By Tanya Connor
PAXTON – Heartfelt appreciation seemed to greet Anna Maria College’s new president at every turn at her inauguration Friday. Mary Louise Retelle responded with her own warmth.
She and others spoke of retaining the college’s roots as a Catholic institution inspired by Sisters of St. Anne, and preparing students for careers, service and good citizenship in today’s world.
Bishop McManus preached at the inaugural Mass and blessed her at the installation ceremony, which included the presentation of the presidential medallion.
President Retelle, the first laywoman to serve as Anna Maria’s president, came here in 2011 as executive vice president and was named interim president in July 2014. She’d served at State University of New York, Potsdam, from 1991-1994, then at Merrimack College in North Andover.
“Faith in our abilities to carve out a niche for this fine institution will allow us to remain entrenched in our Catholic tradition while being recognized as a relevant center of excellence, educating our students to successfully navigate” challenges the economy presents, she said.
She told students they know she encourages conversation and enjoys a good laugh, but may not know how important they and their education are to her and the college, which strives to prepare them to be successful professionals who serve the common good.
“What isn’t there to like about her?” Kolin Matthews, a senior, said to The Catholic Free Press. “We don’t want anybody else to preside over the college. I was in her corner from Day 1.” She has students’ best interest in mind.
“I don’t necessarily look at her as a president, but as a friend, and someone I could always rely on,” he said.
“She’s phenomenal,” said Marjorie O’Reilly, a junior who is student government secretary. “She’s very great to talk to and she listens to everyone, no matter who they are.”
“I haven’t heard a single person not excited about her as the choice” for president, said Kevin Dowd, adjunct professor of theology.
“I think she’s God’s answer to the needs of Anna Maria at this time, because she’s a woman of great faith, trust, concern and commitment,” said Sister Rose Clarisse Gadoury, a Sister of St. Anne, she serves with President Retelle on the Academic and Student Affairs/Enrollment Committee.
“Today we offer this Mass for Mary Lou and her intentions, and we ask God to bless her with wisdom and right judgment,” Bishop McManus said in the inaugural Mass homily. He said she is committing herself to work with this community to help students discover God as the source of unity of all that is true, good and beautiful.
Giving greetings at the installation, Kyle P. Jameson, representing students, told President Retelle, “We entrust ourselves to you.”
Faculty representative Richard Connors said he doubted that there are many inaugurations for which faculty want the president to be told how much they love her.
He said she deserves a C+ for being superior in class, charisma, caring, compassion and credibility.
In thanking those who gave greetings she mentioned his greeting from the “A+ faculty.”
“Your selection has fulfilled our fondest hopes,” Sister of St. Anne Rollande M. Quintal, dean of mission effectiveness, told President Retelle. She said the president has built on the Sisters’ ideals, demonstrated the foundresses’ qualities and has the vision to move the college forward.
Lt. Gov. Karyn E. Polito said President Retelle was feeling very loved Friday “and I hope that in a year she’s feeling even more love.” She said education is key to a robust economy and important for imparting social awareness and moral sensitivity.
“We need to graduate students of faith” who have a sense of personal responsibility and realize the need to help others, she said.
“It is a job that will bring you joy … surprises … fulfillment,” David P. Angel, president of Clark University, told Anna Maria’s president. “Higher education has never been more vital,” crucial for careers and a foundation for life and citizenship.
Sister Marguerite A. St. Amand, representing the Sisters of St. Anne, talked about President Retelle’s interest in their charism and ministry, and how they try to make God known and help others attain the fullness of life to which he invites them.
Guest speaker Joseph T. Kelley, director of Merrimack College’s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations, called President Retelle a dear friend. He talked about the Sisters of St. Anne serving immigrants in the past, which challenges people today to do so.
Paul A. DiPierro, chairman of the board of trustees, applied the Scripture about there being a time for everything to the new president: The trustees are confident that this is the time for her.