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Accent, Winter 2024, Volume 52, No. 2 - View past issues

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Sisters Provide Inspirational Support for a New Student Center

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia are the reason that Neumann University exists. Their commitment to education, social justice, and service to others led to Neumann’s founding in 1965 and continues to animate the campus today.

For 59 years, in fact, the Sisters have supported the university with financial investments, academic expertise, and administrative leadership. As Neumann looks ahead to 2035 with an ambitious campus master plan, the Sisters’ commitment remains strong with a pledge of $600,000 to support the construction of a student center.

The center, which will be built on the site of the parking lot adjacent to Flynn Hall, will provide open spaces, tables, chairs, and lounges where students can relax or discuss class assignments. It even includes areas for clubs, activities, offices, game rooms, a bookstore, café, a black box theatre, dining services, and mission and ministry.

The student desire for Campus Ministry to have a prominent presence in the student center was not lost on the congregation’s leadership team.

“In their research into the student center, Dr. Domes and Carrie Snyder (vice president for university advancement) included a student survey,” noted Sr. Florence Hee. “The students requested that the office of Campus Ministry be in the student center and that spoke volumes to us. It indicated the importance to students of furthering a broader mission beyond academics.”

The student center will be located at the site of the parking lot next to Flynn Hall.

In addition to the emphasis on service and spirituality that Campus Ministry will bring to the center, the Sisters also identified a very pragmatic benefit of the proposed building.

Sr. Theresa Firenze, the congregational minister, put it succinctly: “Central to our charism is the building of relationships, so what better place to nurture those relationships than in a space where people can gather and get to know one another?”

A student center “is worth supporting because it’s a place where all students will gather and interact with people from other cultures with different viewpoints and career goals,” said Sr. Marian Leaf. “Students will learn to be in relationship with a wide variety of personalities.”

Even at a time when public opinion surveys indicate that Americans are growing more doubtful about the value of a college degree, the congregational leadership team is steadfast in their belief that higher education — and especially Franciscan education — is a valuable asset for the students Neumann serves.

“Once the public says what it has to say,” smiled Sr. Theresa, “we counter with our values and insert our legacy of serving with a purpose.”

“A college degree in and of itself can be done online,” she added. “Imparting information is only a very small part of being educated because relationships are so important. The whole experience of growing as a person and learning to relate to one another, in a time when everyone is holding a device of some sort, is more valuable than ever. A piece of paper cannot duplicate the experience of engaging with people who have different opinions, who come from different backgrounds.”

Designed to be a nexus of social activity, the student center will include offices for clubs and organizations, game rooms, dining services, a bookstore, café, black box theatre, and Campus Ministry.

Sr. Florence addressed the benefits of Neumann’s approach to higher education, specifically for the large contingent of first-generation students that the university serves.

“Teaching our young people today to have the skill set and competencies as well as the relational skills is vital, and I think that’s what we offer in a really solid manner,” she said. “Neumann is also always looking at what society needs and responding to those needs through academic programs like cybersecurity, sport management, and criminal justice, teaching skills that will put students at the front of the line in building their careers.”

Throughout Neumann’s history, the Sisters have exhibited an unwavering, relentless energy and commitment to education as a vehicle for good. They have illustrated their trust with millions of dollars to support the university’s endowment, the Neumann Institute for Franciscan Studies, the Sisters of St. Francis Endowed Chair of Franciscan Theology, and the Mother Francis Bachmann Endowed Scholarship.

*Main photo caption: Congregational Leadership Team: Standing are Sisters Florence Hee ’83, Karen Pourby, and Marian Leaf ’77; seated are Sisters Celeste Crine ’71 (assistant congregational minister) and Theresa Firenze (congregational minister).


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