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Catholic Identity

President & Leadership

BOSTON, October 4, 2021 – In a message to the Emmanuel College community, Sister Janet Eisner, SNDdeN, announced today that she will leave office in a year’s time, following over four decades as president. The nation’s longest-serving woman college president, Sister Janet has been described as Emmanuel’s “second founder” in view of her transformative leadership of the Catholic liberal arts and sciences college opened by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood in 1919.

“To see the faces of our students when they arrive, and then follow them as they develop into people of commitment, conscience and compassion – that is a joy that moves me in my inmost heart,” Sister Janet said. “It is the privilege of my life to collaborate with countless faculty, administrators, staff, students, alumni, peers and friends to advance the vibrancy of Emmanuel’s Catholic educational mission. … Now, as we emerge from the pandemic, I believe it is time for new leadership to build on the momentum of these past decades, and to move Emmanuel forward in its second century.”

She added that, while she remains focused on key strategic priorities in the year ahead, she looks forward to “proclaiming the great story of Emmanuel College this year and after I leave office – indeed for all my days.”

Margaret L. McKenna, an Emmanuel graduate who is chair of the College’s Board of Trustees and an executive vice president at Fidelity Investments, said, “Sister Janet has navigated a strategic and successful course for Emmanuel College in times of seismic change in American higher education. She is the second founder in every sense of the word.

“Throughout her tenure, her creativity and talent for reinvention have earned her the respect of business, university and church leaders throughout our city and far beyond – along with the affection of Emmanuel’s worldwide family,” she added.

McKenna said that the Board would confer on next steps in the wake of Sister Janet’s announcement.

A Bold, Entrepreneurial Spirit

Since her inauguration in 1979, Sister Janet’s presidency has been characterized by agility in the face of external changes and by a commitment to keeping the College’s mission rich and relevant for new generations of students. 

  • In 1996, she provided the founding vision for the Colleges of the Fenway (COF) consortium, which gives students at each institution access to the academic and extracurricular resources of a large university.
  • In 2000, she led the College’s successful transition from an all-women’s college to a coeducational college. In addition, she brought Merck Research Laboratories–Boston to campus. Together, these actions created the conditions for the tripling of Emmanuel’s enrollment and the transformation of its finances, facilities and programs.
  • In subsequent years, she guided the development of today’s campus with the construction of an 18-story apartment-style residence hall, the Jean Yawkey Student Center, and the Maureen Murphy Wilkens Science Center.
  • In 2019, Sister Janet oversaw the opening of a four-year undergraduate nursing program within the newly established Maureen Murphy Wilkens School of Nursing and Clinical Sciences. Last spring, the College dedicated a state-of-the-art nursing education space, which provides a realistic clinical environment for nursing students as they prepare for practicums at neighboring hospitals.

Never Standing Still

Under Sister Janet’s leadership, Emmanuel continually seeks insight into what careers will be thriving in the future and what skills and qualities will be most in demand. These forward-leaning efforts have led the College, in recent years, to establish new majors and minors in rising fields, including data analytics, finance, accounting, global and public health, mathematical modeling, migration studies, and political communication.

Capitalizing on its close proximity to leading names in business and innovation, Emmanuel has also assured that 100 percent of students complete an internship as part of their undergraduate experience. These real-world learning opportunities enable students to gain practical workplace skills and experience. Already this year, students have secured internships at organizations including Boston Children’s Hospital, WCVB-TV, Harvard Medical School, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Editas Medicine, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Further, Emmanuel has expanded opportunities for undergraduate students to collaborate with faculty on world-class scholarship and research, including projects funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. These high-impact experiences underscore the College’s historic strength in the sciences and prepare students to excel in prestigious graduate programs. In recent years, Emmanuel graduates have received Fulbright, Goldwater and Truman Scholarships in recognition of their academic achievements.

Centrality of Mission and Values

Amid changes, Sister Janet has kept Emmanuel steadfastly committed to its Catholic educational mission and to its core values, which emphasize intellectual inquiry and integrity, a strong sense of community and service to others. Guided by faculty, students engage in critical social analysis of the root causes of the problems of their times and consider effective responses and actions. By reflecting on these discussions, students further develop a commitment to building a more just and peaceful world, and often express it through volunteer service.

Further, Sister Janet has carried on the College’s longstanding efforts to provide educational opportunity to students of high potential but limited means. Throughout her tenure, even in the most financially challenging times, student financial aid has remained a top budget priority. Today, nearly all undergraduate students receive some form of aid to bridge the gap between the cost of an Emmanuel education and what they and their families can afford to pay.

Sister Janet’s wisdom has often been sought in wider circles. Throughout her presidency she has served on a range of boards, commissions, and task forces addressing issues facing higher education and the Catholic Church. Previously she served on the Massachusetts Board of Regents and as chair of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Massachusetts (AICUM). Currently, she serves on the boards of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, MA, the Colleges of the Fenway and the Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc. (MASCO).

Over the years, Northeastern University, the College of the Holy Cross, and Boston College have recognized Sister Janet’s accomplishments with honorary degrees. In 2019, Emmanuel’s centennial year, the Board of Trustees announced its decision to name the College’s iconic Administration Building for Sister Janet in recognition of her inspiring leadership.

“When I was inaugurated President of Emmanuel in 1979, I did not know where that path would lead,” Sister Janet said. “I did know that, as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, I was part of a larger mission to make known God’s goodness and to educate young people for life. That dual commitment captured my whole being then, and it continues today. I am so grateful to be doing what I love.”

About Emmanuel College

Emmanuel College is a co-educational, residential institution with a 17-acre campus in the heart of Boston's educational, scientific, cultural and medical communities. Enrolling 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, the College provides boundless opportunities for students to expand their worldview through rigorous coursework, significant internship and career opportunities throughout the Boston area and beyond, collaborations with distinguished and dedicated faculty, and participation in a dynamic campus community. Emmanuel's more than 70 programs in the sciences, liberal arts, business, nursing, and education foster spirited discourse and substantive learning experiences that honor the College's Catholic educational mission to educate the whole person and provide an ethical and relevant 21st-century education.

Media Contact:
Molly DiLorenzo

Vice President of College Relations
dilorenzm [at] (dilorenzom[at]emmanuel[dot]edu)
(617) 735-9876