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New scholarship fund at Aquinas College surpasses $1 million milestone

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A new scholarship fund at Aquinas College has surpassed $1 million raised. The scholarship, which was created by alumni and friends, is the largest of its kind at Aquinas and is named in honor of Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, O.P., who has dedicated more than 75 years to serving the College and the greater Grand Rapids community. 

“Sister Aquinas is viewed by many as the embodiment of the spirit of Aquinas College. We wanted to do something to let her know how important she is,” said Lt. General John Nowak, trustee emeritus, alumnus and honorary co-chair of the Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, O.P. ’58 Endowed Scholarship Committee. “This is a fund that will stand forever. We’d love for it to become the largest endowed scholarship at Aquinas because we are talking about the largest and most iconic figure.”

Sister Aquinas has been an influential figure in the development of Aquinas College and West Michigan. At 97 years old, she continues her role at the College as chancellor emerita. She has played an important role in fundraising for the College for many decades, developing professional and personal relationships with the Grand Rapids business community for the benefit of the College.  

“I cannot think of a more meaningful way to honor a woman who has dedicated so much of herself to students at Aquinas and their study,” President Kevin G. Quinn said. “She is a treasure, and I am delighted to see her honored this way. It says a lot about her and this committee’s admiration of her that they have been able to accomplish raising a fund of this size during these challenging times.” 

Scholarships will be awarded to Aquinas students based on financial need. Students from all areas of study qualify for this award. This semester, 50 students received awards from the fund, which helped address new needs from students financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

About Sister Mary Aquinas Weber, O.P.

Born Lucille Weber in 1923 in Kingsley, Michigan, Sister Aquinas was taught by Dominican Sisters at her small parish school. Following high school, she made her way to Grand Rapids and professed her vows as a Dominican Sister, taking the name Sister Mary Aquinas in 1945. 

She served as a principal in schools in Bay City and Detroit before returning to Grand Rapids in the early 1960s. She was as directress of Student Sisters, and then, in 1966, became prioress.

After her term as prioress ended, she was called by Dr. Norbert Hruby, then-president of Aquinas College, to become director of what was then known as the Neighborhood Project, later Eastown Neighborhood Association and Eastown Business Association. In this new role, Sister Aquinas engaged area bankers and business leaders in revitalizing the struggling Eastown business district.

This neighborhood stabilization program became a model for quality urban renewal. Her experience led directly to her being asked to be the first woman to serve on the board of trustees of Old Kent Bank (now Fifth Third).

Meanwhile, she was serving on many other boards, including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Aquinas College Board of Trustees and the Greater Grand Rapids Housing Authority. She also helped found Hospice of Greater Grand Rapids with Rabbi Albert Lewis and others.

In the 1980s, Sister Aquinas directed Aquinas College’s Emeritus College before becoming vice president for development. She was named chancellor of the College in 1983 and currently holds the title chancellor emerita. 

Until the recent pandemic, Sister Aquinas came to the office several days a week to maintain her many ties in the business and social network she has fostered over several decades.