Women continue tradition of female leadership at Cabrini

By America Lopez-Santiago
March 23, 2021

Throughout history, women have struggled with equality. That’s why we have history months to celebrate individual groups.

Cabrini University was started by two empowered women, Mother Cabrini and Mother Ursula. Their legacy is followed by other influential women who have come to ‘educate the hearts’ of their students, as St. Frances Cabrini urged.

These professors are dedicated to teaching their students leadership development, academic excellence, and a commitment to social justice.

Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. Photo provided by profkaren on Flickr.

Born on July 15, 1850 and the youngest of 13 children, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, also known as Mother Cabrini, was born in a small village in Italy. Due to her health, she was unable to join the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts, which was her dream. 

Cabrini and seven other sisters founded “the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” Although they planned to be missionaries in China, they were told “not to the East, but to the West,” where they went to New York for their missionary work to help with Italian immigrants in the United States. 

With all the poverty going on in New York around 1889, Cabrini and the sisters established schools and orphanages for the Italian immigrants in need. As of today, “the Missionary Sisters can be found on six continents and 17 countries throughout the world; wherever there is a need. She made 24 trans-Atlantic crossings and established 67 institutions: schools, hospitals, and orphanages.”

Cabrini passed away on December 22, 1917 and was declared a saint by PopePius XI in 1946 for her service to the people. 

Mother Ursula Infante

Mother Ursula Infante, pictured here in a 1984 Loquitur photo.

Born Anna Lawrence on Feb. 18, 1897, Mother Infante was adopted into a family in New York. She entered the convent at the age of 18 and was accepted into the order by Mother Cabrini. Mother Infante was one of the earliest women to graduate from Fordham University, with degrees in education and pharmacy. She then earned her masters in education from Columbia University

Mother Infante was a woman determined to share the love of Jesus, when the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus sent her to start a college. John O’Hara, archbishop of Philadelphia, initially rejected her petition, only to back track after she gained approval from other colleges within the area. In 1957, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, secured a charter for Cabrini College and Mother Ursula became Cabrini College’s first president. 

“She was a very compassionate and strong person,” Dr. Beverly Bryde, founding dean of the School of Education, said.  “You know, for a female leader, that combination was something that I admired and aspired to be like. To have that strength and grace in leading and making sure that you hold people accountable to what needs to get done.”

Dr. Dawn Francis

Dr. Dawn Francis is the chair of the communication department and associate professor. Francis graduated as a student from Cabrini’s communication department in 1993, then returned as a full-time faculty member in 2002 in that same department. She earned a master’s in journalism at Ohio University, and a doctorate of education in higher education-academic leadership at Widener University.

“I am inspired by the university’s mission of social justice. I wanted to teach students how they can live the mission in their life and their profession,” Francis said. “Mother Cabrini was an educator, and Mother Ursula Infante, the university’s founder, was also an educator. These two women religious exemplars were also strong leaders who set goals, marshalled resources, and achieved success for the good of others.”

Dr. Dawn Francis. Photo provided by LinkedIn

Francis has more than 13 years of corporate professional experience in “product marketing, project management, performance consulting, and leadership coaching for Fortune 500 clients across the globe.” Since 2010, she has been maintaining her own coaching, training and performance consulting practice called Shift Mindsets. 

In 1976, Francis was awarded the Foundation Faculty Fellowship grant to study leadership and communication. “The research was focused on leading social change through social media, a pilot for which they rolled out to SEPCHE student leaders in fall 2014.”

In many of her classes, she requires students to become communicators of social change, a topic that she has great interest in. They are passionate about social justice issues and create websites focused on raising awareness and educating audiences about those issues.

Aside from Cabrini, Francis has been working and managing the marketing communications and outreach for the Upper Merion Farmers Market in King of Prussia. 

“Having a month to focus on women and their essential roles in society helps us to not only celebrate their successes, but spotlight the injustices they suffer that are in need of repair,” Francis said. “Our power is infinite if we can help one another.”

Dr. Jennifer Frey

Founding director and chair of the nursing department at Cabrini and 2019 Recipient of the Excellence in Nursing Leadership Award from the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing Alpha Nu Chapter, Dr. Jennifer Frey, has more than “15 years of academic nursing education experience, as well as nursing leadership and administrative experience.” 

Dr. Jennifer Frey. Photo provided by Cabrini faculty page.

Frey earned her bachelor’s and doctorate degree from Villanova University and her master’s from DeSales University all with a focus in nursing and nursing education. At Villanova, Frey “received a Nurse Scholar Award from Independence Blue Cross.” This has helped her decision to be a founder of a nursing program, which she wrote about. 

She has published and presented her work nationally and internationally and has authored a chapter related to nursing leadership, served on the Board of Directors for the Mu Omicron Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau at DeSales University, has reviewed grant funding proposals related to her areas of expertise, served as a consultant for the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Dean/Director of Aria Health School of Nursing. 

Frey has also “taught research, leadership, medical/surgical, and critical care courses to undergraduate and graduate nursing students at DeSales University, Moravian.” 

Dr. Beverly Bryde

Dr. Beverly Bryde was dean of education and became founding dean of the School of Education once Cabrini became a university. Bryde earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in educational administration from Villanova University and her doctorate in education leadership from Widener University. While working on her masters at Villanova, Bryde saw an advertisement to become a resident manager at Cabrini. Once Bryde stepped foot on campus, she instantly fell in love. 

Dr. Beverly Bryde. Photo provided by Bryde.

“I met a number of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Bryde said. “Those sisters, I aspired to be like them. I saw them as strong women leaders who were influencing the world.”

Bryde worked from 1984 to 1987. During that time, she worked as a resident manager and the women’s cross country coach. She was also a part of Campus Minister from 1985 to 1987.  However, Bryde left to finished her doctorate. Once she got her doctorate, she returned as a faculty member in the education department from 1990 to 1995. Bryde then left for Southern California and started working at California Lutheran University. 

 Bryde never wanted to go and came back in 2006 as a faculty member, then moved her way up as associate dean for education and then dean of education. She believes in the saying, “Once Mother Cabrini gets a hold of you, she never lets you go.”

Bryde believes that Women’s History Month is important because it’s an opportunity to celebrate women. Women’s History Month helps both men and women see how women have made a difference in our society. 

One message Bryde has for girls and women is, “Don’t be afraid to be bold, have confidence in yourself. You can be strong and graceful at the same time. You can be whatever you want to be, and don’t let someone define you. You define yourself.” 

Dr. Melissa Terlecki

Dr. Melissa Terlecki is chair and professor of the psychology department. Terlecki earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from the College of New Jersey and her doctoral degree in cognitive psychology with a specialization in neuroscience from Temple University. She was working at Villanova for two years before she started working at Cabrini in 2005. 

Dr. Melissa Terlecki. Photo provided by Cabrini faculty page.

Terlecki wanted to work for a smaller college with a small-knit community and saw that Cabrini had an opening within her field. Once she met faculty and students, she automatically clicked with everyone and felt that this was the place where she wanted to work. Education for all is something that Terlecki resonates with and believes in. 

“I think that’s what we try to do at Cabrini, is provide that education of the heart,” Terlecki said. “Everybody deserves an education, and that’s what we’re trying to give our students, not just the privileged but everybody. I think we try to embody that in everything that we do.”

Terlecki has published and presented many articles and a book on closing the gender gap and training in spatial ability. She encourages students to keep going and finishing their degrees. She believes in the comfort of having a degree and not having to rely on others.

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America Lopez-Santiago

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