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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
Francis Marie Thrailkill, O.S.U., Ed.D., never imagined joining the convent, not until a day of inspiration during her senior retreat while attending Ursuline Academy in San Antonio, TX.
She remembers a retreat master telling her, “’Sometimes God asks us to do something that we are not thinking about but God wants us to do it.’ It hit me at the right time with the right message. I never looked back and I never regretted it.”
Sister Thrailkill, named the fifth president of the College of Mount St. Joseph in 1987 one year after the Mount went coeducational, has successfully transitioned the Mount into a fully coeducational college that today serves traditional, adult and graduate students.
She is the second-longest serving president of the Mount in its history. “This has been an extraordinary 20 years full of creativity and energy with a faculty and staff who worked together to fulfill our mission and serve the needs of our students,” she says.
Under her leadership, the Mount has almost doubled the size of its campus to 92 acres and steadily increased its student population to 2,300. On her watch, the college kept its track record of balancing the budget for 29 consecutive years. The endowment grew from $3 million in 1987 to over $22 million in 2007. Sister Thrailkill oversaw two capital campaigns, the “Vision 2000” Campaign and the “Building Excitement” Campaign, which combined raised over $24 million for new academic programs, student scholarships and facilities.
She led the College community through the development and implementation of two strategic plans and a process to renew its mission statement. Under her leadership, the Mount adopted an interdisciplinary core curriculum in the liberal arts and sciences; incorporated service learning and cultural/global immersion into the curriculum; adopted innovative technology to support teaching and learning; expanded the community environment of campus with new facilities; increased student services to help students academically and with wellness services; started the Lion’s Roar Marching Band; and expanded intercollegiate athletics from four to 21 sports for women and men.
In 2000, the Mount became the first college in Greater Cincinnati to go wireless and in 2005 the Mount was the first private college in Ohio to begin a doctoral program in physical therapy. Graduate studies have grown with the addition of Master of Nursing, Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and TEAM, an accelerated master’s degree program in education that combines courses with apprenticeship in Cincinnati Public Schools.
Sister Thrailkill, a Delhi Township resident, led the largest campus expansion projects since the 1960s to support recruitment and retention. New construction included the Harrington Center, Sports Complex and River Road fields. Renovations and new facilities included the Residence Hall, Art Building, Science Building, College Theatre, Mater Dei Chapel, Center for Innovative Teaching, Health Sciences Suite, Conlan Center, Jacob B. Schmidlapp Fifth Third Bank Hall, Holy Trinity Chapel, Harold C. Schott Foundation Plaza and the Mary Schaefer Welcome Center. In 2005, the Board of Trustees named the new student service area the Thrailkill Hall of Student Success in honor of her focus on meeting the needs of students.
In 2007 the College of Mount St. Joseph was ranked as one of the Best Master’s Universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report. The Mount was ranked 40 among 142 master’s universities in the Midwest. The Mount is categorized a master’s university for offering a full range of undergraduate and graduate degree programs as well as the doctor of Physical Therapy.
“While rankings don’t tell the whole story about an institution, we are pleased that the rankings recognize the Mount’s focus on personal attention and student success – small classes are taught by full-time professors and students graduate successfully,” noted Sister Thrailkill.
A native of San Antonio, she is a member of the religious congregation of the Ursulines of the Roman Union. She holds a doctoral degree in educational administration from Nova University in Florida, a master’s degree in sociology from Marquette University and a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of New Rochelle.
Sister Thrailkill worked as a school principal in New Orleans and Dallas before applying for the president’s job at Springfield College in Illinois in 1977. After serving a decade in Springfield, she spotted an advertisement for the Mount’s position in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Sister Thrailkill, 70, a noted leader in higher education, served on the board of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and was a member of the Council of Independent Colleges and the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities of Ohio. She was a consultant/evaluator for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and served as a judge for the Truman Scholarship.
In the Greater Cincinnati community, she served on the boards of the University of Dayton, Seven Hills Schools, The Midland Co., Daniel Beard Council and American Red Cross.
Among her many honors, Sister Thrailkill was the recipient of the Woman of the Year Award from The Cincinnati Enquirer; Business Woman of the Year Progress Award; Silver Beaver Award from the National Council of Boy Scouts of America, and Career Woman of Achievement Award from the YWCA. She received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters from The Hebrew Union College.
Sister Thrailkill was a frequent lecturer on the topics of leadership and transformation of education. Her passions away from work are long-distance bicycling, cooking and reading, up to four books a week. She is known to bike 150 miles a week, and last summer rode from Salzburg to Vienna.
She helped raise thousands for the Mount and other charities by auctioning her Cajun and Tex-Mex dinners and cooking lessons at benefits. The daughter of Louisiana-born parents, she never followed a recipe for her renowned jambalaya, as the origin of the dish is to use what’s available. “I like to try new recipes,” she said. “I never try the same recipe twice.”
Her first task upon joining the convent was to cook for 90 people nightly. She was the only one to volunteer for kitchen duties. “I grew up in a big family,” she recalled. “My mother started me cooking and I have always enjoyed it.”
Her recipe for success at the Mount was “to hire my front line officers to my weakness, and try not to get in their way.” To her satisfaction, five members of her cabinet have been hired away as college presidents. “I take great pride in that because it’s professional development,” she said.
She also took pride in the progressive culture of the college. “The atmosphere on the campus is to allow faculty to take leadership roles in developing programs,” she said “Decision-making and vision have spread throughout the institution. It’s very different.”
Every year she issued a “state of the union college address” for the 400 faculty and staff “so everybody knows where we stand.”
When she first arrived at the Mount, Sister Thrailkill envisioned staying 10 years, as she had in her previous career positions. But she found an enduring home in the city. “Cincinnati has opened a lot of doors for me,” she said. “From the very beginning I was struck with how positive people are here and how helpful they are.”
Regarding being named a Great Living Cincinnatian, she says in her typical forthright fashion, “I was both humbled and honored. It is been the most extraordinary privilege to be a part of this tremendous community over the past 20 years.”
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization