Amidst the many uncertainties and changes affecting college campuses, one aspect of the experience remains constant at Villanova: the presence of religious figures who have dedicated their lives to Christ and their time to students.
Sister Beth Hassel, lovingly known as Beth, has been at the University for 39 years and a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary for 55 years. received her B.S. in Education in Philosophy and M.S. in Theology and Religious Studies from Fordham University. She received a M.S.C.C. in Community Counseling, M.S.L.C. in Library Science and a M.S.C.M. in Church Management at Villanova University. She obtained a D.Min. at Princeton Theological Seminary. Though Beth has earned the title of ‘Doctor,’ she prefers to be called only by her first name.
“I choose no titles because I am one of the many people of God, of humanity. I am a sister to all and want to be equal in the circle,” she said.
Beth was a grammar school teacher and parish minister in New York before finding her way to Villanova. As a member of the retreat team of the Augustinian Retreat House on Staten Island, she met Father Shawn Tracy, O.S.A., who invited her to apply for an open position within Villanova’s Campus Ministry during the spring of 1981. Beth began her work living in Good Counsel, facilitating liturgies, service experiences, counseling and teaching.
In 2010, Beth became the Director of The Center for Faith and Learning, established by Villanova to “ensure that its Catholic and Augustinian identity is maintained, strengthened and more effectively communicated.” The center serves the entire University by facilitating dialogues integrating faith and reason for faculty and students. Beth is also a facilitator in the Faith and Reasoning Communitas, a cohort aimed at encouraging the expression of faith within first-year students.
When asked about the progression of student life over the span of almost 40 years, Beth noted that many aspects have remained unchanged, especially the strength of the community amidst a global pandemic.
“COVID-19 is stretching us to be creative and intentional about creating community, growing in faith and caring for the common good,” she said. “Students are resilient, courageous, brave, intellectually astute and curious to become ‘who they are not yet.’”
Before the pandemic, Beth could be found in her office located in Corr Hall, always ready to chat over a cup of tea. Currently, she is on campus three days a week and understands the difficulty of finding faith in challenging circumstances, even at a religious institution.
“Struggling with finding God is a clear sign that faith is being deepened,” Beth said. “It is a sacred time, this place of struggle, of doubt. Do not be afraid of it, try to smile at God and say yes. A mature person of faith gets comfortable living with the questions.”
A typical day for Beth involves waking up early, praying, exercising and beginning formal ministry. When asked about what motivates her to come to campus every morning, Beth attributed it to her genuine love for her work.
“I have the blessed opportunity to be with faculty, staff and students in many different ministries,” Beth explained. “I believe in the mission of Villanova University because it is fully in line with my goals and interests in life. I really like being in a community for life-long learners where I continue to grow.”