Siena College said goodbye to one of the most influential and revered members of its community Friday morning when former President and Professor of English Fr. Matthew T. Conlin, O.F.M., was celebrated at a campus memorial mass at St. Mary of the Angels Chapel. Fr. Conlin passed away on April 14, at the age of 92, at the Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J. Conlin professed as a Franciscan Friar for 70 years and was a Catholic priest for 66 years.
Fr. Conlin left an indelible mark on the College community through his work as an administrator and revered teacher. He worked at the College from 1945 to 1976.
Conlin served as the College’s sixth president from 1970 to 1976. Those six years transformed the College in many ways. Under Conlin’s leadership, Siena launched a systematic program to hire faculty members with terminal degrees and it welcomed the first class of students from the Higher Education Opportunity Program. The College also opened the residence halls to female students, increased the quality applicants and replaced deans with vice presidents in the areas of academic affairs, student affairs, business affairs and development. Conlin also provided balanced academic leadership at a time of great social and political unrest.
Before becoming president, Conlin was known as a brilliant educator and scholar. He was a professor of English, department chair, dean and vice president. Conlin had a reputation amongst the students as a fair but firm professor who demanded excellence in the classroom. Students would line up for his classes each semester. Many of his former students still tell stories of his profound influence in their professional and personal lives.
“When I was a student, there were a few courses that you had to take. Shakespeare with Fr. Mathew Conlin was one of those courses,” said Bill McGoldrick ’68, who attended the memorial mass. "We all thought he was intimidating because he was a scholar, yet it was the course we wanted to take. He made it come alive. To say you had Conlin was a special thing.”
Each year, Siena College celebrates a tenured faculty member with the Fr. Matthew T. Conlin, O.F.M. Distinguished Service Award. The honor is given to a faculty member who demonstrates excellence in service that leads toward institutional excellence.
During today’s memorial mass, Fr. Hugh Hines,O.F.M., Conlin’s successor as Siena College president, delivered the homily. He recounted a story from a November day in 1975 when Fr. Conlin told him that he would be announcing his resignation as president to the Board of Trustees. When Fr. Hines asked why, Conlin responded, “Well, I’m 57 years old and if I want to do anything else in my life, I better do it now.”
After resigning in 1976, Conlin spent three years teaching English literature at the Catholic University of Puerto Rico. During that experience, he became fluent in Spanish.
Conlin then returned to the United States where he led the charge to create housing for the poor. His work led to the construction of Anthony’s House in Jersey City, N.J. The temporary housing facility served as the model for other houses built in urban areas, including Harlem and Philadelphia. Conlin’s Franciscan journey also took him to New York City where he taught high school English in an area populated with Korean students and he served as Vicar Provincial of Holy Name Province.
In 1996, Conlin returned to Siena College where he lived amongst his Franciscan brothers in the friary on campus. He ministered at the St. Francis Chapel in Colonie and worked as a prison chaplain at Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Wilton, N.Y. He taught, led Bible study groups at the prison and counseled the inmates in both English and Spanish. One winter, he taught the inmates Christmas carols for an impending performance in front of Bishop of Albany Howard Hubbard, D.D. He arrived home at the Friary late, on a cold night and Fr. Hines asked, “How are they?” Fr. Conlin responded, “They’re terrible, but they love it.”
After suffering a stroke in October 2009, Fr. Conlin transferred to the friars’ infirmary in Ringwood, N.J., where he remained until his death. Fr. Conlin requested that his body be donated to the New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y.
“Throughout his life, Fr. Matt was an erudite, a scholar and a gentleman,” said the Very Rev. John O’Connor, O.F.M., Provincial Minister of the Holy Name Province, who presided over the memorial mass. “He was always the person who lived simply and the person who reached out to you. He was indeed a brother to me and he was a brother to all of us.”
Siena President Fr. Kevin Mullen '75, O.F.M. offered the petition of the Universal Prayer of the Faithful.