SHU centennial brings in major grants and recognition

Robert Brownlee poses next to a photo of his late aunt, Sr. Francesca Brownlee, the first dean of Seton Hill. Photo from

As seniors countdown the days until graduation, they will be counting down the days for a very historic moment at Seton Hill University. On May 12, graduating members from the Class of 2018 will walk across the stage, accepting their diplomas and looking toward their futures as the 100th graduating class at SHU.

Two students graduated from Seton Hill, then a college, at the first commencement in 1919. Those graduates were Othelia Averman Vogel and Maria Caveney Coolahan, both receiving a Bachelors in Music. Now, 100 years, countless degrees and many innovations later, SHU, named a university in 2002, is saying farewell to 334 students as they walk away with degrees in 35 fields.

This year’s commencement will not only be remembered as the 100th but also as the year that The President’s Medal of Distinction was awarded for the third time in SHU’s history. Sister Catherine Meinert, the provisional superior of the Sisters of Charity, will be accepting the medal on behalf of the Sisters, who founded the university in 1918.

“The Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill remain extraordinary partners in our shared mission to educate students in the tradition of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton to think and act critically, creatively and ethically as productive members of society committed to transforming the world,” said Mary Finger, SHU president, in a press release. “As Seton Hill celebrates its 100-year history, The Presidential Medal of Distinction recognizes our partnership with the Sisters of Charity and celebrates their pioneering vision to charter a four-year college and their inspiring leadership that continues to permeate and advance all we do at the university.”

SHU President Mary Finger, far right, poses with Bishop Edward C. Malesic, Ruth Grant and Sr. Catherine Meinert, from left to right respectively, for a photo at the centennial kickoff in January. Photo by C.Arida/Setonian.

The centennial year began with a kickoff ceremony in January, where it was announced that a seven-figure donation would be made as well as funds to start a nursing program at SHU. Grant Verstandig, grandson of Ruth O’Block Grant, who is a SHU board of trustees’ chair, pledged a seven-figure donation to create the Ruth O’Block Grant Endowed Scholarship Program, which will support entrepreneurship, business, health and technology.

“I am especially delighted that The Ruth O’Block Grant Scholarship will provide student recipients with a comprehensive program to advance leaders in the areas of entrepreneurship, business, health and technology,” said Finger in a press release. “Select sophomore, junior and senior students will be identified for their leadership ability and academic achievements and participate in distinctive opportunities.”

That same day it was announced that Daniel Wukich, a member of the SHU board of trustees, had provided start-up costs to begin a bachelor’s degree in nursing. That process still has to undergo state approvals, which the university hopes to have completed within the year.

The kickoff officially launched the “Centennial Campaign for Scholarships,” with the hopes that by the end of the centennial year, SHU will have 100 new or increased student scholarships. According to Jennifer Reeger, director of media relations, that number stands at around 60, four months into the year. In addition to the major gift made by Verstandig, SHU announced a million-dollar donation back in February. Robert Brownlee, the nephew of the late Sr. Francesca Brownlee, who served as the institution’s first dean, pledged a $1,018,000 gift to create the first mathematics center at SHU and create the Robert M. Brownlee Endowed Scholarship.

“The Robert M. Brownlee Endowed Scholarship Fund will provide financial aid to students enrolled in the study of entrepreneurship, business administration, management, business ethics, cybersecurity and data analytics,” said Finger in a press release. “We are delighted the Brownlee Scholarship will provide capable students with the resources they need to achieve an education of the highest quality.”

Also announced in February was the dedication of the Rose M. O’Brien Center for Campus Ministry in honor of the late mother of Sr. Maureen O’Brien, directory of campus Ministry at SHU. The dedication was made possible by a gift from Catherine Murray Ryan and her husband John T. Ryan III, SHU benefactors and long-time family friends of the O’Brien’s.

Sr. Maureen O’Brien, director of Campus Ministry, accepts the dedication of the Campus Ministry in honor of her late mother, Rose M. O’Brien. Photo from

Centennial celebrations will continue through the summer with the burial of a time capsule on June 3, during Alumni Weekend, and into the fall semester with the awarding of the Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal on Sept. 13, the eve of Seton’s canonization. The medal was created by the SHU Alumni Association in 1959 and was awarded for the first time in 1963 to Rose F. Kennedy, mother of John F. Kennedy.

SHU’s centennial year isn’t just about looking back at the past 100 years but also looking toward the future and the next 100 years. SHU announced on March 14 plans to build a new 145-bed residence hall, which will be located near the existing Brownlee, DeChantal and Farrell Halls.

Also in March, SHU was recognized as one of the nation’s Colleges of Distinction, which requires that colleges adhere to engaged students, great teaching, a vibrant community and successful outcomes.

“Seton Hill University is pleased to be named a College of Distinction for its innovative approaches to teaching and learning that are grounded in both career preparation and the liberal arts,” said Finger in a press release. “As Seton Hill celebrates its Centennial in 2018, we continue to look for new ways to educate our students in the best traditions of the University’s founders, the Sisters of Charity, and ensure our graduates are, in the words of Elizabeth Ann Seton, ‘fit for that world in which they are destined to live.’”

Published By: Paige Parise

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