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January 2005

Sister Edmunette
Growth Engine for Hilbert College

by Joseph H. RADDER

Hilbert College has achieved its highest enrollment in the institution’s history with more than 1100 presently enrolled at the South Park Avenue campus. That’s a 6 percent increase over last year’s record-breaking enrollment. Sister Edmunette Paczesny, FSSJ, Ph.D., college president, says this increased enrollment is the result of greater recognition Hilbert is receiving for its outstanding academic programs. “More and more students are making Hilbert their first choice,” she says.

Her humility prevents her from taking any of the credit for this growth, but students, faculty, staff, and trustees agree that it couldn’t have been possible without her.

Since Sister Edmunette became president of the college in 1974, the Hafner Recreation Center, two apartment-style residence buildings, and an administration building called Franciscan Hall have been added to the campus. All are beautifully designed, not only from an aesthetic but from a functional point of view. For example, Franciscan Hall’s entire main floor is devoted to student services, admissions, registrar, financial aid, a student lounge and computer lab. The second floor provides functional and comfortable space for Hilbert’s administrative offices.

This year, the second phase of the new student housing complex is being completed, and a new academic center to add classrooms, offices, and an auditorium are being built. The board has named this new academic building Paczesny Hall, a well-deserved honor,

Sister Edmunette has been at Hilbert College for 42 plus years. The last 30 of these years she has held the position of college president. “It has been a blessed life,” she says.

 In a recent President’s View column in the college magazine, Hilbert Connections, Sister said, “There are so many good things to share that I am at a loss as to the priorities on my list.” She went on to write about the increasing enrollment, the thriving online courses and the two new bachelor degrees in communication studies and rehabilitation services as “testimony to the research and creativity of faculty responding to area needs.”  Sister concluded that editorial by inviting readers to visit Hilbert. “A walk- through and conversations with faculty, staff, and students will excite you even more about the strides which Hilbert continues to take. We welcome you. Come share in our pride.”

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Edna (mother), Edmund (father) and Edmunette - 1933. Edna, Edmund and Edmunette - 1935.
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Gloria (sister) and Edmunette - 1937. Edmunette, Kathleen (sister) and Gloria (sister) - 1943.
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Gloria, Margaret Christensen (aunt) and Edmunette - 1937. Edmunette at her first communion.

Edmunette Paczesny was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 13, 1933. "That was a Friday the 13th,," she said smiling. "But my birth on that date has dispelled any allusions of Friday the 13th bringing bad luck. I have been monumentally blessed in my life."

Sister Edmunette's parents, Edmund and Edna Paczesny, had four children. Edmunette was the eldest. Her sister Gloria is now retired. Her other sister Kathleen Hiegel works for a dental group. Her brother, Gary is a carpenter and cabinet-maker for the City of Milwaukee. "Dad was a laborer in the heat-treat section of the Allis-Chalmers factory, where temperatures often exceeded 100 degrees. Mom was a full-time mother and homemaker."

Sister Edmunette has some wonderful childhood memories. "We didn't have a lot of money," she remembers. "But gas was cheap in those days and we did have a car. Mom and Dad would take us out to one of the many lakes in Wisconsin. We'd spend the whole day at the lake and be in the water all day long and then have a picnic lunch. Sometimes we'd stop on the way home for an ice cream cone, and if it was a very special day, we might stop for a White Tower hamburger."

As she looks back, Sister Edmunette realizes that these lake trips were a real sacrifice by her parents. "My Dad wasn't a fisherman. They didn't go there to enjoy themselves. They went there because that's what we liked to do."

Always a good student who enjoyed learning, Edmunette Paczesny attended St. Josephat Basilica School and Notre Dame High School in Milwaukee. She then went to Marquette University where she earned a bachelor's degree. After entering the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, she was selected to go to Fordham University, where she earned both master's and doctorate degrees.

Hamburg was Sister Edmunette's first and last stop after finishing college. In her first year here she taught a combination of second and third grade at St. Francis Elementary School in Athol Springs. She was not really prepared to teach the lower grades, but Sister Tiburtia Gorecki, FSSJ, made it easy for her. She is ever grateful to Sister Tiburtia for helping her to make the transition. Later, Sister Tiburtia would establish and direct Hilbert's McGrath Library. A plaque honoring her is on display on the library's second floor.

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Edmunette’s high school graduation - 1951. Gloria, Kathleen, Edna, Sister Edmunette, Edmund and Gary.
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Sister Edmunette and Constance (grandmother) - 1956. Sister Edmunette - 1974.
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Back row, left to right, at a family gathering: Paul (nephew); Gloria (sister); Andrew Hiegel (brother-in-law); Kathleen (sister); Pamela (niece); Carol (sister-in-law) and Gary (brother). Front row, left to right: Sister Edmunette, Edna (mother) and
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Kathleen, Edmunette and Gloria - 1999.

Sister Edmunette taught psychology and philosophy at Immaculata College (which would eventually become Hilbert). She also taught at Christ the King Seminary. "We needed someone here to teach theology and they needed someone to teach psychology, so we arranged an exchange."

The next steps up for Sister Edmunette were the positions of chair of the Liberal Arts Department and then academic dean.

During these years, Hilbert was being formed out of Immaculata under the leadership of Sister Edwina Bogel. "Her dream became Hilbert College," Sister remembered fondly.

Originally founded to prepare nuns for teaching roles in parochial schools, Hilbert began expanding its role in the community in the late 1960s. Curriculum was expanded and the student body grew to include lay men and women. While Hilbert still has deep roots in the Catholic Church and the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, its founding congregation, the college operates today as an independent entity.

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Sister Edmunette and Godson Michael Milazzo - 1983. Sister Adrienne Rapnicki, former coordinator of alumni activities and former teacher at Hilbert; Sister Edmunette and Sister Tiburtia Gorecki, foundress and former director of Hilbert’s McGrath Library. Photo taken when Sister Edmunette had received and honorary degree at Canisius College -1984.
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Sister Edmunette’s housemates at St. Clare Convent: Sisters Judith Elaine Salzman; Marie Stachowiak; Martha Marie Olszewski; Edmunette and Jean Marie Cherry - 1999. Sister Edmunette; Sister Mary Beth Bejma, pastoral minister at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Milwaukee and Kathleen Tomaszewski (friend) - 1994.
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Sister Edmunette, Antonita Graci (friend) and Kathleen - 1999. Sister Edmunette with former Attorney General Janet Reno, Hilbert commencement speaker and former Congressman Jack Quinn - 1999.

Not one to display award plaques on her office walls, we had to dig a little to learn that, not only has Sister Edmunette received numerous awards, she has also received honorary degrees from Niagara University, Canisius College, D'Youville College and Christ the King Seminary. The award she is most proud of, however, was the Citation Award, given to her in 2002 by the National Conference for Community and Justice, a human relations organization originally-known as the National Council of Christians and Jews.

Future plans? The college plans, of course, include the aforementioned new Academic Center. Sister is characteristically humble about the plan to name this center after her. But she is pleased that "I won't have to look down from heaven to see it."

Future plans for Sister Edmunette include retirement from the presidency in May of 2006. However, "I definitely plan to stay involved. When that time comes I would like to play a very active part in friend raising for the college." Working in the adult literacy field is also of a great deal of interest to her. Tutoring adults will probably be an important retirement activity.

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Sister Edmunette at Hilbert’s first Memorial Miles, a race and fun run/walk in memory of college faculty and staff who dedicated their careers to the college - 2000. Sister Edmunette at Hilbert’s 2004 commencement.

We asked our usual question about philosophy of life. After giving it some thought, Sister said: "Throughout my life, I've strived to use my individual gifts to the best of my ability and have encouraged others to do the same in their professional and personal lives. Each of us has unique gifts that contribute and lead to achievement in many ways, an approach that has certainly been a factor in Hilbert's success."

Sister Edmunette's hope and prayer for education in general is that more educators would believe in students. "I believe that if educators believe in students, give them a chance and support, that the students will respond positively. This has been proven here at Hilbert where students who, for various and sundry reasons, were not accepted elsewhere, have come here, have continued their education and earned their degree. These people represent us very well out there in the community. Above all, you have to believe in them."

One thread kept running through our conversation with Sister Edmunette and that was her gratitude for being so blessed, by her family, by the religious congregation, by the sisters in the infirmary who pray for her daily, and for the loyal support of her co-workers. "I've had a happy life," she said in conclusion.

We wish Sister Edmunette many more happy years, as she winds down her years as president of Hilbert College, and as she enjoys a rich and full retirement.

Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of the book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit www.1stbooks.com

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