From the time of Mother Mary of the Annunciation Beaumont until the election of Mother Annunciata Witz in 1966, the General Superior of the Ursulines of Cleveland served as ex officio president of Ursuline College. As the size of the Ursuline Community grew and as leading a college became more complex, the superiors began to name as Ursuline sister the Dean of the College. The daily running of the College fell to the Dean who consulted regularly with the general superior. In 1932 Sister Gonzaga Haessly was named Dean and served in that capacity for the next 34 years!
Born in 1878, Mary Haessly was educated by the Ursulines at St. Patrick’s Grade School and later at Ursuline Academy, which at that time was located at 55th Street and Scovill Avenue. She entered the Ursuline Community in 1898 at the age of 20. Her first assignments involved teaching and administrating Ursuline grade schools and was then assigned to Ursuline Academy of the Sacred Heart where she also taught and served as principal.
Her field of study was classical languages (Lain and Greek). In 1921, she earned her master’s in this field from the Catholic University of America, and ten years later she completed her studies for her doctorate at the same university.
All of her years as Dean were served on the Cedar Hill Campus of Ursuline College. In her first year she saw to the accreditation of Ursuline by The National Catholic Education Association and the Association of American Colleges. This involved increasing the number of books in the library and of ensuring that the curriculum was in line with the College’s mission. Early on she manifested the Ursuline chrism of motherliness as she decreased tuition from $125 per semester to $100 during the difficult years of the Depression. In 1945 she broke a long lasting tradition of not allowing married women to attend a Catholic college. A certain Patricia McCarty married a Navy man home on leave and requested of Sister Gonzaga that she be allowed to continue her education. She was the first, but by no means the last woman, to graduate from Ursuline as a married woman.
As enrollment at the College continue to grow, more room was needed, and the Sisters purchased the Sherwin property adjacent to the college buildings which was remodeled into a student dorm and named it Amadeus Hall. The first floor of the two story building behind Amadeus Hall became the art department and, as enrollment continued to increase, the second floor of this building, named Brescia Hall, was converted to dormitory space.
During her many years as Dean, Sister Gonzaga developed an excellent faculty of Ursulines, many who went on the serve the college for over 30 years. They included: Sr. Killian (art), Sr. Celine (music), Sr. Genevieve (math), Sr. Felicia (science), Sr. Michael Francis (English), Sr. Miriam (sociology and social work), Sr. Stanislaus (Latin), Sr. Annunciata (education), Sr. Ann Gertrude (chemistry), Sr. Margaret Mary , later Sr. Catharine Gilbride (history). Sr. James Therese, later Sr. Ann Kelley (philosophy) and Sr. Rose Angela (education). She also hired Mary Pat Daley who was a long time drama teacher and made Ursuline renowned for its dramatic productions. Monsignor Joseph Mullen, even after having been named rector of the diocesan seminary, continued teaching psychology. Sister Gonzaga also brought on board as faculty members Father William Bachman (religion and sociology), Rev. Michael Murphy (ethics) and Rev. Joseph Spitzig (religion).
As Sister brought on board a well-prepared and enthusiastic faculty, new clubs and activities were created. The Quill (a student literary magazine and newsletter) was resurrected as was the first yearbook since 1931, The Overlook, was published in 1948 with Carolyn McKalen serving as its editor. Students participated in local, state and national contests in music, debate, writing and science. The campus was alive with student life. Other firsts in the Sister Gonzaga years was the Saint Catherine of Alexandria medal, Founder’s Day (1947), Dean’s List (1948), an accelerated college program during the war years to allow students to graduate in three years; a BSN program in 1939 which allowed registered nurses to earn a BSN degree after completing 68 credits of liberal arts courses; summer school and the Ursula Lauris Award (1958).
It was clear that soon Ursuline College would out grow its present facilities and so Mother Marie Sands, the General Superior of the Ursulines in 1949, purchased 62.5 acres of land in Pepper Pike. This land was adjacent to the 50 acres that Mother Mercedes had purchased in 1928. Mother Marie had a vision of moving the Motherhouse located at Villa Angela and Ursuline College to this new location. She met with the Ursuline Alumnae Association and asked them to begin raising funds for new college buildings. Mother Marie brought Jim Conway on as a development director to raise capital funds for both the motherhouse and the college. She selected an advisory board for the college chaired by Ralph Besse.
On March 25, 1965 ground was broken for the first college buildings: The Mullen Academic Building, The Dauby Science Center, Grace Residence Hall and the Fritzche Student Center.
In May of 1966 Sister Gonzaga presided over the last Cedar Hill Campus graduation. Two major changes in office occurred at this time. Sr. Annunciata Witz was elected general superior and she named Sr. Rose Angela Johnson as the college president. Sister Gonzaga asked to be relieved of her duties and Sister James Therese (Sr. Ann Kelly) was named Academic Dean. After 34 years at the helm of the college, Sister Gonzaga retired to the motherhouse. She died in May of 1969.
In many ways, Sister Gonzaga could be called the “Second Founder” of Ursuline College since the College was advanced in many areas during her over three decades of leadership.
Patrick Riley, D.Min is the Director of Development at Ursuline College.