Rev. Joseph Allan Panuska, S.J., The University of Scranton’s 22nd President Dies

Mar 1, 2017

The Rev. Joseph Allan Panuska, S.J., the longest-serving president in the history of The University of Scranton and the University’s first President Emeritus, died on Tuesday, Feb. 28, in Philadelphia. He was 89.

Father Panuska became the University’s 22nd president on July 1, 1982, succeeding the Rev. William J. Byron, S.J. He served as Scranton’s president until July 1, 1998.

Affectionately known as “Papa Bear,” Father Panuska’s devotion to students was legendary as was the University’s growth under his leadership. During his 16-year tenure as president, Father Panuska is credited not only with a construction boom that added 15 buildings to the campus but with significantly increasing student applications and faculty head count. He displayed a strong commitment to local students, even as he expanded the University’s reach and appeal to several states.

“University records testify to his remarkable service and mark him as a man for others who helped the school achieve unprecedented distinction in all areas of its mission,” said University of Scranton President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J., in a notice informing the campus community of Father Panuska’s passing. “The marks of Father Panuska’s tenure are indelibly left not just on the campus of the University he served so long and so well but on the hearts of all who knew and loved him.”

Francis and Elizabeth Redington Hall, the University’s first suite-style residence, built in 1985, was Father Panuska’s first major addition to campus. Redington Hall was followed quickly by the William J. Byron Recreation Complex in 1986, and Gavigan Hall, then a pioneering, residential-college concept, in 1989. The five-story, 70,000-square-foot Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Memorial Library followed in 1992. In 1993, the first students entered the McDade Center for the Literary and Performing Arts, with its main theater modeled after Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

Father Panuska also became known for buying and renovating local churches.

The late Msgr. Andrew J. McGowan H ’82, a popular toastmaster, used to joke at celebratory dinners that if you wanted to sell a building to the University during Father Panuska’s presidency, you just had to put a steeple on it. During Father Panuska’s tenure, the University acquired three churches: the Episcopalian Assembly of God Church, which became Rock Hall and the home of Madonna della Strada Chapel in 1983; Immanuel Baptist Church, which became the Houlihan-McLean Center for the Performing Arts in 1986; and the John Raymond Memorial Universalist Church, which was used for classes in fine arts and later housed Facilities Operations and became Smurfit Hall in 1987.

Campion Hall, the Jesuit residence, was finished in 1987 and paid for by the Jesuits. In addition to six new student residences, two classroom buildings, Kathryn and Bernard Hyland Hall, which opened in 1988, and McGurrin Hall, which opened in 1998 were added to campus.

In recognition of his service, the Board of Trustees renamed one of the University’s colleges in his honor — the J.A. Panuska, S.J., College of Professional Studies.

In June 1992, Father Panuska told The Catholic Light that the University’s 1988 centenary gave him “not only a reason to celebrate past accomplishments, but also a buoyant vision for the future.” He called that centenary celebration the highlight of his tenure.

“No one guarded the legacy of the past or enriched it with more vision than Father J.A. Panuska,” Joseph McShane, S.J., who succeeded Father Panuska as president, said in an article in The Scranton Journal in 1999. He called Father Panuska the University’s “second founder.”

Father Panuska also became known for his relationship with the city of Scranton.

In 1992, The Catholic Light asked Father Panuska, whose educational background was in the sciences, specifically physiology, biology and cryobiology, if he regarded himself as a Renaissance man, considering he was responsible for the building of a library and a liberal-studies center and had placed fountains, sculptures and other artistic works throughout campus.

Father Panuska said he wished he was a Renaissance man but explained that his passion for environmental biology had put him always “in awe of the beauty of nature. … I really wanted this campus not just to have good teachers and good classrooms and good chapels,” he said. “I wanted it to be an environment that is inspirational.”

“Putting the sculpture of St. Ignatius (Metanoia) right in the center of the campus is one of the best things I’ve been able to do,” he continued. “People are always being reminded of the need for transformation.”

Father Panuska also designed the crucifix atop Redington Hall. “I intended it to illustrate the expansive love generated by the death of Jesus Christ,” he told The Catholic Light in 1992. “I think the symbols we surround ourselves with tell us who we are.”

Father Panuska’s tenure was marked not only by buildings and symbols that remain to this day but academic improvements that paid off in the form of Fulbright Scholarships and other prestigious opportunities for students. Admissions applications continued to rise, as did average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of incoming students, and U.S. News & World Report recognized the school among the nation’s best universities. Many other accolades and rankings followed.

The University’s endowment and annual giving also increased dramatically during Father Panuska’s tenure.

Father Panuska’s presidency ended at the close of the 1997-98 academic year. After Scranton, the seven-state Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus assigned him to become rector of its Jesuit Center, or mother house, in Wernersville.

“This is the very place where I entered the Jesuits in 1948,” Father Panuska told The Sunday Times in Scranton in 1998. “It is rather remarkable and most gratifying to be assigned there on the occasion of my 50th anniversary. Cycles have always played a big part in my thinking about life, and what a cycle this provides.”

In 2004, Father Panuska returned to The University of Scranton’s Campus Ministries Office, devoting particular attention to providing spiritual direction and programming for University staff. He left Scranton to serve at the Jesuit’s Colombiere community in Baltimore, before moving to Manresa Hall at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

Born in Baltimore on July 3, 1927, Father Panuska received his undergraduate degree at Loyola College before entering the Society of Jesus. He received an advanced degree in philosophy and a doctorate in biology at St. Louis University. He also received an advanced degree in theology at Woodstock College prior to his ordination and later studied for a year in Muenster, Germany.

Father Panuska taught biology at Georgetown University for 10 years and also served as rector of the Jesuit Community there. After Georgetown, he served as Provincial of the seven-state Maryland Province of the Jesuits. He served as academic vice president and dean of faculties at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, prior to becoming the University’s 22nd president on July 1, 1982.


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