A legacy forged at Cabrini

By Lori Cellucci
November 18, 2023

The Cellucci family. Photo courtesy of Lori Cellucci.
The Cellucci family. Photo courtesy of Lori Cellucci.

My family has a 60-year legacy at Cabrini. It started with my mother, Loretta Dellapia O’Fria, who attended the first graduating class of 1961. She was one of Mother Ursula’s Girls who took a chance on the newly founded Cabrini College. 

My childhood was filled with people and stories from my mom’s experience at Cabrini. My mom would get together with fellow classmates Arlene Schlamp Lynne and Anna Marie Marino.

The trio carried on and laughed about the fun they had at Cabrini and how they got one over on the sisters. They loved to talk about riding the pink school bus, rolling up their pajama bottoms and throwing on their coats over their pajamas to make it look like they were properly dressed to attend class on time. 

The one person who was always a constant and most beloved was Mother Ursula. She was always present as a guiding force and somehow always knew what they were up to regardless of whether they were students or adults raising their families. 

A generational legacy

 My mother wanted me to attend Cabrini and as any teenager I didn’t think I wanted to be like my mom.  She asked me to go with her to the Alumni Luncheon (a formal sit-down luncheon).

She planned for me to meet more of her college friends and her superpower was to have Mother Ursula talk with me the way she talked with my mom and my grandparents. 

Turning onto the driveway from King of Prussia Road was breathtaking. Mother Ursula welcomed me and asked me to give Cabrini a chance. She was excited to see a second generation. I graduated in 1987 with a B.S in biology.

 In 2018, the third generation of my family entered Cabrini. My daughter, Gabrielle Cellucci, graduated in 2022 with a B.A. in digital communication and social media. Because she was a third-generation student, when we moved her in freshman year, there was a large welcome basket waiting for her; she felt like a rock star.

But Gabrielle’s time at Cabrini was different than mine or her grandmother’s. Her studies were interrupted by COVID-19 and her classes were held online. One thing that remained the same was Gabrielle wanting to return to campus once classes were held in person again.   

 There is something about Cabrini’s campus that makes you want to be there. Perhaps that is why Villanova wanted to buy it. My heart is broken that Cabrini will no longer belong to us but I am also angry. 

We need answers 

The Board of Trustees and previous two presidents need to explain how they could so carelessly ruin our beloved institution and spend money like drunken sailors. For many alumni, the biggest mistake was changing the name from Cabrini College to Cabrini University. Was being president of Cabrini or a member of the Board of Trustees a practice run for future positions in their careers? 

 Cabrini grew too large too fast. We did not stay true to ourselves. Cabrini is known for education and communications. We could have done those better than anyone else in the area. We did not need a nursing program, which is a huge financial drain on the institution. Why didn’t we just partner with Eastern, Villanova or Neumann Universities to offer a nursing program? 

The Cellucci family from left to right: Thomas Cellucci, Lisa Cellucci, Gabrielle Cellucci, Class of 2022, John Cellucci, Lori Cellucci, class of 1987. Photo courtesy of Lori Cellucci.

Mother Ursula faced many social challenges. She navigated them with grace, hanging back to see how other institutions handled new ideas before she followed suit. Today’s administration jumped from one shiny object to another. 

How does one become a university president and not understand how to be gracious? Yes, acknowledge that times are changing, but make the changes with humility and grace. Find ways to make the changes but don’t do it so we are bankrupted and lose our identity. 

 There were many mistakes made with fundraising. Martha Dale taught me a lot about fundraising, the biggest being if you build goodwill, people will open their wallets. The three lay presidents were obsessed with large money donors. They did not care about small gifts from the alumni and we felt it, which led many to stop giving all together. 

Lori O’Fria Celluci with her husband Thomas Cellucci. Photo courtesy of Lori Celluci.

The lay presidents wanted to rename buildings if the donor made a large enough donation like they do at Ivy League schools. (Spoiler alert: we were never going to be an Ivy League school.) They did not care about how renaming buildings affected the alumni. None of the lay presidents knew how to be warm and welcoming unless you gave a large monetary gift and we were seen as a necessary evil they had to deal with. 

 The Missionary Sisters ran Cabrini like a lean, mean education machine. They offered a quality education at a good price and with few bells and whistles. It worked great until the lay presidents and Board of Trustees blew it all up with unnecessary layers of administration an institution the size of Cabrini could never sustain, and with reckless spending. 

What does the future hold?

 We will always have our Cabrini family, but our home will soon belong to Villanova. My Villanova friends are just as sad as we are. Some of them are angry Villanova bought us mainly because Villanova has no idea what they are going to do with the Cabrini campus. That is the real shame of it all. 

My hope is that Villanova will keep the Mansion, Bruckmann Chapel, Grace Hall, the Gate House and Emmaus House as a testament to what was built by the Dorrance Family in 1901 and then became a bigger home in 1957 to all of us. It’s the least we can ask to honor to the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and everyone who took a chance on Cabrini College.

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Lori Cellucci

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