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Catholic Colleges & Universities

Sisters’ college marks 50 years

A century ago, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities did not admit that women’s colleges were colleges. The powers of the time, said association executive director Monica Hellwig, insisted the colleges were merely “academies,” even though, she said, their curriculums matched those of the men’s colleges.

There was a unique category of colleges, too, known as “sister formation colleges,” internal institutions at which congregations of women religious educated their nuns.

Over the years, they’ve all closed. Except one. Assumption College in Mendham, N.J., founded 50 years ago next year -- and still operated by -- the Sisters of Christian Charity, a congregation founded in Germany that has two U.S. provinces.

Sr. Mary Joseph Schultz, college president since May, explained that Assumption was originally an offshoot of Newark archdiocesan-owned Seton Hall University, and has always been a two-year college. At its peak, as many as 50 sisters a year went through its programs.

The figure nowadays is closer to a dozen, the majority of the women religious from around the world. The current count for international sisters is nine, from Tanzania, Vietnam, Chile and Argentina. “We still have a few of our own sisters, and those from other local congregations, too,” she said.

The international students come through references from friends in their own or other communities, though the first sisters from Vietnam found Assumption College on the Internet and applied online.

Because Assumption needs to provide scholarships for the international sisters, said Schultz, “money is the biggest problem.” The college has hired a public relations person and launched a “Mother’s Love” campaign. Its first fundraising dinner attracted 360 people and made $90,000.

In the 75-year-old motherhouse that also serves as college, “we’ve put together a brand new state-of-the-art computer room,” said a jubilant Schultz.

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, October 25, 2002