Ursuline Presidents

Sister Joan Marie Lechner (1960 – 1974)

In September 1960, Sister Joan Marie Lechner was appointed the first resident president of Brescia College. Sister Joan Marie served as treasurer and instructor at Brescia from 1953-56. She was a native of Nebraska City, Neb. and her first teaching assignment was at the former St. joseph High School in Owensboro from 1936-48. She received her A.B. from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. She earned a PhD in English from St. Louis University during the years 1956-1960. Her dissertation titled, Renaissance Concepts of the Commonplace, was published in 1962. As President of Brescia College, Sister Joan Marie oversaw many important construction projects, including the completion of Merici Residence Hall, plus new buildings for the purposes of scientific studies, administrative offices, and athletics. In addition, she initiated an assortment of summer courses to push total enrollment to over 1,000 students. Sister Joan Marie also assisted with the introduction of the Contemporary Woman Program, a vital part of Brescia’s curriculum. Aside from her many accomplishments at Brescia College and in the advancement of higher education throughout the region, Sister Joan Marie received many awards as a civic leader promoting the development and enrichment of the Owensboro-Daviess County area. Sister Joan Marie went to Bowling Green in 1974 as director of religious education in the parochial school of St. Joseph and adult education in Holy Spirit parish. On October 6, 1975, after an afternoon of entertaining the Ursulines at a housewarming in the newly-renovated convent at St. Joseph, Sister Joan Marie passed away from heart attack.  

Sister George Ann Cecil (1974 – 1985)

Sister George Ann Cecil began her college studies at Mount Saint Joseph Junior College during her postulancy and continued these during her novitiate. During the years 1965-1967, Sister George Ann studied at St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. She returned to Brescia College as faculty member in the education department and continued post-graduate study at Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. Sister George Ann was appointed president of Brescia College in 1974 and during her eleven-year term, the college successfully completed a capital-endowment fund campaign of more than two million dollars. In 1973, she was named an Outstanding Educator of America. Sister George Ann was diagnosed with cancer in 1984, but continued at Brescia as president. In mid-October 1985, she took a leave of absence and returned to Mount St. Joseph. Death came to her that same year on December 12. The following day a memorial service was held in the chapel at Brescia College. On December 14, 1985, Bishop John McRaith and eleven other priests celebrated the funeral Mass at Mount Saint Joseph. There were no classes held at Brescia College that day. Many students and faculty members attended Sister George Ann’s funeral service.  

Sister Ruth Gehres (1985 – 1995)

Sister Ruth Gehres’ relationship with Brescia goes back 20 years before she was elected President. A ’62 alumna of Brescia, Sister Ruth received her bachelor’s in English. After graduating, she attended St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo., for her doctorate in English with a minor in German at the recommendation of her mentor and Brescia College president Sister Joan Marie Lechner. She returned to Brescia and was an English professor from 1967-84. In the fall 1985, Sister Ruth was asked to substitute for college President Sister George Ann Cecil when she underwent surgery. She was named acting president when Sister George Ann died in December. In February 1986 she was elected president by the board of trustees, a position she held until September 1995. During Sister Ruth’s years at Brescia, the Brescia Campus Center was built. Following her retirement as Brescia president, Sister Ruth spent an eight-month sabbatical at Saint Meinrad in Spencer County, Indiana. Then she was hired by the Saint Meinrad College, teaching English, doing liturgy and some spiritual direction. During this time, she was living in Ferdinand and traveling regularly to Evansville to care for her father, who died in 1997. When the college closed after two years, Sister Ruth was looking for a job. She saw an ad in the weekly Ferdinand News where the Benedictine Sisters were looking for an associate in communications. She got the job and spent two years in communications work for the Ferdinand Benedictines. In September of 2000, Sister Ruth was named director of communications for the new mission advancement department at Mount Saint Joseph. In 2002, in order to concentrate on the creation of the new Ursulines Alive magazine of which she was the editor, Sister Ruth was named associate director of communications. In March 2006 Sister Ruth Gehres spent five weeks at the Dianna Ortiz Ursuline Center for Women in Chillán, Chile, South America to write a story about the women and the success of the center. This working vacation turned in to a career-changing event. In 2007, Sister Ruth left Mount Saint Joseph for the Maryknoll Language Institute in Cochabamba, Bolivia to complete a six week Spanish course. She graduated from intermediate to advanced during her weeks of very intensive study. After graduating, Sister Ruth headed for the Dianna Ortiz Ursuline Center for Women (Casa Ursulina) where she ministered until 2013. Today, she is active as an English tutor for two Vietnamese sisters who are staying at the Mount Saint Joseph Motherhouse while studying at Brescia.  

Sister Vivian Bowles (1995 – 2007)

Sister Vivian Bowles was the fourth Ursuline president at Brescia College and the first when the college received University status. Sister Vivian took Brescia College courses after high school. In 1962, she served as an education assistant at Brescia. In 1973, she returned to Brescia as a counselor and a teacher in the education department. After two years, Brescia initiated a psychology program and a formal counseling center, and Sister Vivian served a number of years as professor of psychology and director of the counseling center. In 1980, she was named division chair of the social and behavioral sciences, a position she held until 1992. During this time, Sister Vivian received her doctorate degree from University of Arkansas. She was elected to the Mount Saint Joseph Leadership Team in 1992, serving under leadership director Sister Mary Matthias Ward. She served on the leadership team until 1996. In September of 1995 Sister Vivian Marie Bowles was named president of Brescia. During her 12 years as president, she helped the college advance through the new millenium with new additions and renovations such as acquiring the right to close Seventh Street from Frederica to St. Ann to create an “academic mall,” attaining University status from the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities in 1998, developing scholarship plans for foreign transfers and minorities, building a clock tower and fountain in the quad, and expanding student housing on campus. In 2007, Sister Vivian stepped down as president of Brescia. After caring for her mother, she served as director of the St. Mary School System in Paducah, Ky., for a year (2010-11). She has ministered as the director of faith formation for Saint Alphonsus Parish near Maple Mount since 2012.  

Larry HostetterSince 2007, Father Larry Hostetter has served as the fifth President of Brescia University. He is the first non-Ursuline to fill the position. Father Larry made his commitment as an Ursuline Associate during an Advent prayer service at the Brescia Chapel in December 2014.