The Misericordia University community officially rededicated the historic archway on Lake Street during a ceremony on Alumni Weekend that featured remarks from the Sisters of Mercy, students, alumni and administration.
Surrounded by members of the alumni and campus communities, President Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D., student Lia Ruggerio '19, '20, alumna Sara Ervin Walser, Ed.D. '63, Board of Trustees Chair Christopher L. Borton, and Sister Martha Hanlon, RSM '60 touched upon the meaning of the arch and the significance of restoring it to its former grandeur.
"The arch is one way, always one of entering the university, and symbolically is never closed,'' President Botzman said. "Our arch also is located farther from Mercy Hall and requires an effort to climb the hill to the university that sits at the top. The years spent earning a Misericordia degree have plenty of uphill climbs, but the view when one gets to the top is truly amazing.''
Masonry Preservation Service, Inc., of Bloomsburg, completed the six-month restoration project in late November. The delicate process required the removal of bricks, cupola arch sections, terra cotta, and bluestone, and an interior examination of the embedded steel and backup brick elements that provide the structural integrity for the main arch and piers.
Overall, almost 100 pieces of carved natural bluestone were removed and replaced, and more than 150 terra cotta units were removed, replicated and replaced. The company also salvaged and replaced nearly 5,000 tan bricks and refurbished the historic copper lanterns that illuminate the entranceway of the arch. The comprehensive masonry repairs last summer and fall was the first work on the structure since 2001.
The Tudor Gothic-style arch has been an inviting symbol of Misericordia's hospitality since its design by noted architect F. Ferdinand Durang of New York, N.Y., and its completion by Andrew J. Sordoni Construction in the 1930s.
During Sister Martha's presentation, she reflected upon the Sisters of Mercy establishing a foothold in the Wyoming Valley, first traveling from Pittsburgh in 1875 before arriving for good in Wilkes-Barre in 1884. "The Sisters had ideals and dreams to help people conquer poverty and hardship through education,'' she said. "It was during that period that a handful of Sisters of Mercy recognized a need to alter the intellectual environment of the area and envisioned an academic institution for young women.''
When she enrolled as a first-year student at Misericordia, she had no inclination to become a Sister of Mercy, Sister Martha said. It was not until her senior year that she began to investigate what it would mean to join the order. She joined the community four months after graduation and witnessed the sisters transform from a semi-cloistered community to being "among the people and to be of service to those who were poor, sick and uneducated.''
"How pleased and honored would the founding Sisters be today to know that the institution they started over 90 years ago continues to support intellectual curiosity and quality education,'' said Sister Martha, a recently retired Trustee. "(It) fosters critical thinking, respects an environment where all are welcome, supports integrity through Mercy, Service, Justice and Hospitality – all of it accomplished with dignity, respect and openness.''
The arch's importance also has not been lost on today's generation of students. "To me, the arch is meaningful for many reasons,'' said Ruggerio, a junior speech-language pathology major from Dallas, who represented the student body. "Most importantly, it means, 'welcome.' It means, 'you are home.' It is our mark. Even if you pass the arch to enter at the North Gate, seeing this landmark makes you say, 'We're here!'
"It is the most important thing you want to be pictured by at graduation. Why? Because the arch is Misericordia,'' she added.
The design of the arch also holds significant meaning. The left cupola, taller and more elaborate than the right, represents the perfection of God, while the less ornate and shorter cupola symbolizes the imperfection of humankind. The entrance gateway – as it was known during the arch's infancy – has been a beacon for many. It is a symbol of the Religious Sisters of Mercy's mission and dedication to educating the daughters of coal miners when it enrolled its first students in 1924 and first-generation college students to this day.
Ruggerio grew up a few minutes' drive from campus. The close proximity to home initially was a negative factor during her college search until she learned more about the college and future academic major. "As I learned about the university and its SLP program, I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to attend this institution,'' she said. "Now, here I am, an admissions ambassador for the school and delivering a speech about how much this community means to me – because it is just that, a community. A community that begins at the arch.''
Today, Ruggerio says the opportunities she has received in curricular and co-curricular activities at Misericordia have enabled her to grow academically, professionally and personally. "The feeling of fellowship and acceptance that this community so effortlessly provides to their students allows me to confidently branch out of my comfort zone,'' she said.
"Our four charisms aren't just a mural on the Insalaco (Hall) walls – they are truly what is exemplified here at Misericordia. That is what is most meaningful to me. That I can tell the prospective students during their tour that this school is sculpted by Mercy, Service, Justice and Hospitality. I can promise them truth in that statement,'' Ruggerio added.
More than five decades ago, Dr. Walser graduated magnum cum laude from Misericordia with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. The storied "woodland home on Dallas heights'' that inspired a career in human resource management services was the furthest she had traveled from her childhood home in New Jersey. The next four years, though, left an indelible impress upon her.
"We can view this beautiful, strong monument as a reminder of our initiation into the life of Misericordia and also as a symbol of renewal,'' said Dr. Walser, who earned her doctorate degree in human resource development and counseling at George Washington University. "We come here to renew our connections – to our classmates and to the merciful heart of the university. Perhaps there have been many turning points in our lives, in addition to our first pass through the arch. Some have been happy transitions, some of sorrow. The arch remains and is renewed, as we are.''
Dr. Walser, a certified executive coach with Colleague Consulting, also reminisced, acknowledging the growth in the college's campus footprint and quoting stanzas from the university's alma mater.
"As we once left the woodland hills behind us, we now re-enter and celebrate the renewal of the stone edifice and what is has meant for us,'' she said. "As we celebrate today and recollect our years as students, we don't ponder what is lost, we search for what is yet to be found. No matter how recent or distant our time here, we know that 'home is where the arch is.'
"When we leave here, we carry that in our hearts. We can always re-enter the arch to search for other vistas to join the ones we found here,'' Dr. Walser concluded.
Sister Jean Messaros, RSM '73, vice president of mission integration, blessed the arch. The ceremony also included a reception afterward in Sandy and Marlene Insalaco Hall.
"Its recent facelift and structural renovation have been so appreciated by the campus community because it allows us to continue to feel welcomed into our second home,'' Ruggerio added. "To me, each and every brick represents current students, alumni, faculty and staff members. All placed together as one big, happy, beautiful family. With the support that this arch has received through the many gifts that you and others have generously provided, we are able to witness its representation of the Misericordia family for many more years to come.''
The Misericordia community also dedicated "Bettsi's Clock,'' named in memory of Bettsi Jaeger '68, as a reminder of all the time she gave to the institution and the impact she had on the Class of 1968.