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On May 30, more than 400 guests attended a gala on Emmanuel College's campus to celebrate President Sister Janet Eisner, SNDdeN -- the country's longest-serving woman college president currently in office. Since her inauguration in 1979, Sister Janet has led Emmanuel through a time of innovation, achievement and growth, consistently bringing the college's mission to life and keeping it relevant for new generations of students.
Guests were welcomed at the event by gala co-chairs Margaret L. McKenna and Leslie McCafferty.
"It's a moving experience to look around the room and see graduates from across the decades, along with so many devoted friends," said McKenna. "We hail from multiple generations, and many different backgrounds and vocations, yet we are united in our esteem for the woman who richly deserves the title of Emmanuel's Second Founder."
Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, honorary co-chair of the gala, delivered the blessing and invocation. Cardinal O'Malley received an honorary doctorate from Emmanuel in 2015, the same year that the college named the Center for Mission and Ministry in his honor.
Recent graduate Jessica Wang, who served as Student Government Association president during the most recent academic year, offered a tribute to Sister Janet.
When Wang came to Emmanuel as a first-year student from Miami, she took note of the way students, faculty, and staff held doors open for one another as they walked into buildings. Now, as she prepares to begin graduate school at Harvard in the fall, Wang has learned that "holding the door" at Emmanuel transcends the physical gesture. Metaphorically, it also represents the access and opportunities that define the Emmanuel experience.
"As I've gotten to know Sister Janet, I realize that she has been standing at the forefront of this door for the past 40 years," she said.
Sister Janet's 40th anniversary as president of Emmanuel coincides with the centennial anniversary of the college's founding by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1919 as New England's first Catholic college for women. Together, these milestones testify to a century of visionary women leaders.
"It seems every month, in the news, some college, somewhere, is celebrating their first woman president," Wang said. "That is great, but this year, Emmanuel College celebrates 100 years of women college presidents."
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, an honorary gala co-chair along with the cardinal, noted that even amid the challenges of the current higher education landscape, Emmanuel is thriving and adapting to meet the needs of students in a rapidly changing world.
"Emmanuel's resilience is due in large part to the steady leadership of Sister Janet Eisner," he said. "She's a talented educator driven by faith and devoted to God. And she's a savvy businesswoman who has steered the ship with purpose and focus for four decades."
"But, above all, Sister Janet believes in her students," he said. "I grew up being taught by the nuns at St. Margaret's grammar school in Dorchester. I know how tough the sisters can be. That's how Sister Janet leads the Emmanuel community. With tough love, with high expectations, with equal parts discipline and care. Sister Janet is the kind of leader who inspires those around her to be better, work smarter, and reach higher."
In recognition of her leadership, Mayor Walsh proclaimed May 30, 2019, Sister Janet Eisner Day in the City of Boston.
Following Mayor Walsh was Sister Anne Mary Donovan, SNDdeN, who has worked alongside Sister Janet for many years as the college's treasurer and chief financial officer.
"We have experienced her caring, her concern, her courage, her candor, her humility, her simplicity, and most of all, her love of and dependence on the Good God," Sister Anne said.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Sister Anne announced that Emmanuel's historic Administration Building would be rededicated as the Sister Janet Eisner Administration Building.
Sister Janet delivered her own reflections, spanning her days as a student in the 1960s to her time as president and into the future.
"As we move into our second century, we know well that we must continue to anticipate key trends in technology, the economy, and the workplace," Sister Janet said. "And we must continue to equip our students with the intellectual and practical skills they need most in a fast-changing world, including critical and creative habits of mind; teamwork; and ethical decision-making.
"Our founders gave us the name Emmanuel, which means 'God with us.' And I believe that to the core of my being. It is very real to us as we experience God's amazing action in our work, in our lives and in the journeys of our students and graduates. For me this is a source of great joy," she said.
At the conclusion of the event, Emmanuel College trustee Jack Connors, Jr. announced the launch of "The Campaign for our Second Century," which aims to raise $50 million to support academic programs, scholarships, and campus improvements.
Connors has been named campaign co-chair along with Margaret L. McKenna and Mary Jo Skayhan Rogers, with honorary campaign co-chair Maureen Murphy Wilkens.
The celebration of Sister Janet's leadership extended throughout the following days, as the college invited all alumni back to campus for Centennial Alumni Weekend. On June 1, more than 600 alumni and guests gathered for a special 40th Anniversary Liturgy, celebrated by Father J. Bryan Hehir, the secretary of social services for the Archdiocese of Boston.