Elms College was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, Massachusetts. Over the years, several sisters served as presidents of the college. Get to know them and other leaders who helped advance the college to where it is today.
Sister Mary Reap previously served as president of Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, from 1988 to 2007. Founded in 1915 by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Marywood was the first Catholic women's college in Pennsylvania.
In 1997, Sister Mary led the transformation of Marywood from a college to a university. In 2003, that process was manifested in the restructuring of the university into four colleges: Liberal Arts and Sciences, Education and Human Development, Health and Human Services, and Creative Arts and Management. The College of Creative Arts and Management is among the first of its kind in the nation, recognizing the emerging trend of blending business and art in the development of educational and career opportunities.
Since joining the Elms College community, Sister Mary has grown enrollment, introduced new academic programs and partnerships, and oversaw the design and building of the new Center for Natural Health and Sciences, which opened for classes in January 2014.
Read her full biography here.
The Most Reverend Thomas M. O'Leary, founder and first president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, was born in 1875 in Dover, New Hampshire. He graduated from Mingret College in Limerick, Ireland in 1892, and entered the Grand Seminary in Montreal that fall. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1897, and was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield on June 16, 1921. The Springfield Diocese developed rapidly under his aegis. He invited the Passionists to establish a foundation in West Springfield, built the mother house of the Sisters of Providence, extended Mercy Hospital, and opened 24 new parishes in western Massachusetts.
He was instrumental in founding Elms College in 1928, and served as president until he died in October of 1949. Under his leadership, three new buildings were constructed on campus, including the one that bears his name. In addition, he was charged with all the duties of a new college, such as preparing a catalog and designing the college diploma.
The Most Reverend Christopher J. Weldon, the second president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, was born in 1905 in the Bronx section of New York City. He attended the Grand Seminary in Montreal, and entered St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers in 1924. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1929 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
Reverend Weldon completed his graduate studies in philosophy at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He served as chaplain of the Newman School in New Jersey, and from 1942 to 1946 he was a chaplain in the United States Navy. He was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield on February 1, 1950, and became president of Elms College the same year, following the death of Bishop O'Leary.
During his tenure as bishop, he oversaw the construction of Cathedral High School in 1959, Our Lady of Lourdes School in Springfield, added a wing to Farren Memorial Hospital in Montague, and built Mont Marie, the mother house of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield. He established 10 new parishes, and constructed 11 new churches and several parish centers. He served as a member bishop of the Second Vatican Council. In response to the Hispanic migrations into the area in the 1950s, he sent priests and sisters to Puerto Rico to develop fluency in Spanish and experience the culture, and then set up a center for the Spanish apostolate in Springfield. In 1954, he created the diocesan newspaper called the Catholic Observer.
Bishop Weldon served as president of Elms College until 1958, and then was chancellor and chairman of the board of trustees until 1977. He died in March 1982.
Sister Rose William Murphy, the third president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, was a native of Holyoke. She received a bachelor's degree from Smith College in 1917, and then entered the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph. She took her first vows in 1919, and began teaching at Cathedral High School, where she remained for 24 years. Sister Murphy took her final vows in 1925, and earned a master's degree from Fordham University in 1926.
In 1943 she joined the faculty of Elms College and taught Latin, math, and education. She became academic dean of the college in 1947, and was elected president in October 1958. She served as president for seven years until 1965. During her presidency, she added two new buildings to campus, both of which were urgently needed. One of them is named for her - the Rose William residence hall. She died in March 1966 in the chapel at Mont Marie.
Monsignor Thomas F. Devine, the fourth president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, was a native of Westfield. He attended the University of Ottawa, and received training at the Seminary of Philosophy and Grand Seminary in Montreal. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1945, and earned two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree from the University of Montreal. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in education from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
He joined the education faculty at Elms College in 1954 and became head of the Education Department in 1958. He served as a consultant to Bishop Weldon at Vatican II, and was named a Papal Chamberlain by Pope Paul VI in 1963.
He became president of Elms College in 1965, following the resignation of Sister Rose William, and served for 11 years. During his tenure, he oversaw the building of the Alumnae Library, and the renovation of the College Center, O'Leary Hall, and Marian Hall. He inaugurated a revision of the curriculum, initiated a chapter of the American Association of University Professors at the college, introduced tenure and retirement benefits for lay faculty, and allowed faculty a role in determining college policy. He arranged for faculty advisers for all students, increased student aid threefold, and allowed students more input on issues regarding student life.
Following his retirement, he served as pastor of St. Mary's Church in Longmeadow for 21 years, and was known for his loyal attendance to the sick at local hospitals and nursing homes. Father Devine died on October 9, 2001.
Edward R. D'Alessio, the fifth president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, was the first lay person to hold the position. Born in West Orange, New Jersey, he earned a bachelor's degree from Seton Hall University, and master's and doctorate degrees in historical and philosophical foundations of education at Fordham University in New York. He taught in the public schools in Orange, New Jersey, was a lecturer in education in the Fordham School of Education, and assistant professor of education, assistant to the dean of graduate students, and assistant dean of the school of education at Seton Hall. He then served as director of the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education of the United States Catholic Conference in Washington, D.C., and became president of Elms College in 1976. He resigned in June 1979 to become Deputy Commissioner of Education for the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), having been nominated by HEW secretary Joseph Califano.
Elms Alumna | Class of 1944
Sister Mary A. Dooley, the sixth president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, was an alumna of Elms College, class of 1944. From there, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. From 1946 to 1965, she taught at St. Joseph's High School in North Adams, and earned a master's degree from Assumption College in Worcester in 1960. She earned a doctorate in 1968 from the Sorbonne, University of Paris.
She joined the faculty of Elms College in 1968 and served as chair of the Language Department. In 1971, she became president of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a position she held until 1979. From 1977 to 1980, she served as president in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and in 1978 was their official delegate to the installations of Popes John Paul I and John Paul II in Rome.
She received the Elms College Distinguished Alumni Award in 1979, and was inaugurated president of the college on September 19 of that year. She received a doctoral degree in ministry from St. Louis University in Missouri in 1983. She served as president of the Cooperating Colleges of Greater Springfield from 1991-1992, and as president of Elms College until April of 1994. A month after she retired, she received the Via Veritatis Award from Elms College, recognizing her as an outstanding Catholic woman who has made significant contributions to society.
During her tenure at Elms, enrollment at the college increased from 436 full time students to 703; intercollegiate sports were introduced; alumni giving more than doubled; the college conducted its first capital fund drive and began construction on the Maguire Center for Health, Fitness, and Athletics; established an endowment for the humanities; and expanded its courses of study, including adding the religious studies program.
Sister Kathleen C. Keating, a native of Springfield and an alumna of Elms College, was elected the seventh president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms effective July 1, 1994. A 1952 graduate of Elms College, she received a master's degree from Villanova University and a doctoral degree from Fordham University. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1953.
She worked as a teacher at St. Joseph High School in North Adams and was assistant professor of history at Elms College from 1966 to 1975. She also served as chair of the college's Division of Social Sciences. From 1975 to 1978, she was president of the National Assembly of Women Religious in Chicago and was president of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield from 1979 to 1987. From 1989 to 1993, she ministered in Nicaragua as an associate member of the Maryknoll Sisters working as a pastoral minister and a professor of English at the Jesuit University of Central America in the city of Managua.
She received the Elms Distinguished Alumni Award in 1983, and several other national and regional awards over the years.
During her tenure, the college voted to admit men as students to all programs of the college in 1997, which helped stabilize a declining enrollment. In addition, the college added four new undergraduate majors and one new master's degree program. She more than doubled the school's endowment from $2.3 to $5.8 million; oversaw the replacement of seven roofs on campus, and the building of the Maguire Center. She oversaw the establishment of the Irish and Polish Cultural Centers on the Elms College campus.
Joachim W. Froehlich Ph.D. was the eighth president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, serving from July 2001 until his death in November 2003. A native of Naugatuck, Connecticut, Dr. Froehlich received his bachelor's degree from St. Anselm College in 1966; his master's degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo; and completed his doctorate in economics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
He served as president of St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire from 1979-1989. Following that, he became a visiting scholar for the Department of Economics at the New School for Social Research in New York, New York, and taught at St. Benedict's Preparatory School, an inner city all male school that enrolls 90 percent of its students from minority cultures. From 1990 to 1991, he served the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire as superintendent of its 28 Catholic schools. He then became director of development and headmaster at Woodside Priory School in California, and he was president of Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa from 1995 to 2001.
He was named president of Elms College in July 2001. In the two years he held that position, he spearheaded projects to increase student recruiting, resulting in 36 percent growth in enrollment; launched a strategic planning process and began implementing a 10 year facilities master plan; and oversaw a college evaluation that resulted in a 10 year reaccreditation.
James H. Mullen Jr., the ninth president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms, joined the college in summer 2005, filling the vacancy created by the death in November 2003 of Joachim W. Froehlich. He was born in Granby, and earned a bachelor's degree in history from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester; a master's degree in international affairs and security at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; and a doctorate in higher education administration at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Before coming to the Elms, Dr. Mullen had been chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, the designated liberal arts campus of the University of North Carolina system. Before joining the UNC, Dr. Mullen worked at Trinity College in Hartford, where he served as senior vice president and executive director of Project 2002, vice president for student services, and vice president for strategic planning and community relations. Dr. Mullen also worked for the city of Springfield in 1987, serving as special projects coordinator for the Office of Community Development.