Carrying the Mission: Then and Now

The following are short profiles of leaders at Notre Dame College who have shaped the institution in the past and those who do so today. The early leaders were pioneers who brought to life the mission of the College to educate a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Today’s leaders carry that mission into the future.

The Presidents

Then: Sr. Mary Evarista Harks

Sr. Mary Evarista Harks was the first president of Notre Dame College.
Sr. Mary Evarista Harks was the first president of Notre Dame College.

Sr. Mary Evarista Harks was the first president of Notre Dame College. Born in Cleveland on Feb. 10, 1867, she was one of 12 children. Sr. Mary Evarista became a postulant at the Notre Dame Motherhouse at E. 18thStreet and Superior Avenue in 1888 and made her final vows in 1891.

Fifteen years later, Sr. Mary Evarista crossed the Atlantic to take charge of the Motherhouse in Muehlhausen, Germany, where she studied and taught until 1911. It was her first of three trips to Europe. The second was in 1925, following the death of Sr. Mary Cecillia Romen, when she was summoned for the election of a new superior general. During her third trip in 1936, she had a private audience with Pope Pius XI.

In 1918, Sr. Mary Evarista was chosen to become the Provincial Superior of the Cleveland Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame. She became the first president of Notre Dame College in 1922. Under her leadership, the current campus was established, the east wing of the Administration Building was built and the College was fully accredited.

“During her long term of office, the Notre Dame community has developed into one of the outstanding teaching communities in the diocese,” Archbishop Joseph Schrembs wrote in a letter following Sr. Mary Evarista’s death on Aug. 1, 1943.    

Now: Dr. Andrew P. Roth

Dr. Andrew P. Roth is the 13th president of Notre Dame College.
Dr. Andrew P. Roth is the 13th president of Notre Dame College.

Inaugurated in November 2003 as the 13th President of Notre Dame College, Dr. Andrew P. Roth foresees NDC as one of the finest, small Catholic baccalaureate colleges in the Great Lakes region.

Dr. Roth has already moved the College toward achieving that vision. He restructured the admissions and financial aid processes resulting in record enrollment every year, and has introduced major improvements to campus facilities in order to enhance the educational experience for NDC students.

In 2008, under Dr. Roth’s leadership, the College began the most extensive series of on-campus construction projects in recent history. Ten new classrooms, 12 new faculty offices and new facilities for the nursing program were built. In addition, Christ the King Chapel was renewed, the Connelly Center Dining Hall was renovated, and two new residence halls were constructed. In 2011, the College purchased the former Regina High School complex adding eight acres, an auditorium, a gym and more than 100,000 square feet of classroom and office space to the campus.

Dr. Roth also made sure to expand academic opportunities for NDC students. The College initiated new programs, including the intelligence analysis and research program, criminal justice, and a fully-accredited Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Notre Dame also expanded its online course offerings and launched a Master’s in Security Policy Studies.

A native of Canton, Ohio, Dr. Roth is committed to expanding the role of Notre Dame as a member of the Northeast Ohio community. He previously served as an administrator and tenured faculty member at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. His long and accomplished career has encompassed finance, marketing, strategic planning, educational leadership and public policy.

The Academic Leaders

Then: Sr. Mary Agnes Bosche

Sr. Mary Agnes Bosche was the first dean at Notre Dame College.
Sr. Mary Agnes Bosche was the first dean at Notre Dame College.

Sr. Mary Agnes Bosche’s determination and grace were instrumental factors in the establishment of Notre Dame College. As the bricks and mortar formed the campus and its classrooms, it was Sr. Mary Agnes’s role to build the academic and student life of the College.

She was keenly involved in student enrollment at Notre Dame, overseeing this function from the College’s initial years at the Ansel Road location, during the move to its permanent location on College Road and through the Great Depression.

To help the College establish academic credibility, Sr. Mary Agnes encouraged instructors to receive advanced and terminal degrees, expanded the holdings in the library, and ultimately helped Notre Dame achieve full accreditation.

Development of student life policies also fell under the auspices of Sr. Mary Agnes. She promoted a culture of personal responsibility at the College, a culture in which students organized and took ownership of their spiritual and social activities. As young adults, the students were trusted to make “right choices” in their affairs. Sr. Mary Agnes’s student-centered approach was not endorsed by the diocese, and she was ultimately forced to leave the College.

While away from the College, Sr. Mary Agnes spent time in deep reflection, writing books and praying, not allowing her exile from the College to embitter her. Within a few years (1940), she began active service once again as principal of Notre Dame Academy. This was followed three years later with an assignment to work as the assistant to the provincial superior in the Cleveland Province.

Finally, in 1947, Sr. Mary Agnes made a providential return to Notre Dame College after she was appointed provincial superior of the Cleveland province of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Among her responsibilities as mother superior was serving as the third president of Notre Dame College.

Sr. Mary Agnes Bosche died on July 21, 1949, at age 64.

Now: Dr. Mary Breckenridge

Dr. Mary Breckenridge is the provost of Notre Dame College.
Dr. Mary Breckenridge is the provost of Notre Dame College.

Dr. Mary Breckenridge became Notre Dame’s vice president for academic affairs in July 2008, when she joined the College from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., where she had served as an associate vice president and director of the Organizational Leadership Graduate Program.

Dr. Breckenridge brought her extensive knowledge in academic administration and women’s leadership to Notre Dame, where she has overseen the introduction of a series of new academic programs, including a master’s in security policy studies and an international business major.

Under Dr. Breckenridge’s leadership, Notre Dame College has achieved national accreditation for its nursing program and its online curriculum. She also established an honors program and launched the Student Success Center.

Dr. Breckenridge earned her bachelor’s in political science at Virginia Tech, her master’s in education at the University of Southern California and her doctorate in educational leadership at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has taught at Kansas City Kansas Community College, Big Bend Community College, Duquesne University, and Mercyhurst College.    

In the summer of 2011, Dr. Breckenridge was promoted to provost of Notre Dame College with responsibilities for both academic and student affairs, a role similar to the one Sr. Mary Agnes Bosche held when the College was first founded.

The Treasurers

Then: Sr. Mary Odila Miller

Sr. Mary Odilla Miller was the first treasurer of Notre Dame College.
Sr. Mary Odilla Miller was the first treasurer of Notre Dame College.

Sr. Mary Odila Miller was named the first treasurer of Notre Dame College in 1922. In that role she worked miracles handling the finances of both the Sisters of Notre Dame in the USA and the College during the Great Depression and World War II.

Born in Fremont, Ohio, on Nov. 3, 1872, Sr. Mary Odila joined the Sisters of Notre Dame at age 18. That same year, she passed her written and oral exams determining her competence as a teacher. Two years later, in 1892, she pronounced her final SND vows and soon after was named the provincial of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Cleveland. In 1918, she became the Local Superior at the Ansel Road Provincial House and two years later began managing the finances of the Sisters of Notre Dame in the USA.

As the treasurer of Notre Dame College, Sr. Mary Odila, together with Sr. Mary Evarista Harks, co-signed the contract with architect Thomas D. McLaughlin & Associates to build the College in South Euclid. The two Sisters supervised the construction and were the only ones present when the ground for the Administration Building was broken on Oct. 31, 1926.

In addition to the construction of the east wing of the Administration Building, Sr. Mary Odila oversaw various other early campus enhancements. She personally planted maple trees and shrubbery at the east end of the campus and established a flower garden outside the east entrance to the building.

During the Great Depression, Sr. Mary Odila made arrangements for the fathers and brothers of NDC students to work off tuition costs by constructing the tennis courts at the northwest corner of the campus; NDC students worked off their tuition through housekeeping and maintenance.

In 1939, Sr. Mary Odila carried out the ambitious plan to landscape the front of the campus, having numerous evergreens planted on the south-facing front as well as shrubbery around the building. 

The following year, she refinanced all SND loan obligations under one $800,000 loan, thereby reducing the Sisters’ interest payments.

Sr. Mary Odila died on Oct. 1, 1951, at age 78.

Now: John C. Phillips

John Phillips is the vice president for finances and administration at Notre Dame College.
John Phillips is the vice president for finances and administration at Notre Dame College.

John Phillips was named Notre Dame College’s vice president for finances and administration in July 2004. Under his leadership, the College has built two new residence halls, purchased the Regina Complex and created new athletic fields, all while balancing the budget during some of the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression.

A graduate of Kent State University with a bachelor of business administration, Phillips brought 25 years of finance experience to the College. A certified public accountant and management accountant, he previously held management positions at the Dannon Company, Pacific Great Lakes Corp. and the Headwaters Group.

Under Phillips’s leadership, the College has maintained an average operating surplus of more than $600,000 over the past five years. At the same time, the College made major improvements to its facilities.

In 2004, a series of campus-wide renovations began with construction in the Clara Fritzsche Library. The completely remodeled second floor now houses a Smart Classroom and the Academic Support Center for Students with Learning Differences, while the first floor is the site of a Starbucks-style coffee lounge that was expanded in early 2009. Phillips also oversaw construction of the Legacy Walkway on the main quad of the campus, which commemorates alumni, friends of the College and the Sisters of Notre Dame.

In 2008, despite challenging economic times, Phillips oversaw the most extensive series of on-campus construction projects in the College’s recent history. Ten new classrooms, 12 new faculty offices and new facilities for the nursing program were built. In addition, Christ the King Chapel was completely renewed and the Connelly Center Dining Hall dramatically renovated.

The growth of Notre Dame’s student population necessitated the construction of two new residence halls with a combined capacity of 288 beds. North Hall, an apartment-style residence hall housing 84 students, opened in January 2009. South Hall opened its doors to 204 students for the fall semester of 2009, completing a residence quad similar to the one envisioned by the original campus architect in 1926. The College also constructed 215 new parking spaces.

In 2011, Phillips helped finalize the purchase of the former Regina High School building, adding more than 100,000 square feet of facilities, including an auditorium, and eight acres of land to the campus.

The Adult Educators

Then: Sr. Mary LeRoy Finn

Sr. Mary LeRoy Finn founded the Weekend College at Notre Dame.
Sr. Mary LeRoy Finn founded the Weekend College at Notre Dame.

Sr. Mary LeRoy Finn joined Notre Dame College in 1950 as a philosophy professor and later served as academic dean, executive vice president and vice chairperson of the board of trustees.

She was acting president from October 1972 to July 1973, but when offered the College’s presidency, Sr. Mary LeRoy quietly declined saying she would prefer being in the “number two position rather than at the top.”

Sr. Mary LeRoy had a profound impact on many of her students and co-workers.

In 1978, Sr. Mary LeRoy Finn founded the Weekend College (WECO). This innovative program was one of the first in Greater Cleveland to accommodate the busy schedule of adult women. Her research showed that many women over the age of 25 wanted to complete or earn their bachelor’s degrees, but could not attend during traditional hours because they held full-time jobs. WECO was the answer to their scheduling dilemmas.

A visionary, Sr. Mary LeRoy was already an expert in the area of adult education. She had created Notre Dame’s Lifelong Learning Center and served as its first director from 1976 until 1987. Sr. Mary LeRoy also directed the WECO program until 1987.

Ever the advocate for women scholars, Sr. Mary LeRoy also founded Tot Spot, an on-campus daycare center for children of adult students and other members of the College community.

Researching higher education needs of Cleveland’s Hispanic women, Sr. Mary LeRoy also created the Hispanic outreach project, forerunner of the College’s multicultural focus. She also initiated the Catechetical Center (now the Center for Pastoral Theology and Ministry). After her many attempted retirements, Sr. Mary LeRoy volunteered in the advancement office until she moved to Chardon in 2000.

Sr. Mary LeRoy received both the Fidelia Award and the Notre Dame College Woman of the Year Award in 1992. She also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the College in 1996. She passed away in January of 2009.

Now: Mary Lou Currivan

Mary Lou Currivan is the associate dean of academic affairs at Notre Dame College.
Mary Lou Currivan is the associate dean of academic affairs at Notre Dame College.

Mary Lou Currivan for many years continued the work of Sr. Mary LeRoy Finn as the dean of the Weekend College (WECO), where she was an advisor, teacher and mentor to the adult students.

From 1985 to 1987, Currivan was the assistant director to Sr. Mary LeRoy, and after Sister’s retirement became the director of WECO. In that role, among other things, she was in charge of the course offerings and the WECO calendar, recruiting students, as well as educating and training faculty on the nature of WECO and the adult students.

In 2004, Currivan also became the special assistant to the president for academic affairs. Five years later, she accepted the role of associate dean of academic affairs. In that position, she is now responsible for all student academic issues including advising, transferring credits, grade appeals and other student problems/concerns. She works closely with the faculty and the registrar’s office to provide exceptional services to both traditional and adult students.

Currivan retained her responsibilities for WECO up until weekend classes were integrated into the Finn Center for Adult, Graduate and Professional Programs, which, named in honor of Sr. Mary LeRoy Finn, was launched in 2010 to support adult students throughout their educational career at NDC.

The Teachers

Then: Dr. Frances M. Quinlivan

Dr. Frances M. Quinlivan taught at Notre Dame College for 45 years.
Dr. Frances M. Quinlivan taught at Notre Dame College for 45 years.

For anyone who knew the long-time Notre Dame College English teacher, Dr. Frances M. Quinlivan exemplified presence. Under her reserved exterior, she was insatiably curious, relentlessly logical, devoted to her causes, and indomitable. Students admired her and applaud her name to this day.

Dr. Quinlivan was born July 20, 1902. At 17 months old, she contracted polio. She recovered but was paralyzed from the waist down. After attending elementary and high school classes at Notre Dame Academy, she enrolled at Western Reserve University, where she received her bachelor’s degree in 1925. The same year, only three years after it had opened, she applied to teach at Notre Dame College and was offered a part-time post, which allowed her time to earn a master’s degree from WRU in 1928. She eventually completed her Ph.D. in English literature at WRU in 1947.

Dr. Quinlivan quickly established a reputation as a demanding teacher. Her deceptively simple questions unsettled and challenged students. “Quinnie” expected them to develop into independent thinkers who could spot shallow reasoning and defend their own beliefs. In 1946, Quinnie became advisor of the Pall Mall Honorary English Society. Membership was limited to students who received an A in one of Dr. Quinlivan’s courses. Monthly meetings usually featured speakers she lined up. In time, many of Dr. Quinlivan’s former students joined her on the Notre Dame College faculty.

Dr. Quinlivan retired from Notre Dame in 1970. She died eight days after her 96thbirthday. In 2005, the College dedicated the Quinlivan Circle in front of the Administration Building in her memory, highlighting her influence on her students and the College she served for 45 years.

Now: Tony Zupancic

Tony Zupancic has taught at Notre Dame College for 35 years.
Tony Zupancic has taught at Notre Dame College for 30 years.

Tony Zupancic has become a fixture at Notre Dame after 30 years of teaching at the College. The associate professor of English, communication and theatre is known for his poetry, acting and singing skills on display during the annual Christmas lighting, College plays or get-togethers. But above all Zupancic is known for his passion and teaching skills.

Growing up on Cleveland’s southeast side in the city’s oldest Slovenian community, Zupancic became the first in his family, and one of the few from his neighborhood, to leave that working-class environment to attend college.

Maybe it's because of his background that Zupancic is so passionate about teaching. He lives the College’s mission and cares for the success of his students, who stay in touch with him long after they graduate. From teaching students how to prepare a speech to explaining complex communication theories, Zupancic always incorporates his sense of humor and creativity into his teaching. It's the kind of approach that resonates with students and produces results.

Zupancic loves Notre Dame College and it shows. Referring to one of his many poems, he once said, “I think it would be too difficult for me to fly away from this chimney. And if I wind up at the bottom and they shovel me out one spring, I don’t really have any problem with that.”


May 28
11:30 AM
Monday May 28, 11:30am
Christ the King Chapel, 3rd Floor Admin Bldg.
E.g., 06/28/18
E.g., 06/28/18