Mercy Monday: S. Jean Patrice Harrington
By Josh Zeller, Communications Intern
S. Jean Patrice Harrington served as the president of the College of Mount St. Joseph from 1977 until 1987.
The middle years of Mount St. Joseph University’s history were marked by movement and change. As leadership passed from the dynamism of S. Maria Corona Molloy, to the warmth and care of S. Adele Clifford, to the first lay president, Dr. Robert Wolverton, the institution grew into an entity entirely different from what it had been when it began in 1920.
Dr. Wolverton had assumed office in 1972, and, like S. Adele before him, stepped down after five years of governance. As he departed, the College of Mount St. Joseph was finally starting to suffer in a way that many colleges had already been for years: the school owed $1.2 million, and enrollment was declining significantly.
After some deliberation, Class of 1953 Mount alum S. Jean Patrice Harrington was chosen as Dr. Wolverton’s successor; she had quite an impressive resume behind her. Her degrees included a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, master’s in education, and a Ph.D. in administration; her professional experience included 23 years as both teacher and principal in various Colorado schools, and seven years as a provincial superior in Denver, Colorado. She would ultimately spend a decade building her alma mater into the university it is today, with the motto, “At small colleges the finest educating can be done …. This can be as fine a university as the Harvards and the Stanfords.”
S. Jean Patrice’s efforts to increase enrollment began with the founding of the weekend college. She wished to attract students who were unable to commit to a full-time undergraduate education, due to personal or professional commitments. In this line, she also initiated programs for women returning to college and students with learning disabilities, and established an English as a Second Language (ESL) program. The ESL department recruited students from all over the world to come and take classes, and to get it going, S. Jean Patrice visited six Asian countries and met with students, school administrators, and government officials. When the program was well underway, students were coming from 33 different countries around the globe, and Sister observed, “I recently discovered that Cincinnati’s reputation carries half-way around the world.”
But perhaps what was most important was her introduction—through the husband of one of the College’s board members—to community business leaders. S. Jean Patrice’s relationships with Cincinnati businesspeople from companies like Kroger and Scripps Howard, as well as her directorships at the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the Red Cross and the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, initiated a cycle of fundraising that led to the institution’s financial rescue. During the 1983-1984 fiscal year, business leaders, alumni, and friends responded with astounding generosity to the annual fund drive, raising $725,000.
With new financial backing, S. Jean Patrice was able to further expand the offerings of the College with the establishment of the Co-op Education Program in 1982. It was founded on her belief in the necessity of career preparation “as the purpose and end of education,” in addition to instruction in the liberal arts. Other programmatic additions included a graduate program in education, a Bachelor of Science program for registered nurses, and the growth of the business program. For the rest of S. Jean Patrice’s tenure, success was the prevailing theme. She improved the College of Mount St. Joseph within, and also without, as she made it clear that the Mount was a community institution—by no means a separate entity.
In recognition for her many accomplishments throughout the years, S. Jean Patrice Harrington has earned over 55 awards, including Woman of the Year, the St. Francis Xavier Medal (from Xavier University), and 13 honorary doctoral degrees.
In August 1986, S. Jean Patrice announced that she was resigning her presidency after the completion of the 1986-87 school year. That March, the students celebrated “S. Jean Patrice Day” by hosting a luncheon in her honor. Former Mayor Thomas Luken attended and presented Sister with a key to the city. Furthermore, an entire issue of the student newspaper—called MSJ Report at the time—was dedicated to Sister on that day. In a section of the issue entitled “Reflections on Sister Jean Patrice”, former Academic Dean Norman L. Stewart remarked, “I have never worked with anyone during my professional life who I have admired or enjoyed more as a colleague. The College of Mount St. Joseph is most fortunate to have had S. Jean Patrice at the helm for these 10 years, and it is a better college for her leadership.”
A further reflection came from Anita Bechmann, who was Student Government Association president that year. She recalled a time when she was operating the college switchboard, and had gotten a call from a belligerent, impatient man who wished to speak to “the principal.” Anita related that “half of Cincinnati” was calling at that time, and S. Jean Patrice was out, so she had to leave a message with Sister’s secretary. The man called again, and raved that he would report Anita’s “incompetence” before hanging up. But Anita had no reason to fear: she later learned that S. Jean Patrice had found out about the situation from her secretary, and had responded indignantly, “Well, if he is going to be rude to my students, I don’t even want to talk to him.” S. Jean Patrice always cared deeply about the men and women she presided over; she never called the man back.
Following her years with the College, S. Jean Patrice’s career continued for two more fruitful decades; she now resides in Mother Margaret Hall, and enjoys a peaceful retirement. In recognition for her accomplishments, she has earned over 55 awards, including Woman of the Year, the St. Francis Xavier Medal (from Xavier University), and 13 honorary doctoral degrees. Additionally, Mount St. Joseph University dedicated its student center to the memory of her presidency.
In the 1987 issue of MSJ Report dedicated to her, S. Jean Patrice gave the following piece of parting advice: “Develop a sense of humor about yourself; a sense of humanity about others; a sense of humility as we recognize the power for good that is ours; a responsibility to exercise that power wisely and gently; and remember, God is ever present.” This wisdom, which is so reflective of S. Jean Patrice’s own leadership, seems applicable far beyond college students.
Bechmann, Anita. “Reflections on Sister Jean Patrice.” MSJ Report [Cincinnati, OH]: 19 March 1987. 4. Print.
Carr, Laura. “She Doesn’t Fit the Mold, She Breaks It!” The Cincinnati Enquirer: n.d. N.p. Print.
Crockett, Kimberly. “Sister Jean Bids Farewell.” The Cincinnati Enquirer: 28 June 1987. N.p. Print.
Greathouse, Anita. “Spotlight: The President.” MSJ Report [Cincinnati, OH]: 19 March 1987. 1. Print.
Harrington, S. Jean Patrice. “From Sr. Jean Patrice Harrington.” Ohioana Quarterly 41.4 (1998): 306. Print.
Harrington, S. Jean Patrice. “Presidential Focus.” Mount News 2.1 (1984): 1-2. Print.
“Harrington Puts Mount in Black.” Cincinnati Business Courier: 16-22 July 1984. 1-2. Print.
McWhirter, Cameron. “3 Have Service in Common.” The Cincinnati Enquirer: 20 Dec. 1995. A1; A10. Print.
Shuler, Therese. “Former MSJ President Wins Chamber Award.” The Catholic Telegraph [Cincinnati, OH]: 22 Mar. 1996. 11. Print.
Stewart, Norman L. “Reflections on Sister Jean Patrice.” MSJ Report [Cincinnati, OH]: 19 March 1987. 4. Print.