Mount’s Aquinas Hall turns 50

July 14, 2014

Newburgh, NY -

Aquinas Hall turns 50

Some of the Singing Sisters: Sr. Diane Dupree, OP; Sr. Monica Socinski, OP; Sr. Cecilia Murray, OP; Sr. Maryann Ronneburger, OP; Sr. Philhomena Marie McCartney, OP; Sr. Jean Meyer, OP; and Sr. Marion Michael Beagen, OP.

Celebrating five decades of quality education

Mount Saint Mary College’s Aquinas Hall is celebrating 50 years of rich history.

The first academic building constructed for the college, Aquinas Hall was the brainchild of the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh. The groundbreaking for the center took place on June 27, 1961, under then-president Mother Leo Vincent Short, OP.

According to the December 1962 issue of the college newspaper Aquinas Times, “Aquinas Hall [will] provide for the students the facilities which had not been available under the crowded conditions which existed in the Villa Madonna,” the college’s previous academic building. (The Villa now serves as office space for Mount employees.)

The sisters started a building fund drive to pay for Aquinas Hall, and formed a group called “The Singing Sisters” to help collect donations.

Aquinas Hall turns 50 Sr. Rose Anita Cannon, OP’s brother knew popular conductor Mitch Miller, who agreed to work with them. The result was a 15-track album called “The Singing Sisters Present Joy!” With tunes ranging from Mozart’s “Alleluia” to “Seventy-six Trombones” from The Music Man, 65 sisters lent their voices to the record, gave public performances and even appeared on the Sing Along with Mitch television show. The sisters affectionately called Miller “bearded sunshine.”

The venture netted nearly $200,000 for the mortgage fund.

Right: Countess Maria Julia Alessandroni returned to the Mount years after her 1963 choreographed dance homage to “Joan of Arc” on the Aquinas Hall Theatre stage, and reenacted the historic performance for fortunate students and faculty.

Since opening its doors in 1963, Aquinas Hall has been home to the Mount’s renowned nursing program, which consistently boasts an NCLEX passage rate above the state average.

Said Sr. Mary Consilia, OP, an instructor at the college, “We have a building second to none and equal to the best.”

The Mount celebrated its first commencement in 1964. There were 32 graduates.

In the spring of 1968, the first male student began taking classes at the newly co-educational college. By 1970, 58 male students were enrolled.

The Mount has trained successful medical professionals like physician Dr. Ada C. Rahn ’66, employed at the Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Illinois; traveling nurse V. Louise Town ’66 RN of St. Augustine, Fla.; and Elizabeth Scannell-Desch, PhD, RN, OCNS, and her sister, Mary Ellen Doherty, PhD, RN, CNM, both of the class of ’72. The sisters co-wrote “Nurses in War,” which reveals the stories of U.S. military nurses who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, which top brass military officials are finding extremely informative.

More successful grads include Cathy Gohring ’83, president and chief of staff at Providence Medical Center in Alaska; Joseph Palamara ’98, a veterinarian at Katonah Bedford Veterinary Center in Bedford Hills, N.Y., and Marilyn Ejercito ’77, director of patient services at the Orange County, N.Y. Department of Health.

Aquinas Hall turns 50 A 54,000 square foot addition onto the west side of Aquinas Hall was dedicated in 2009. It was dubbed the Kaplan Family Mathematics, Science and Technology Center.

The 1,100 seat Aquinas Hall Theatre has long been a cultural home of the Newburgh community. In May of 1963, Aquinas Hall Theatre opened with the U.S. premiere of “Dialogue of the Carmelites,” directed by Salvatore Baccaloni of the Metropolitan Opera.

Left: A Mount nursing student takes care of a patient, circa 1971.

“In the course of the afternoon, Mr. Baccaloni proved to us that his is much more than a great name and a magnificent voice,” reported Aquinas Times. “He is, above all, a man who knows his business – theater – inside and out.”

Also in 1963, Countess Maria Julia Alessandroni performed her choreographed dance homage to “Joan of Arc” on the Aquinas Hall Theatre stage. She was the first performer of dance.

Since those historic performances, the theater has featured countless plays, concerts and lectures, many offered at no cost to the public.

The theater has long been a home of the Great Newburgh Symphony Orchestra, and in June 2013, the first Newburgh Illuminated festival kicked off the city-wide celebration with a large choral-orchestral concert at Aquinas Hall Theatre.

Possibly the most well-known performer to take the Aquinas Hall stage was Bob Hope on December 3, 1976. Comedian Jerry Lewis appeared the following year. Other talented visitors have included Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, Helen Hayes, Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan, soprano Frederica Von Stade, bass Jerome Hines, The Cleveland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pinchas Zuckerman, the national tour of 1776, the Alvin Ailey Dance Ensemble, and two generations of Brubeck.

Henry Kissinger gave the Mount’s annual Samuel D. Affron Memorial Lecture in the theater in 1986.

Aquinas Hall turns 50

Bob Hope performed at the Mount in 1976.

Aquinas Theatre continues to serve as the headquarters of the Mount’s student theatrical society, which offers performances every semester. Previous performances have included Anything Goes, The Mystery Plays, Hello Dolly!, Camelot, and The Madness of Isabella. Mount plays are directed by assistant professor of theater, James Phillips.

Mount Saint Mary College, located 60 miles north of New York City, is ranked a Top-Tier Regional University by U.S. News & World Report, and offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs preparing students for careers in healthcare, business, education, social services, communication/media and more.