Newman University celebrates 80th anniversary


From Sacred Heart Junior College to Newman University – Eight decades of ‘wonderful possibilities’ realized

By Joyce Suellentrop

On Sept. 12, 1933, a group of women religious, clergy, students and lay people from the Wichita community gathered for the opening Mass and benediction of a new institution called Sacred Heart Junior College. At the Mass, the Most Rev. Augustus John Schwertner, bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, spoke of the “wonderful possibilities” of the new college.
Over the next eight decades, that group of people, and countless others who have followed, have made those possibilities real.

Eight decades of ‘wonderful possibilities’ realized

At the founding of the college in the depths of the Great Depression, the prospect of realizing those “wonderful possibilities” seemed remote. The enrollment was 36; 34 sisters and two lay women. The college offered an associate of arts degree based on the liberal arts, primarily used to apply for a 60-hour teaching certificate. As noted in historical records, there were “no personnel, no finances and very limited facilities.”

Accreditation was granted in 1935 and the college worked to enroll more lay students. As that happened, new programs were added to the curriculum – secretarial science, home economics and, from 1943 to 1948, nursing.

Sacred Heart Hall, home to the college and the high school Sacred Heart Academy, was expanded and a small science building was built. The grounds were landscaped. Co-curricular and social activities increased.  Home to Sacred Heart girls, also known as Cordettes, the college was ready for the future.

In 1954 Sister Hilary Yoggerst, the first woman president and the first president from the religious community, took office. Out of the early years of struggle, sacrifice and dedication, the college had emerged ready to realize the “wonderful possibilities.” Enrollment was growing slowly but steadily. The Alumni Association met regularly. Co-curricular activities, in particular drama and music, were visible assets; a combination gymnasium, auditorium and fine arts building, De Mattias Hall, was dedicated in 1951. Work toward the four-year Sacred Heart College, which had started in 1950, was completed, and work toward regional accreditation had begun.

A time of growth

In 1957, a Lay Advisory Board was appointed “to make the college better known to have the advice and counsel of men close to the growth of Wichita.” Significantly, in 1958 the college was incorporated separately from the religious order. Public awareness of the college and its programs was an ongoing concern. The college president, for the first 30 years, was the public figure. When Rev. Edward P. McCarthy was appointed president in 1950, for example, he was not responsible for the running of the college; he was “to act as an advisor and attend public functions.”

In 1945, the college mounted an extensive campaign to spotlight the institution by placing ads in local and regional newspapers and magazines, and sending letters to bishops, priests and religious communities.

Sylvia Gorges, ASC, a woman of action, was a major force in the development of the institution, serving as president from 1961 to 1971. Enrollment tripled. The college became co-ed. Intercollegiate athletics were established. Four-year accreditation was granted. Comprehensive planning started. New buildings were added – the Heimerman Science Building, Ryan Library, McNeill Hall and Merlini Hall.

The first capital campaign, the Memorial Gift Program, was successful. Administratively, a development area was formed. The curriculum was evaluated and adjusted due to not only institutional changes but also societal changes. The nature of the faculty changed as the number of lay members increased.

Prompted by a suggestion of a name change for “identity” reasons, in 1973 the college announced that Sacred Heart College would be renamed Kansas Newman College. Father Roman Galiardi, the sixth president, believing that the institution should be shaped not by “influences…but by purposes,” instituted a long-range planning process complete with a planning team, an analytical studies team and a planning director. A 10-year plan covered the academic structure, the physical plant, enrollment, and financial development.

Dr. Robert J. Giroux, the first lay president, appointed in 1982, praised the traditions and history of the college but argued that “certain changes must be made, risks need to be undertaken and vision needs to be clear.” At the 50th Anniversary celebration in 1983, he recounted achievements of his first year: an Enrollment Development Committee; a new long-range plan; new degree programs; and a proposed capital campaign.

The pace continued. The evening/weekend Degree Completion Program added in the 1970s for non-traditional

students expanded to include the Advanced Degree Completion Program offered in sequential time blocks. A capital campaign, the Fiftieth Anniversary Fund, was successful, raising $3.6 million. The Nursing Program that had been added in 1979 was expanded.

Into the 21st century

The late 1980s were difficult times, as enrollment declined and financial struggles increased. In 1991, Tarcisia Roths, ASC became the ninth president of the college. Bringing a quiet energy and a deep love for the institution, and drawing on the support of the religious order, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, she led – and sometimes, pushed – the college toward the 21st century.

Planning with purpose continued, and two other successful capital campaigns, Renaissance 2000, and Beyond the Renaissance, were launched to build Eck Hall, the O’Shaughnessy Sports Complex, the Mabee Dining Center, Gorges Atrium, the De Mattias Fine Arts Center, and Beata Residence Hall.

With the growth in campus facilities, enrollment and academic programs, the institution changed it name to Newman University in 1998.

In the early 2000s, Ryan Library was closed because of structural problems, and another successful campaign brought the Newman campus the Dugan Library and Campus Center, and the Dugan-Gorges Conference Center. The new buildings were dedicated on Nov. 9, 2007 – the same day the university’s 11th president, Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., was officially inaugurated. Two new residence halls, Fugate Hall and New Hall, were dedicated earlier that year.

In 2008 the university celebrated its 75th Anniversary. As part of the celebration, on Sept. 12 the university dedicated a pedestrian mall featuring Founders Plaza, which honors the more than 200 Adorers who have served on the location of modern-day Newman University since 1902. The Plaza is anchored by a bronze statue of ASC foundress St. Maria De Mattias.

Now, Newman University celebrates the institution’s 80th Anniversary. A celebration is a commemoration, an act of remembering. Reviewing 80 years of history in this limited space is, by necessity, an overview. Lost are the specifics: the anecdotes, the personalities, the emotions, the thoughts and the landscape.
But if one ponders the span of time, a pattern emerges, one of constancy and change. The pattern forms, shifts, turns back, leaps ahead or turns to the side, and ultimately remakes itself. Throughout, the center holds: Catholic tradition, the liberal arts and practical education.

Based on the life of St. Maria De Mattias, the writings of John Henry Cardinal Newman and bearing the stamp of the 11 presidents and the Newman family, today the institution faces forward – continuing to realize the “wonderful possibilities” first mentioned in 1933.

Joyce Suellentrop is a former associate professor of history and the unofficial archivist of Newman University. She is the author of Kansas Newman College, published in 1984 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the college, and Kansas Newman College: Educating the Mind, Inspiring the Spirit, published in 1996.

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