July 14, 2014
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
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
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
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
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
Left: A Mount nursing student takes care of a patient, circa
“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 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.
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
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.