Photo courtesy/Tom Kates Photography
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BOSTON -- In a message to the Emmanuel College community, Sister Janet Eisner, SNDdeN, announced Oct. 4 that she will leave office in a year's time, following over four decades as president. The nation's longest-serving woman college president, Sister Janet has been described as Emmanuel's "second founder" in view of her transformative leadership of the Catholic liberal arts and sciences college opened by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Boston's Fenway neighborhood in 1919.
"To see the faces of our students when they arrive, and then follow them as they develop into people of commitment, conscience and compassion -- that is a joy that moves me in my inmost heart," Sister Janet said. "It is the privilege of my life to collaborate with countless faculty, administrators, staff, students, alumni, peers, and friends to advance the vibrancy of Emmanuel's Catholic educational mission. ... Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, I believe it is time for new leadership to build on the momentum of these past decades, and to move Emmanuel forward in its second century."
She added that, while she remains focused on key strategic priorities in the year ahead, she looks forward to "proclaiming the great story of Emmanuel College this year and after I leave office -- indeed for all my days."
Margaret L. McKenna, an Emmanuel graduate who is chair of the College's Board of Trustees and an executive vice president at Fidelity Investments, said, "Sister Janet has navigated a strategic and successful course for Emmanuel College in times of seismic change in American higher education. She is the second founder in every sense of the word.
"Throughout her tenure, her creativity and talent for reinvention have earned her the respect of business, university, and church leaders throughout our city and far beyond -- along with the affection of Emmanuel's worldwide family," she added.
McKenna said that the board would confer on next steps in the wake of Sister Janet's announcement.
Since her inauguration in 1979, Sister Janet has overseen a number of milestones in the college's history, including providing the founding vision for the Colleges of the Fenway (COF) consortium, leading Emmanuel's successful transition from an all-women's to a coeducational college, guiding the development of the current campus with a number of added or expanded facilities, and establishing a four-year undergraduate nursing program within the newly established Maureen Murphy Wilkens School of Nursing and Clinical Sciences.
Amid changes, Sister Janet has kept Emmanuel steadfastly committed to its Catholic educational mission and to its core values, which emphasize intellectual inquiry and integrity, a strong sense of community and service to others.
Further, Sister Janet has carried on the college's longstanding efforts to provide educational opportunity to students of high potential but limited means. Throughout her tenure, even in the most financially challenging times, student financial aid has remained a top budget priority. Today, nearly all undergraduate students receive some form of aid to bridge the gap between the cost of an Emmanuel education and what they and their families can afford to pay.
Sister Janet's wisdom has often been sought in wider circles. Throughout her presidency, she has served on a range of boards, commissions, and task forces addressing issues facing higher education and the Catholic Church. Previously, she served on the Massachusetts Board of Regents and as chair of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts (AICUM). Currently, she serves on the boards of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., St. John's Seminary in Brighton, the Colleges of the Fenway and the Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc. (MASCO).
Over the years, Northeastern University, the College of the Holy Cross, and Boston College have recognized Sister Janet's accomplishments with honorary degrees. In 2019, Emmanuel's centennial year, the Board of Trustees announced its decision to name the college's iconic Administration Building for Sister Janet in recognition of her inspiring leadership.
"When I was inaugurated President of Emmanuel in 1979, I did not know where that path would lead," Sister Janet said. "I did know that, as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, I was part of a larger mission to make known God's goodness and to educate young people for life. That dual commitment captured my whole being then, and it continues today. I am so grateful to be doing what I love."