Sister Mary Persico, Announces Plan to Retire
Dear Members of the Marywood University Community,
Earlier this week, Sister Mary Persico, IHM, Ed.D., the twelfth President of Marywood University, announced to the Board of Trustees her decision to retire from her role as President of the University, effective June 30, 2024. On behalf of the Trustees, I wish to acknowledge our admiration for Sister Mary, her collaborative leadership and her bold vision for Marywood. Sister Mary has been an inspiration to us all. She has served the University since July 1, 2016 with outstanding leadership and we will miss her tremendously. On behalf of the Board of Trustees and the entire Marywood University community, I want to thank Sister Mary for her numerous extraordinary accomplishments, some of which are noted below.
Currently, Sister Mary is bringing the University’s $30 million comprehensive campaign to its conclusion. The campaign is designed to fund new construction and academic spaces on campus, to provide scholarships for students who might otherwise not have the opportunity to grow and develop as students and life-long learners, and to enhance the student experience of those who share community with us at Marywood. The state-of-the-art Pascucci Pavilion, an addition to the O’Neill Healthy Families Building, which will now house all our students who study the Health Sciences, will be dedicated in May of 2024.
During her tenure, Sister Mary reorganized the academic structure of the University twice, once in 2017 and again in 2023. Since the first restructuring, the University established the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion out of which grew the Center for Truth and Racial Healing. Since 2016, the Physician Assistant program has been granted permission from the accrediting body to expand the number of admitted students each year from 45 to 75. Also, during this time, Marywood nearly doubled enrollment in its premier Architecture programs and launched several new and exciting programs, such as Respiratory Therapy, Construction Management, and Biotechnology. Last spring, the Center for the Living City was established and dedicated to the memory of Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist from Scranton; this entity is housed in the Insalaco Center for Studio Arts. Sister Mary also launched the Center for Law, Justice & Policy as a precursor to the engagement of students in programs that will lead to legal-related professions.
After several years of study, members of the Academic community of Marywood, under the leadership of Sister Mary, have developed a new Core Curriculum that will serve to complement the programs undertaken by our students in order to prepare them for their careers in significant ways. This Core will be launched in the fall of 2024.
Sister Mary’s belief that universities exist to serve the communities that surround them was in part realized with the purchase of Marywood Heights, the former Holy Family Skilled Nursing Facility, which is home to nearly 90 residents. Marywood Heights is the first UBRC (University Based Retirement Community) in Northeast Pennsylvania. In addition, the NativityMiguel School of Scranton was relocated to Marywood University in 2019 and is now a permanent addition to our campus.
Throughout Sister Mary’s years of service to Marywood, the University endowment has nearly doubled. Additionally, we are maintaining a fiscally responsible status during universally challenging financial times in higher education while facing a national downturn in enrollments. Also, Sister Mary brought Starbucks, the Gear Shop, the Apple Store, and the Amazon Store to campus, all indicators that Marywood is keeping up with the times and students have access to a culture that is attractive to them.
Sister Mary has represented Marywood to the broader community of higher education through service on Boards and by her presence in the public arena. For example, she served a six-year term on the Board of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, during which time she assumed the role of Chair for one year. She was an appointee of Governor Tom Wolf to the PA Humanities as a Director for six-years and also assumed the role of Chair for some of her tenure there. In 2019, Sister Mary was asked to deliver the Commencement Address at the Graduation Ceremony of the Catholic University of East Africa, Nairobi, Kenya. She is currently serving as one of ten members on the Governor’s task force for Higher Education in the Commonwealth of PA, and has chaired several Middle States site visits during her years as Marywood’s President.
Sister Mary fulfilled the promise she made when she began her service as President, which was to make Marywood a “University for the world.” To that end, she sought and received permission from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to deliver online graduate Business programs to students from the Tsingsua Holdings Zijing Education Group in Beijing, China, and from the Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Support, Alexandria, Egypt. With the 2023 restructuring, the Office of Global Education was established. Through this office, dozens of students from South Korea spend one semester at Marywood during which time they do their practical Nursing training in local hospitals and clinics. Many of them return to Marywood to earn their degrees in Nursing.
In preparing for her departure, Sister Mary has initiated the Middle States accreditation process in order to prepare for a Spring 2026 site visit. She also has undertaken preliminary stages in the formation of a new Strategic Plan that will be created concurrently with the Middle States site-visit preparation.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a [wo]man is not where [s]he stands in the moments of comfort, but where [s]he stands at times of challenge.” Perhaps Sister Mary’s greatest accomplishments for which we, as a community, will be forever grateful are the invisible ones, namely, the challenges she gracefully led us through.
During the past several years, Marywood experienced national and global challenges. Under Sister Mary’s leadership, we have overcome periods of economic uncertainty and social and political turbulence. When the COVID-19 pandemic arose, Sister Mary led us through an unprecedented and uncertain time with her calmness, poise and wisdom, enabling Marywood to pivot quickly to sustain its mission and to assist the community to curb the spread of the virus and minimize the consequences of the global pandemic. Sister Mary not only successfully navigated these challenges for the Marywood community, but she positioned Marywood to thrive in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Throughout the years and long before her tenure as President, Sister Mary has promoted the mission and core values of our University. She has kept them ever before our students, Staff, Faculty, and Administration as the collective light that guides all that we do.
As we prepare for her retirement, the Board of Trustees will launch a national search (including the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Scranton) for Sister Mary’s successor. The Board of Trustees has hired a search firm/consultant and will be forming a search committee, which will include members of various stakeholder groups. We expect the position to be posted in early January, 2024. We are hopeful that we will be able to announce finalists for the position in March and a President-Elect by early April 2024.
For now, please join us in thanking Sister Mary for making Marywood all that it is today, and more excellent in fulfilling its mission.
Lisa A. Lori, Esquire
Chair of the Board of Trustees
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