Dominican Sister of Hope and former Mount Saint Mary College President Sr. Ann Sakac, OP, the longest-serving president the college has ever known, passed away on Wednesday, January 24 at the age of 91.
She leaves behind a massive legacy at the college she loved, having been a driving force behind the Mount’s growth and prosperity in its critical early years and until well after the turn of the millennium.
Wakes will be held Monday, January 29, from 2 to 6 p.m. and Tuesday, January 30 from 9:30 to 10 a.m.; a prayer service will be held on Tuesday, January 30 at 10 a.m.; and a funeral Mass will be held on Tuesday, January 30 at 11 a.m.; all in the Chapel of the Most Holy Rosary on campus, 330 Powell Ave., Newburgh, N.Y. Burial will follow in Dominican Sisters Cemetery at the Mount. The funeral mass will be livestreamed on Tuesday, January 30 at 11 a.m. at the following link: www.msmc.edu/livestream
Sr. Sakac took the helm as President of the Mount in 1976, but she had been part of the college community since 1969 as a professor of English and assistant dean of students. She stepped down from her role as president in 2008, but continued to be an important member of the Mount community for the next 15-plus years.
“Sr. Ann Sakac was unbelievably supportive of me when I got to campus as Chaplain, and that support continued when I was named Interim President. She was helpful to me in so many ways,” said Fr. Gregoire Fluet, Interim President of Mount Saint Mary College. “If you want to look to the ministry of leadership, look to Sr. Ann for a model. And in terms of a president, she would be the role model.”
Under her 32-year leadership at the college, Sr. Sakac oversaw much of the college’s expansion from a fledgling institution to a pillar of the community. Some of the highlights of Sr. Sakac’s tenure as Mount president include the development of the college’s first master’s degree program; a new residence hall called Sakac Hall and renovations to Guzman Hall; and the renovation and development of the Mathematics, Science and Technology Center in Aquinas Hall.
“Sr. Ann Sakac was a woman of vision and commitment,” noted Sr. Catherine Walsh, OP ’70, former professor of Communications at the college. “She shepherd Mount Saint Mary College with wisdom, integrity, and foresight. Her conviction that the liberal arts made every student who graduated a stronger professional permeated the college. She also had a great devotion to Newburgh participating on numerous boards and membership in varied organizations. She was truly a bridge builder.”
Sr. Sakac’s impact on the Mount’s relationship with the local community cannot be overstated. Under her leadership, Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital began accepting Mount Nursing students for fieldwork, and local companies like IBM in Poughkeepsie and Affron Fuel Oil Inc. in New Windsor helped the college to develop and thrive in the 1970s and 1980s.
The dedicated sister also worked closely with Newburgh businessman and philanthropist, William Kaplan. The two met during an early morning walk across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and quickly became great friends. Thanks to the generosity of Kaplan, his wife Elaine, and the Kaplan Family Foundation, the Mount was able to make much-appreciated improvements to campus, including the Elaine and William Kaplan Recreation Center; the Kaplan Family Library and Learning Center; The Kaplan Field; and more.
In his book The Kaplan Family Foundation: A Living Legacy, Kaplan praised Sr. Sakac’s leadership with the college’s construction and renovation projects over the years: “In every case, the college did a magnificent job,” he said. “Today the campus is absolutely stunning. When you see it lit up at night, it takes your breath away.”
In her first years with the college, Sr. Sakac lived on campus (in College Court 412) with a group of freshmen ladies who would go on to become the Mount’s Class of 1973.
“There was always a closeness among the students,” noted Sr. Sakac in a 2018 interview with Mount Saint Mary College Magazine. “I know from having lived with the students how much they appreciated their relationships with the faculty. That was a hallmark of the Mount in the early days…it still is.”
Her connection to the students would only grow from there, noted Elaine O’Grady ‘89, Vice President for Students at the Mount. She was a student at the college when Sr. Sakac was president, and also worked with her for many years as an employee of the college.
“What was so special about her was that she treated each student as an individual and unique person,” said O’Grady. “She was open and easy to talk to, and was just so dedicated to the mission of Mount Saint Mary College.”
Michelle Iacuessa ‘94, director of Donor Relations and Stewardship at the Mount, shares O’Grady’s sentiment.
“Sr. Ann was a remarkable teacher and president, but also a great friend,” said Iacuessa. “When she asked you how you were doing, she genuinely wanted to know. When my mother was gravely ill, she would always ask me how she was doing and would pray for her. I was so touched by her compassion and thoughtfulness. I will miss her tremendously.”
Sr. Joann Boneski, OP ’65, added, “Sr. Ann was dear friend, a confidant, and a mentor. I always appreciated her wisdom and thoughtful way. I will miss her [and] may she rest in peace.”
Sr. Sakac ended her 2018 interview with MSMC Magazine with a simple, but powerful message: She hoped that all Mount students, past and present, would embody the notion “that we [the Mount community] are here to serve. The individual then picks up the role of service as they leave this campus, and spreads it out nationally.”
The Sister Ann Memorial Endowed Scholarship – which supports incoming students who have financial need and the academic aptitude to succeed at the Mount – was established in December 2023 thanks to a gift from Penny Ducker, Class of 1973.
“I’m saddened by the news of Sr Ann’s passing, but so thankful she was aware of the scholarship I started in her honor, now sadly in her memory,” said Ducker. “I hope all students, faculty, and staff, both past and present, take this opportunity to contribute, as a thank you to her, for all she did for Mount Saint Mary College. I will always hold her in my heart.”
Donations to the scholarship can be made here: www.msmc.edu/newscholarships
“Whenever one mentions Mount Saint Mary College, there is one name that almost invariably surfaces, and that is Sr. Ann Sakac,” explained Sr. Catherine McDonell, OP, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Hope. “It isn’t so much the number of years she served as president, it’s more a matter of intelligence, dedication, and humor which combined to form a unique and talented person – a forward-thinking person and one of a kind. Sr. Ann touched the lives of many people in her long and generous life of service. We, her Dominican Sisters, will miss her greatly.”