Chris Houk, Brescia’s dean of enrollment, says, “The ultimate compliment regarding Sister Vivian is that I don’t think anyone cares more about the university than she does. She works for Brescia University 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I can only remember one time in the 18 or 19 months I’ve been here that she took even one personal day – she’s that dedicated to her job at the university.”
Dr. Carol M. Maillet, chair, division of mathematics and natural sciences, has only known Sister Vivian for a short period of time (she’s been at Brescia for a year and a half). But in that short period of time she has been impressed with what she’s seen working with the university president. “In that time, it’s been obvious that Sister Vivian is a tireless worker on behalf of the University both in the community and in the region,” says Dr. Maillet. “She has also been active in improving the physical environment of the University, taking it from what (I understand) was a campus bisected by a fairly busy street and making it an oasis of learning in an urban area. She’s been the prime mover in turning a group of buildings into a campus focused around a place of faith (the chapel) and a place for student activities (the campus center). Changing an area from a collection of buildings into an emotional and psychological haven where learning occurs freely is no mean feat.”
As Sister Vivian approaches her 12th year as Brescia’s president, what has she enjoyed most serving in that position?
She says, “To be able to fulfill Saint Angela Merici’s admonition to us to read the signs of the times and to adapt. I’ve tried very hard to do that with Brescia in the sense of the academic programs, trying to take our institution from a ‘concrete” college’ – as many had called us – to creating a campus environment and increasing the number of residential students.”
Brescia’s enrollment was in the 500s when Sister Vivian became president. After peaking at 851, the enrollment is now in the 600s. Western Kentucky University’s offering of more local classes was the main reason for the drop in the numbers.
Western Kentucky’s presence in Owensboro continues to be a concern for Brescia. “Western Kentucky having a freestanding university in Owensboro is going to be an outside threat for Brescia,” says Sister Vivian as she looks to the future. “Part of our adaptation is to continue to make sure that a student learns more both in the classrooms and in leadership and social skills by going to Brescia. I think the liberal education, the value system that we try to impart is going to be the key to our sustaining our mission and ministry.”
She continues, “As the only Catholic college in the diocese, I think we have a real mission that would not be fulfilled if we were to close. So I’m hoping that working together we can make sure that this mission is continued…that is probably our biggest challenge.”
The recruitment of more international students during her presidency has resulted in one of the biggest changes Sister Vivian has seen at Brescia. “The international students bring a very different flavor to campus,” says Sister Vivian. “Last year we had about 80 international students from over 24 countries. That exposure of cultures on our campus is very educational, very enriching for our students.
“We have more traditional age students now. When I first came here in ’73, the students were extremely active on campus. They planned almost all the liturgies and were very involved in the Catholic life on campus. They were very involved in the theater, campus play productions and in many other organizations on campus. But today, so many of our students are athletes and it seems that playing games and practicing consumes so much of their out of the classroom experiences that they do not have time to be as active on campus as I’d want them to be.”