Antoinette Iadarola, 80, the retired president of Cabrini University in Radnor, died Saturday, May 23, of cancer at her home in Clinton, Conn.

Dr. Iadarola, known as “Toni,” was the sixth leader of the Catholic institution and its first lay president. She served from 1992 to 2008.

“Toni’s spirit lives on in all the lives she touched, and her impact on the Cabrini community, as well as her dedication to the university’s mission and to serving the Cabrini legacy, is limitless,” said Cabrini president Donald B. Taylor. “She will be missed.”

Antoinette Iadarola
Courtesy of Cabrini University
Antoinette Iadarola

Dr. Iadarola’s first day on the campus of what was then Cabrini College was July 15, 1992, and she took it as a good omen that July 15 was also the date that the college’s namesake, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, was born in 1850. The patron saint of immigrants, St. Frances was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1946.

During her tenure, Dr. Iadarola expanded the curriculum and worked to raise Cabrini’s profile. Undergraduate enrollment increased from 732 to 1,700, and the number of students living on campus tripled to 1,000, the university said in a statement.

The changes that Dr. Iadarola foresaw for Cabrini did not come without conflict. John F. Brown, chair of the department of mathematics, said her decisions weren’t always popular, but she did what she thought was right for the university.

“Toni arrived when Cabrini faced serious financial and enrollment concerns,” said Jolyon Girard, professor emeritus of history and political science. “In my view, her leadership changed that trend and set the school in a positive, successful direction.”

The East and West residence halls, Cabrini Apartment Complex, the Dixon Center, Edith Robb Dixon Field, and what is now the Antoinette Iadarola Center for Science, Education, and Technology were constructed under her leadership.

“Dr. Iadarola was an outstanding president who spearheaded remarkable physical and intellectual growth on Cabrini’s campus,” said James Hedtke, professor of history and political science.

Born in New York City, Dr. Iadarola grew up working on a dairy farm in Shelton, Conn., and graduated from Shelton High School.

She was the daughter of Italian immigrants Antonio and Dora Guerrera Iadarola. Even though they lacked advanced education, they instilled a love of learning in their children.

Dr. Iadarola was influenced by her mother, who operated the family’s 100-acre farm. Her father was a factory worker and also did farm chores. The children helped, too.

“My parents were lifelong learners,” she told the New Haven Register in 2016. “The first thing Mom did when she got here from Italy was to enroll in school to learn English.”

Dr. Iadarola earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science from the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Conn., and master’s and doctoral degrees in European diplomatic history from Georgetown University in Washington.

Her postdoctoral studies included a Fulbright scholarship at Oxford University and the London School of Economics. Her research focused on diplomatic history, women’s studies, and higher education.

Before taking the helm at Cabrini, Dr. Iadarola was a high school history teacher, chair of the history department at the University of St. Joseph, and provost at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H.

After Cabrini, she was recruited to become president of Lauralton Hall, a Connecticut girls’ preparatory school. She retired in 2017 but refused to see retirement as an ending.

“It’s another beginning,” she told the Register. “We should do away with the word retirement. Whatever I do has to be purposeful and meaningful.”

She lived in Clinton and traveled worldwide to visit those she had met on earlier volunteer and business projects.

She is survived by three sisters and nieces and nephews.

Services will be held once the pandemic wanes. Memorial donations may be made to Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven Hospital via https://www.givetoynhh.org/.