By Jim Gauger

Special to The CS&T

ASTON – When Neumann College in Aston, Delaware County, was founded in 1965 as Our Lady of Angels College its primary mission was the education of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. There were 115 students.

Today there are more than 3,000 students, and the institution has a new name. On May 1, President Rosalie Mirenda announced to the college community that Neumann College was Neumann University.

“Within a year or two of the opening, the college invited lay women (to enroll),” Mirenda said. “Then, in 1980, two things happened. The college changed its name to Neumann (in honor of St. John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia) and men were admitted to all programs.”

Although the official process of achieving university status took two years, Mirenda says the timeline was far longer.

“I think it’s 44 years in the making, putting the building blocks in place,” she said. “The people who were here before had the vision and the leadership that led to today.”

The word “university” comes from the Latin universus and means whole. A university is a center of teaching and research that awards undergraduate and graduate degrees.

As Mirenda explains: “From a legal point of view in Pennsylvania, it includes a liberal arts base for all programs, five or more graduate programs, a doctoral program and involvement of the institution in the community. That’s the minimum. We’ve been meeting those criteria for quite a while. There are a number of graduate programs that have celebrated their 25th anniversary. We’re steeped in liberal arts and science and work in the community in a variety of ways.”

Drexel Neumann Academy in Chester, a school for 220 students from kindergarten through eighth grade co-sponsored by Neumann, is the most visible example of community involvement.

Neumann has an undergraduate spanision of arts and sciences (as well as business, education and nursing), five graduate-level professional programs and doctoral programs in education and physical therapy. In addition, Neumann’s Arts Guild provides dozens of musical, theatrical, artistic and intellectual programs each semester, all of which are open to the community.

The decision to file the application came in October 2007 when the Neumann College Board of Trustees voted unanimously in favor of pursuing university status. The Pennsylvania Department of Education visited the Aston campus in August 2008. There followed more paperwork. Then, on April 30 of this year, Mirenda received a letter from Gerald Zahorchak, secretary of education in Pennsylvania, that gave the institution a certificate of authority.

In other words, the college became a university.

The very next day, in the St. John Neumann Circle – the hub on campus – Mirenda, in her 13th year as president, announced the change to faculty, students, alumni and friends.

“We had about 250 to 300 people in the circle,” said Steve Bell, who handles public relations. “That was the last day of class before exam week.”

Graduation Day is May 16. The diplomas of about 650 students will read Neumann College.

“These students lived their life here as Neumann College,” Mirenda said. “We will send out notices later that will give them a choice of changing from college to university.” That invitation will also go out to more than 8,000 graduates, many of whom live in the Philadelphia area.

Mirenda, citing an outside study conducted during the process, expects the university name will attract more students and faculty.

“We were told that a larger group of people will consider Neumann,” Mirenda said. The study said, “Significantly more students thought that a university was more challenging, more prestigious and offered stronger majors and better career preparation than a college.”

Neumann has never wavered from the core values of a Franciscan Catholic education, says Mirenda.

“Our name finally matches who we are and what we are doing,” she stated. “It was a glorious day.”

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.