Chestnut Hill College said Monday that its president, Sister Carol Jean Vale, the longest serving college president in the region, will retire next year after 30 years in the job.
Her resignation becomes effective June 2022, when her current five-year contract expires, the school said. In announcing her contract in 2016, the college said it would be her fifth and final term.
Sister Carol, 75, has led the 1,600-student Catholic college through its conversion to a coed institution in 2003 and through an expansion, with the addition of the adjacent 32-acre SugarLoaf estate in 2006, which almost doubled the size of its Philadelphia campus.
“It’s very clear to me when it’s time to move on,” Sister Carol said in an interview. “At 75, it’s time to move on.”
Sister Carol belongs to the college’s founding order, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. For most of her tenure, she did not draw a salary, but in recent years, in preparation for a potential switch to a lay leader, she was paid more than $250,000 annually, money that went to her religious order, she said.
The college plans to conduct a national search for her replacement. Catherine Lockyer Moulton, chair of the college’s board of directors and a 1992 graduate, said the school would prefer to hire a nun but is open to a lay leader if that person is best qualified.
Moulton called Carol “a lioness for the college” and a model of leadership for women.
“We’ve seen great changes during her tenure,” Moulton said in the college’s statement. “Yet there’s something very comforting about the fact that while so much as changed, at its heart — our core values and mission — it’s still the came Chestnut Hill College that my grandmother attended three generations ago.”
Sister Carol is a 1978 graduate of the college, earning her bachelor’s in English. She took her vows to become a nun in 1974 and later got her master’s in theology and doctorate in historical theology from Fordham University. She began her career at Chestnut Hill College in 1988 as chair of the religious studies department and became president four years later.
She expanded sports, adding 11 teams and joining the NCAA’s Division II. She also started sprint football in 2015 to help attract students. Under her leadership, she added academic programs and expanded the school of continuing and professional studies. Sister Carol oversaw fund-raising for 90 endowed student scholarships and the addition of the Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, which promotes alternatives to violence and conflict, the college said.
With her time left, she said, she will work on the launch of a wellness collaborative, focusing on mind, body and spirit, and programs for students with autism.
Like many other small colleges, Chestnut Hill has struggled with finances in recent years, made worse by the pandemic.
Chestnut Hill began its semester last week, inviting undergraduates back to campus for hybrid instruction.