HFU dedicates building to Sister Francesca Onley


Folks around Holy Family University don’t need a reminder of the profound impact of Sister Francesca Onley, who retired last year after serving 33 years as president of the Torresdale-based academic institution.

During her tenure, Onley oversaw Holy Family’s transition from college to university status, its expansion into multiple satellite campuses and the modernization of its main campus. But just in case future generations of Holy Family students and faculty ever need a refresher course on Onley’s contributions, they will now be able to see her face-to-face in the university’s centerpiece academic building.

On Oct. 27, Holy Family re-dedicated its state-of-the-art Education and Technology Center in the sister’s name. The university also unveiled a new portrait painting of her that will be on permanent display in the ETC lobby.

The portrait was a gift of university Board Chairman Dennis J. Colgan and his wife, Geraldine, who commissioned Germantown-based artist Garth Herrick to paint it. The image depicts Onley, a congregant of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, standing in front of a stained glass window of the Delaney Hall convent on the university’s campus.

Meanwhile, the building re-dedication brings a new identity to a 62,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2005 as the John M. Perzel Education and Technology Center in tribute to the then-speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives who had helped Holy Family get state funding for the project. Subsequently, Perzel lost his 2010 reelection bid to Kevin Boyle, pleaded guilty to political corruption charges in 2011 and served almost two years in state prison. The university removed his name from the ETC building in September 2011.

Onley, 82, was the fourth president in Holy Family’s history and its longest-serving. The Holy Family sisters founded the institution in 1954 adjacent to their long-established Nazareth Academy High School. Onley became president and chief administrative officer in 1981.

Born in Mayfair, she joined the sisters in 1950, earned a bachelor’s degree in education-business from Holy Family in 1959 and a master’s degree in secondary education-business from Marywood University in 1986. She later earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Southern Illinois University.

During her tenure, Holy Family developed a new campus center, the ETC, the Garden Residence on its main campus and its branch campus in Newtown. The university further expanded its footprint by acquiring property for administrative use in Bensalem Township. Onley also oversaw the restructuring of the university’s Board of Trustees.

In the community, Onley has been active in the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and served as chairwoman of the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame. ••


All in the name: Sister Francesca Onley watches as her name goes up on the side of the education and technology center at Holy Family University. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO