Chestnut Hill College and the Sisters of Saint Joseph jointly announced today that Sister Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, Ph.D., one of the nation’s longest-serving and most accomplished college presidents, will retire after 30 years at the completion of her current five-year term in June 2022.
A nationally-renowned leader in Catholic higher education, Vale has successfully transformed the former women’s college into a thriving coed liberal arts school that has become an integral part of the city’s higher education system, with a diverse enrollment of 1,600 students from all walks of life. Vale’s achievements include the dramatic expansion of the College campus with the purchase and development of the adjacent SugarLoaf estate; the launch of a burgeoning School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) that offers an affordable and welcoming opportunity for adult learners to complete their undergraduate degrees; and the continued growth of Chestnut Hill’s NCAA Division II intercollegiate sports program.
Yet throughout her presidency, the College remains an institution that continues to embody the mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph to provide a holistic education marked by academic excellence, shared responsibility, service to the community, and personal, spiritual and professional growth.
“It has been the greatest honor of my life to lead a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Joseph and to serve at this extraordinary institution of higher education,” Vale said in her formal letter of resignation. “Chestnut Hill College is characterized by an uncommon excellence, both rare and remarkable.”
Thanking the Board, alumni, students and “an exceptional faculty and staff” for their support during her tenure, she said: “Dramatic and lasting changes have occurred over the last three decades, and the College is better for them.”
Other College leaders echoed her sentiments. “Sister Carol has led Chestnut Hill College through many challenges - some beyond imagining!” said Sister Maureen Erdlen, Congregational President of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, which founded the College in 1924. “She has led with great passion and compassion and, most importantly, fidelity to our mission.
“In addition to all her professional accomplishments, Sister Carol has immersed the Chestnut Hill College community in the SSJ spirit of unity and active, inclusive love for all our dear neighbors,” Erdlen said. “Because of her efforts, that spirit lives on locally, nationally, and even internationally.”
“Sister Carol has been a lioness for the College, and she is a great example of leadership for women,” said Catherine Lockyer Moulton,’92, Chair of the College’s Board of Directors. “She leads with an open heart and a dedication to inclusion. She is brilliant and determined, and she makes you want to be a part of the journey with her. “We’ve seen great changes during her tenure,” Moulton said. “Yet there’s something very comforting about the fact that while so much has changed, at its heart – our core values and mission – it’s still the same Chestnut Hill College that my grandmother attended three generations ago. That’s a remarkable accomplishment.”
The College’s Board of Directors intends to lead a national search for Vale’s successor, working in partnership with the leadership of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
Carol Jean Vale began her lifelong connection with Chestnut Hill College as an undergraduate, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1978. She took her vows as a Sister of Saint Joseph in 1974, and later studied as a Presidential Scholar at Fordham University, where she earned a Master’s in Theology and a Ph.D. in Historical Theology. She returned to her alma mater in 1988 as the Chair of the Religious Studies Department.
Elected President in 1992, Vale tackled the College’s most pressing problem – its shrinking enrollment. Her solution: going coed, which expanded the College’s base of students, stabilized its finances and spurred nearly two decades of growth.
“The decision to go coed was foundational,” Moulton said. “Quite literally, the survival of the College was at stake.”
Other achievements followed, including:
- The introduction of a variety of new academic programs, including the school’s first doctoral program in Clinical Psychology; and undergraduate majors including Exercise Science, Health Sciences, Forensic Biology and Chemistry, Environmental Science, Media and Communications, and Cyber Security;
- The recruitment and support of an increasingly diverse student body, together with identifying and providing critically-needed financial resources that helps students complete their college education. Chestnut Hill’s enrollment today includes equal representation among men and women, more than 41 percent of whom are African-American or Latino;
- Expanded the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, adding an Accelerated Adult Degree Program to help former students return to college and making it easy and financially affordable for them to do so;
- Raised millions of dollars for student scholarships, including 90 endowed scholarships and four term scholarships awarded to Chestnut Hill Colleges students in need. There is no shortage of demand: Approximately 45 percent of the College’s students qualify for federal PELL grants, which means that their families are among those with the highest financial need in the nation. To help meet the need, last year the College also provided more than $20 million in financial assistance to its students;
- Welcomed the Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation to the College, a learning laboratory for research and scholarship that fosters an alternative to violence and conflict in American culture;
- Led the effort to secure NCAA Division II athletic status, and added 11 new sports teams;
- Expanded the Chestnut Hill campus, primarily through the purchase of the adjacent former SugarLoaf Estate. The spectacular 32-acre complex effectively doubled the size of the College, and today the Commonwealth Chateau at SugarLoaf hosts an array of academic and residential programs while also serving as a venue for community events;
- Led the successful construction of Martino Hall, Sorgenti Arena, and Fitzsimmons Hall to meet the College’s growing academic, athletic and living needs, as well as the new Gulati Fitness Center and renovations to existing classrooms at Clement Hall; and
- Most recently, launched the College’s new Wellness Collaborative, which will build on existing institutional capacity, working with learners across the lifespan in partnership with regional organizations in areas such as neurodiversity and Montessori education.
“A significant part of Sister Carol’s legacy is the thousands of students who leave Chestnut Hill College with competence and confidence, knowing that their lives make a difference and that they can and will contribute to building a more just, compassionate world,” said Erdlen.
Vale’s impact has not been limited to the College. Recognized as a national leader in Catholic higher education, she serves on the Board and Executive Committee of the 200-member Association for Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). She also is a founding member and Chair of the Presidents’ Council for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education (SEPCHE), and she is a member of the Catholic Theological Society of American, the American Teilhard Association, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the Council of Independent Colleges, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania, and President’s Council of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. She also co-founded and served as Board Chair of the African Sisters Educational Collaborative, designed to provide educational opportunities for women religious in Africa.
Among the many honors Vale has received are the 2019 Faithful Servant Award for Distinguished Service to Catholic Education, from Maynooth College in Ireland; a 2016 designation as Executive of the Year from Philly Biz; the 2007 Chestnut Hill Award from the Chestnut Hill Community Association; and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from St. Michael’s College in Vermont.