December 7, 2020 • cara.cea
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Elizabeth J. McCormack, Ph.D., a graduate of Manhattanville College who served as its President from 1966-1974 and was a member of the college’s Board of Trustees, passed away December 4. She was 98.
McCormack served as president of Manhattanville College during a period of tremendous social and cultural change for both the college and the country. During her tenure, she led the transformation of Manhattanville from an elite Catholic women’s institution to a non-denominational, co-educational center of higher education.
“During her presidency, Elizabeth McCormack saw how the world was changing and made strategic decisions that set the college on a path for future success,” said Manhattanville Board Chair Dwight Hilson. “She was a pivotal figure in Manhattanville’s history who was very instrumental in shaping the college we are today. We are tremendously grateful for her tireless service and contributions that extended well beyond her years as president. She was an active and engaged board member throughout the rest of her life.”
McCormack, a leading and highly influential philanthropist in her own right, began advising the Rockefeller family on its philanthropic causes in the 1970s, a relationship that would last decades. She served on numerous foundation boards, including that of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, the Population Council, The Julliard School, and the Trust for Mutual Understanding, among others.
“This is a major loss for Manhattanville College and for the entire higher education community in our region,’’ said Manhattanville College President Michael E. Geisler. “Elizabeth was a very important part of Manhattanville history and a kind person who was beloved by so many. For many in our Manhattanville community, faculty, staff and in particular alumni, this loss is painful on a very personal level.”
Born Elizabeth Jane McCormack on March 7, 1922 in New York City to Natalie (née Duffy) and George Henry McCormack, her family moved to Larchmont in 1925.
Raised in a small, Catholic circle, McCormack attended high school at Maplehurst, an all-girls’ boarding school in the Bronx.
After graduating, McCormack applied to Manhattanville College—founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart religious order—where she studied English literature and philosophy. By the fall of her senior year, McCormack had reached a life-changing decision years in the making: After graduating in 1944, she would join the Society of the Sacred Heart.
After teaching at Catholic schools and earning her master’s degree in religious education in 1957 from Providence College, McCormack was assigned in 1958 to work at Manhattanville College as assistant to its president, Mother Eleanor O’Byrne, RSCJ. The role also gave her the chance to pursue a doctorate at Fordham University.
McCormack served as the College’s academic dean from 1962 and in 1966, was awarded a Ph.D. in philosophy. Not long after, in the summer of 1966, she became president of Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, the sixth person—and the last nun—to lead the university.
McCormack entered her presidency in the midst of tremendous cultural upheaval. She felt keenly that the College must change as well to reflect, and even embrace, the societal shifts happening across the nation. “The Catholic college of today,” she said in her inaugural address, “will be judged by the role its graduates play in helping solve [hard questions].”
Her legacy includes not just welcoming male students and making the school non-denominational, but changing the name of the college by dropping “of the Sacred Heart” and introducing “the new curriculum” focused on independent study. In 1973, The New York Times wrote the new system had “turned Manhattanville into one of the most educationally radical colleges in the country.”
In January 1974, at the age of 51, she announced her resignation from the Society of the Sacred Heart, nearly 30 years after committing to religious life. The same year, she left her post as president of Manhattanville College. In December of 1976 she married Jerome (“Jerry”) Aron, whom she’d hired in 1969 as the College’s chief financial officer.
McCormack was predeceased by her husband on July 5, 2004.
About Manhattanville College
Manhattanville College is a small, private liberal arts institution dedicated to academic excellence, purposeful education, and social justice. Located 30 miles from New York City on a 100-acre suburban campus in the heart of bustling Westchester County, Manhattanville enables easy access to robust entertainment offerings, educational resources, and business opportunities for its primarily residential and diverse student body. The College serves approximately 1,800 undergraduate students and 1,000 graduate students from more than 48 countries and 37 states. Founded in 1841, the College offers more than 90 undergraduate and graduate areas of study in the arts and sciences, education, business, and creative writing, as well as continuing and executive education programs. Graduate students can choose from over 75 graduate and certificate programs. Extracurricular offerings include more than 45 clubs and 20 NCAA Division III teams. To learn more, visit www.manhattanville.edu.
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