy Founders are there, and, seven of our former college/university Presidents are there. It is sacred ground.
My Aunt said something quite powerful to me a few weeks before she died. We were talking about someone we both knew and she said to me, “She is not ‘of Mercy’ anymore.” At the time, I am not sure how I would have defined Mercy if asked, but I have to say I knew EXACTLY what she meant.
So, what does it mean to be “of Mercy?” Sr. Iranaeus Dougherty, Founder and President from 1929-1947 created a college without a charter, with limited resources. She led the way in establishing a college dedicated to “The true woman, the true scholar, for true purpose.” Mt. Mercy College started during the Great Depression and sustained itself through WWII.
Sr. Mary Francella McConnell, Mt. Mercy College President from 1947-1952, expanded the campus with the building of Antonian Hall and instituted the then “controversial” Nursing major. Resources were still limited. And, in the world, the Korean War was in full swing. For both these Presidents, Mercy meant having the courage to face what seems insurmountable.
Sr. Margaret Mary Corbett, President from 1952-1960, strengthened the liberal arts, especially in Theology, Philosophy. She served when the Soviet Union detonated the first hydrogen bomb, saw the decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education, and the founding of NASA.
Sr. Muriel Gallagher, President from 1960-1963, instituted the Self-evaluation of Mt. Mercy to evaluate curricula. Sr. Muriel served when the Berlin Wall was built, the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum, the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, and the Vietnam War was already five years strong.
Sr. Elizabeth Carroll, President from 1963-1966, instituted mental health concepts in Nursing and maintained that students needed a strong liberal arts basis to contribute to a merciful world. She witnessed the assassination of John F. Kennedy and heard Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. For these three Presidents, Mercy meant having the courage to face our inhumanity.
Sr. Jane Scully, President from 1966-1982, championed the equal treatment of women, and women’s and minorities’ access to education. She founded Tuesday College, Weekend College, and Hill College. During her tenure, the United States experienced a recession, the Cold War ended, and women’s rights came to the forefront.
Sr. Mary Louise Fennell, President from 1982-1988, continued efforts to bring Carlow to the professional community. She partnered with the American Management Association to offer courses on campus. Computer Science, Chemistry and Journalism were added as majors. During her years, public schools deteriorated, and minorities experienced high unemployment. She also witnessed the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Sr. Grace Ann Geibel, President from 1988-2005, moved Carlow to university status and founded the Grace Ann Geibel Institute for Justice and Mercy to challenge systemic oppression. Sr. Grace Anne saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Exxon Valdez environmental disaster, and the devastation of 9-11-01. For these three Presidents, Mercy meant having the courage to face the unethical.
Dr. Mary Hines, President from 2005-2013, our first lay President, doubled our graduate enrollment, increased our endowment, and began the beautification of our campus. Dr. Hines witnessed the devastation from two major hurricanes, human rights violations, and a rise in nuclear threat from N. Korea.
Dr. Suzanne Mellon, our current President, has increased: endowment, graduate programming, and professional accreditations. Our University Commons is the first LEED- certified building on campus. Her terms take place amidst world terrorism, climate change, plastic pollution of our oceans, expanding freshwater crises and the dawn of Artificial Intelligence. This is the age our very humanity is threatened. For Drs. Hines and Mellon, Mercy means having the courage to face the unfathomable.
To be of Mercy means to respect all of God’s creation. That includes the sacredness of this campus, respect for those with whom we work, respect for those who are no longer with us. Our Presidents have served through wars, depression, recession, injustice, inhumanity, terrorism and crises. They have been challenged to translate the world’s needs into liberal-arts based curricula that prepare our students to be “of Mercy” so that they safeguard the sacredness of God’s creation.
The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ population numbered 13,000 in 1970. In 2018, they numbered 2600. Mercy is reverting to Catherine McAuley’s original “lay army.” So, students, you are not only the architects of your own future, you are called to be the guardians of Mercy and stewards of the planet. You are responsible for repairing the world.
If the needs feel overwhelming, do as Catherine McAuley and our Mercy leaders have done:
If you cannot feed all the hungry, feed one. If you cannot give water to all who thirst, refresh one. If you cannot clothe all the naked, clothe one. If you cannot shelter all who wander, shelter one. If you cannot visit all the infirmed, visit one. If you cannot show respect for all who have died, show respect for one.
Meet the world’s needs with courage; Be “of Mercy.”