Lynn archivist shares memories from the university’s founding

In 1962, the campus was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by bean farms and strawberry fields
Lynn archivist shares memories from the university’s founding Sister Kathleen Clunan is pictured on the far left

Published Mar. 20, 2013

Lynn University’s archivist, Kathleen Clunan, has been with the university since its founding days. As a nun in the religious order of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Clunan was sent with a group of sisters to open Marymount College, a two-year liberal arts junior college for women in Boca Raton, Fla., and to build a library collection. On June 9, 1962, the sisters broke ground. Fifty years later, Clunan is still with the university and she continues to work in the Lynn Library. 

“We spent the first summer living in a convent in North Miami Beach,” said Clunan. “We would drive up to Boca to check on the progress of the construction of the original buildings – traveling on the Turnpike as 95 was not yet built. Many said we were foolish to build a college so far west, in the swamps far from all civilization.”

Clunan and the sisters of the religious order of the Sacred Heart of Mary are often described as progressive – a trait that Lynn University still adheres to by being innovators in the field of higher education with programs including Lynn’s core curriculum, the Dialogues of Learning.

According to Clunan, having the campus ready for Marymount’s first incoming class was a priority. “It was about a week before the students were to arrive, and the dorm [Trinity Hall] wasn’t finished. Sister Euphrasia, the Mother Superior and I were standing in front of the dorm telling the construction workers in urgent tones that students were arriving and had to have a residence hall to move into – when a big snake slithered by. The construction workers ran. Sister Euphrasia picked up a big wooden stick from the construction site and killed the snake. Mother Superior very calmly said to the construction works, ‘Gentleman, Sister Euphrasia would like you to have this dormitory ready by the end of this week.’ It was finished when the girls arrived.”

The first class arrives

Despite issues with alligators, walking catfish and snakes, on Sept. 22, 1963, Marymount opened its doors to 96 female students from both northeastern and mid-western states, in addition to students from Latin America, Spain and Italy. “We had an international student body from the very beginning,” said Clunan.

In 1963, Boca Raton was a small town with very little social entertainment. “The students who came to this new college had to be adventurous,” said Clunan. “To provide something for the girls to do, we arranged dances – or what we called mixers – with Biscayne College [now St. Thomas University].”

From Marymount to The College of Boca Raton

In 1971, efforts to boost enrollment at Marymount College failed and the Board of Trustees announced the college would close in May of 1972. In November of 1971, Donald E. Ross, founder and president of Wilmington College in Delaware, discovered Marymount during a trip to the Boca campus to purchase their library holdings, he saw the potential. 

“By 1971 the catfish, snakes and other wildlife had moved on,” said Clunan, “but the students were fighting to keep the college open, marching throughout the streets of Boca collecting donations and holding cups imprinted with ‘Save Our College!’”

Ross worked with the Wilmington College Board and Trustees and the Marymount Board on a proposal where Ross would assume the debt incurred by the religious order and take control of the college. Following the negotiations, Ross was named president of the college in 1971.

“Those first years after Donald Ross became president were lean ones. Everyone made sacrifices to conserve,” said Clunan. “We used to joke that we had to write on three sides of a piece of paper before discarding it, and Helen Ross, Donald Ross’ wife, was known to cook dinner every night for the entire campus staff.”

In 1974, Marymount’s name changed to College of Boca Raton, and recruiting resulted in a soaring enrollment of more than 800 students from the United States and 30 foreign countries.

Lynn University

In 1991, The College of Boca Raton was renamed Lynn University to reflect its increasingly global nature and the growth of its programs, and to honor the Lynn family, longtime donors.

Clunan, who is the only Lynn employee to have been with the university since it’s founding, remembers the university’s trying history and has seen its amazing success.

“I have been fortunate enough to see the two-year college for women first turn to a co-educational four-year college and then to the splendid university it is today; to see how the campus has matured, turning the swampy and sand-covered land into the lush beautiful landscaped property it is today; to see a state-of- the art library building, two more residential buildings, a classroom building, a gymnasium, an international building, a maintenance building, a second swimming pool, a tennis complex, and athletic fields built; the continuation and expansion of our international student body; the growth of our athletic program with many champion teams; and the continuation of the Ross' custodianship with our present president, Kevin Ross,” Clunan said.

More on Clunan 

Kathleen ClunanOriginally from New York, Kathleen Clunan attended Marymount College (now Marymount University) in Arlington, Va., before entering the convent of the religious order of the Sacred Heart of Mary. After being professed a nun, Clunan continued her education and once she earned a Masters in Library Science at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., she was sent with a group of nuns to open Marymount College in Boca Raton, Fla.

After some time, Clunan left the convent, began working as a librarian in Delray Beach and moved to New York for several years. She moved back to Boca Raton when Donald Ross offered her the position as library director at the College of Boca Raton. Currently, Clunan works two days a week as the university’s archivist.

“Being able to collect the history of this institution that I love has been a great honor,” said Clunan. “I know that those who were first here, would be so pleased to see what has been accomplished.”