Roy Strausbaugh, Ph.D., is a specialist in European history, but his latest book tackles a subject much closer to home – the founding and development of Mercyhurst University.
The Foundations of a University: Mercyhurst in the Twentieth Century, researched and written over the past six years, is now available for purchase in bookstores on Mercyhurst’s Erie and North East campuses.
Strausbaugh approached Mercyhurst President Thomas J. Gamble, Ph.D., early in his tenure to suggest that Mercyhurst needed a comprehensive history.
Strausbaugh was uniquely suited to take on the job. He had worked at Mercyhurst since 1994, serving in a variety of roles from director of libraries to academic dean at Mercyhurst North East. He’s now a visiting professor of history. He earned his doctorate at Case Western Reserve University.
This was a second career for Strausbaugh, who had already retired from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania as a tenured professor of history. While there, he wrote his first college history, Edinboro University, Administrative History, 1963-1993. More recently, he had served as a trustee and board chair at Greenville’s Thiel College, an experience that helped him better understand the operations of small, church-related, liberal arts colleges.
The last major history of Mercyhurst was compiled by Sister M. Eustace Taylor, RSM, Ph.D., in 1976 when the college celebrated its 50th anniversary. Mother Eustace was personally involved in the history she wrote about. A member of Mercyhurst’s first graduating class in 1929, she taught at the school for decades and served a term as its president in the late 1950s.
More recently, another history professor, Michael McQuillen, Ph.D., began compiling a Mercyhurst history, but had to cut the project short when he was appointed Mercyhurst’s president in 2005.
Strausbaugh started with those accounts and documented them through primary sources. He turned to self-study documents and evaluations from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education; minutes of the board of trustees; papers left by Sister Carolyn Herrmann and Sister M. Charles Weschler, among others; and accounts from the Merciad student newspaper.
Mother Borgia Egan and others of the “Pioneer Sisters” left memoirs about the founding of the school. He reviewed those, as well as oral history interviews with prominent figures in Mercyhurst’s development, recorded by former Erie Morning News Managing Editor Larie Pintea in the early 1990s.
Strausbaugh credits both Earleen Glaser, the Mercyhurst University archivist, and Sister M. Edith Langiotti, RSM, archivist for the Erie community of the Sisters of Mercy, for assistance in accessing these sources.
He dedicates the volume to “the Sisters of Mercy who founded, brought to life and guided Mercyhurst College.” “No story of Mercyhurst can be told without understanding the contributions of the Sisters of Mercy, their labor, love, and passion for this college,” he adds.
But as the decades passed, forces beyond the control of the Sisters helped shaped the school’s direction. Throughout, Strausbaugh tries to show how events at the college mirrored changes in American higher education, the church and society itself.
The narrative ends around the turn of the 21st century. “A historian is not a journalist,” Strausbaugh concluded. “For good history to be written, it is better that some time pass and perspective be gained. And so, another historian, down the road, will be better positioned to assess the transition to university status in the years since 2000.”
The 430-page volume includes 12 pages of black-and-white photos from the Sister Mary Lawrence Franklin Archives at Mercyhurst. It is available for sale in the Mercyhurst bookstores at Erie and North East. The book sells for $30, but is currently on special at $24.