Dr. Joseph Fink was appointed Dominican’s eighth president in 1988. When Dr. Fink arrived at Dominican, enrollment had dipped below 650 students, total assets were $15 million, revenue was only slightly above $7.2 million, and the physical campus was in need of renovation and modernization.
Dr. Fink is widely respected as a hands-on leader whose expertise in fundraising has shaped what the institution has become and the direction in which it is headed.
By fall 2010, enrollment had grown to more than 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students with an additional 700 participants in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The University’s assets exceeded $100 million and revenue was more than $58 million.
Campus enhancements made during Dr. Fink’s tenure include a state-of-the art recreation center, a new residential village, a $21 million science research facility, the addition of Magnolia House, and an $8 million renovation of the 122-year-old Edgehill Mansion into the Dominican Heritage and Alumni House.
Dr. Fink guided Dominican in progressive academic programming, introducing the Pathways program for working adults, the Honors Program, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Dominican for people over 50, and innovative majors such as the BFA in Dance with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, the Green MBA and the MS in Biological Sciences in Association with Buck Institute.
He promoted and supported undergraduate research and academic excellence among students and has brought visibility to Dominican by attracting internationally known speakers to campus. Dr. Fink supervised the reorganization of campus departments and led the University from intercollegiate athletic competition in NAIA to NCAA Division II.
In his 23 years as President, Dr. Fink fulfilled his inaugural promise of a diverse student body and established initiatives to reach out to minority students. In 2011, more than 45 percent of Dominican’s undergraduates are African American, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American. One quarter of students are first generation in their family to attend college, and more than 80 percent of Dominican students receive financial aid.
In 1987, Neil Webb was chosen to be the University’s seventh—and first male—president. He was a visiting UCLA professor who had been president at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin from 1973–83. Dr. Webb served six months at Dominican before he and his wife, Mary, were killed in a plane crash. The Dominican Board of Trustees named Sister Mary Aquinas Nimitz as Acting President in December of 1987 until the Trustees selected Joseph R. Fink to lead the institution.
Under Dr. Webb's leadership, Dominican instituted a new general education program, hired a new director of admissions and initiated an aggressive program to expand student enrollment. He also conceived a strong fund-raising and developmental strategy and began a review of the long-term needs of the institution. The Dominican Board of Trustees established the Neil J. and Mary M. Webb Memorial Scholarship in their honor.
Dr. Barbara Bundy was Dominican's first non-Catholic female president. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the age of 18, finished her doctoral degree at 22, and at 23 began teaching fulltime at the University of California at Berkeley.
She had been a faculty member in Dominican’s humanities programs for nine years when, at the age of 37 and as a widow and mother of a five-year-old son, she accepted a two-year contract to become Dominican's president. Describing herself as “a humanist with strong spiritual values which have always seemed in harmony with Dominican’s ecumenical Catholic character,” Dr. Bundy was committed to maintaining high academic standards and increasing enrollment. She was actively involved with the National Endowment for Humanities’ National Board of Consultants.
Dominican’s fifth president, Sister Samuel Conlan, encouraged innovation and experimentation in administration, curriculum and community relations. Through her work in the field of education for over 40 years, Sister Samuel influenced the lives of scores of students. She taught by example that one can address the world with confidence, serve with courage, principle, elegance, compassion and grace.
Sister Samuel received her Ph.D. in English Literature from Stanford University and joined the faculty of Dominican in 1957. As president, she transformed Dominican from an all-women's college into a co-educational institution in 1971.
She spearheaded the placement on campus of a model Development Center for children with special needs and supported the development of a Special Education Teacher Training Program, which earned statewide recognition for excellence.
Seeing the need for the college to be an integral part of the community, Sister Samuel expanded the Board of Trustees to include members of the business and professional community. In 1980, she received the Dominican College Distinguished Service Award and in 1981, School Master of the Year Award. Golden Gate University awarded her an honorary degree in 1980. Dominican’s recreation center was dedicated in her name in 2001.
Sister Patrick Harney came to Dominican by way of Sacramento and was among a class of five women who graduated from Dominican in 1922. The graduation ceremony was held in the newly-dedicated Angelico Hall. Inspired by Mother Raymond to become a sister, Sister Patrick returned to Dominican to teach English and French in the Dominican Convent Upper School and eventually progressed to being a prioress, principal and dean at the college.
Sister Patrick ultimately followed Mother Raymond’s footsteps, serving as the College’s fourth president until her retirement in 1968. In 1974, Sister Patrick received the College’s Distinguished Service Award and, in 1977, an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts and Letters from St. Albert’s College for her contribution to the humanities and to Catholic education.
Sister Thomas Vaughan continued and enhanced the ideal of her predecessors. Her academic values were matched by religious and moral values. From 1908–1917, she taught English, history, mathematics, science and Latin in Bay Area high schools staffed by Dominican Sisters.
Sister Vaughan was assigned to Dominican College in 1917, where she initially served as registrar and chemistry professor. In 1918, Sister Thomas became Dean, serving in this capacity until being named the college’s president in 1935.
Sister Thomas was devoted to religion, higher education and the education of young women. Four generations of her family have since graduated from Dominican. She was legendary for her memory and remembering faces and names. In 1945, Sister Thomas’ last year as Dominican president, the college became a member of the newly-established Western Association of Colleges.
Mother Raymond O’Connor, noted for her administrative ability and her devotion to Dominican traditions, was Dominican’s second president. She was known as an intellectual whose ministry was embodied in the Dominican motto: “To contemplate truth and give to others the fruits of one’s contemplation.”
The hours that were not devoted to her administrative and religious duties were spent in scholarly pursuits such as reading philosophical and classical texts. She mastered Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
During her tenure as Prioress General of the Dominican Sisters and President of Dominican College, Mother Raymond did much to elevate both organizations. Over the course of her administration, new schools were opened in the Bay Area and in Nevada and a relationship with the Dominican Fathers was established as a forerunner to the Dominican Leadership Conference. As part of this relationship, visiting Dominican priests lent their expertise to the Sisters and to the College as retreat organizers, advisers, and faculty members.
She also arranged for the College’s purchase of the Arundel Prints, a set of approximately 50 religious-themed prints displayed around campus. In 1944, the Mother Mary Raymond Scholarship Fund was established to provide modest financial awards to full-time legacy students—those who are related to Dominican alumni.
Dominican College of San Rafael was established in 1890 but it wasn’t until 1918, when the college evolved from a junior college to a four-year institution, that Mother Louis O’Donnell was named Dominican’s first president.
Mother Louis is largely credited for selecting San Rafael as Dominican’s home. In 1887 she pleaded with Archbishop Patrick William Riordan for permission to move the struggling St. Catherine’s School in Benecia to a location closer to San Francisco, then a growing center for shipping and industry.
“If we do not move, we shall starve,” Mother Louis said. San Rafael was chosen and a 20-acre property was purchased from William T. Coleman for $20,000, half of which was remitted as a gift from Mr. Coleman and the other half obtained as a loan.
A four-story building in late Renaissance style—to become the Motherhouse—was erected as convent and school in 1889. In 1890, Mother Louis obtained the California State Charter for the College. Later, Mother Louis helped orchestrate the purchase of the Meadowlands, the summer home of the Michael de Young family.
Special thanks to Katherine Martin, Development Director, Dominican Sisters, “Dominican Sisters of San Rafael 1850–2000,” and Annie Berger, Dominican University Archivist, for contributing to the biographical information on this page.