Bridget Puzon, O.S.U.

In high school at The Ursuline School in New Rochelle, Alice discovered the intellectual life through the rigorous curriculum and thorough teaching of the various high school subjects. She loved the school and developed an admiration for teaching as a vocation.

Alice went to the College of New Rochelle, a member of the Class of 1942. The United States had entered the Second World War in December 1941. Determined to teach, she was hired at The Ursuline School as the first full-time lay teacher there. At the same time, she began studying for a Master’s degree at Fordham University. When an Ursuline became available to replace her, Alice became a substitute teacher at New Rochelle High School. This was an unhappy experience because of the lack of order and discipline in the school. She turned away from her long-felt desire to teach.

In one of those coincidences that seem to be more than that, a college classmate intended to take the civil service examination for a position in the federal government. The test was being given in Brooklyn, and she wanted someone to go with her. Alice offered to go, and she also took the exam. A year later, she was called for an interview in Washington, D.C. for work in military intelligence. And so she went.

A college classmate was sharing a house there with three other women, and she joined them. Alice worked as a research analyst for the rest of the war. However, during these years an attraction to the religious life returned, and she decided to enter the Ursulines as soon as her obligations for wrapping up the war work would permit her to leave.

Alice entered the Ursulines in January 1946 and made her first vows in July 1948. While she was in the House of Studies, she taught at The Ursuline School for two years. Then she was tapped to teach Christian Tradition and Culture at the College of New Rochelle. With final vows in 1951, she moved to the college community and, like all the sisters on the faculty, she lived in a residence hall with students.

In 1952, she was sent to the Catholic University of America to begin doctoral studies. She and Irene Mahoney lived with the Dominican Sisters; she felt the constraints of Ursuline cloister regulations as she needed to do research outside the university setting. While the goal was to have a degree in church history, women were unable to study in the theology departments in Catholic institutions, where church history was taught. Creatively patching together a concentration in history with occasional courses in church history, under such professors as Johannes Quasten and John Tracy Ellis, Alice emerged with a doctorate in December 1954. Her focus was on modern history, with minors in political science and English history. Her dissertation on resistance to Hitler was related in part to the materials she encountered as a research analyst during the war.

Returning to the College of New Rochelle, Alice was appointed Acting Dean of the College in January 1956. Behind the scenes, there was internal turmoil between clergy on the faculty and some new lay faculty in philosophy and English. Heated exchanges and strong accusations about the content of what the new faculty were teaching was at times bitter. The dean attempted to mediate and reduce the tension, with little success.

Alice returned to teaching in the history department in 1957, interrupted by one four-year break, and she continued in that position until 1976. The interruption was from 1963 to 1967, when Alice served the college as Dean of Students. These were years of ferment in higher education, with students pressing for reform. The assassination of President Kennedy stirred widespread grief; the assassination of Martin Luther King shocked those who had been involved in civil rights activities. At the same time, trying to end the Vietnam War engaged faculty and students alike, as they joined demonstrations. Student activism disrupted campus life, with no road map as a guide to administer the college undergoing these challenges. It was a time for reexamining college policies and practices, something Alice was involved in.

In 1976 Alice left her position at the College of New Rochelle to join the U.S. Bishops’ Call to Action. The one-year program, called Liberty and Justice for All, was a national discussion of the bishops and laypeople on social and economic issues. Consisting of eight committees, each one headed by a bishop with regional lay leaders, the groups wrote position papers relevant to the life of the church. She served on the writing committee with David O’Brien, Brian Hehir, and John Carr that put together the recommendations from the position papers to be presented to the participating bishops.

Alice recalls it as a time of excitement for the participants, with the prospect of significant development of social action in the American church. She came to know the bishops and the problems they faced. However, disappointment followed, and people were discouraged as they returned to their parishes to face the mixed or deficient implementation by the dioceses.

An opening in the office for Catholic higher education of the National Catholic Education Association in Washington, D.C. came to Alice’s attention, again through an apparent coincidence, a conversation of the Ursuline provincial with Monsignor John Murphy. She applied for the position of Associate Director to Monsignor Murphy, the Executive Director. Her extensive experience in higher education made it a perfect fit for Alice. From December of 1976 to June 1978, she worked with Jack, and at his retirement, she was selected by the Board of Directors as Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU).

Alice’s role in the Call to Action influenced her response to the charge she was given by the Board to integrate the principles of social justice into Catholic higher education. So began her years of working with the variety of Catholic colleges and universities. The American bishops’ two pastorals, on peace and on the economy, enabled her to know the bishops and guided her thinking on these matters. It was a time of anti-war activities, unrest in El Salvador, and the war on poverty, all issues affecting higher education and in which she was involved.

As Executive Director of ACCU at One Dupont Circle, Alice was a member of the Secretariate for Higher Education, composed of the many associations based there and in the area. She was the only woman member of the Secretariate at that time, and she found the group welcoming and helpful as she learned the many facets of higher education. In alternate months to its own meetings, it met with the U.S. Department of Education.

The broad horizons of higher education were opened to her, and she saw the place of Catholic higher education in the national picture. Visiting campuses, assisting their initiatives regarding their identity and unique characteristics were all part of the job and its learning experiences. She also participated in the council meetings of the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU), extending her knowledge of higher education outside the U.S.

Eventually, the IFCU and the Congregation of Catholic Education prepared a document called Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which Pope John Paul II issued in 1990. Alice worked with the U.S. bishops and university presidents to present the distinctive perspective, conditions, and practices of U.S. Catholic higher education and was part of the delegation that took their findings to Rome where they met with the Pope and other Vatican officials. For the next ten years she worked on the document implementing Ex Corde Ecclesiae for the United States.

In 1992 Alice resigned her position, and she was invited to be Interim President of St. Bonaventure University, from July 1993 to February 1994. During the years after retirement from ACCU, she was from 1992 to 1996 Visiting Research Scholar at the Catholic University of America and in 1996-1997 Visiting Professor at St. Louis University. When she returned to New Rochelle in 1997, she became Scholar-in-Residence at the College of New Rochelle.

Over the years, Alice has given lectures, written articles, and produced six books, with one still in progress. In 1961 her first book, German Resistance to Hitler: Ethical and Religious Factors built on her dissertation and her experiences in WWII. Her next book continues the focus on Germany before the war, Midwives for National Socialism: The Weimar Professors 1925-33. In 1992 American Catholic Higher Education: Essential Documents 1967-1990 grew out of her higher education overview at ACCU. She continued her study of higher education in Independence and a New Partnership in 1996 and Negotiating Identity: Catholic Higher Education Since 1960, published in 2000. She returned to the encyclical in Ex Corde Ecclesiae: Reception and Implementation, in 2006.

She continues as Scholar-in-Residence at the College of New Rochelle, writing and serving on committees such as The Upper Room and the New Rochelle Interfaith Council.