When Susan and Jack Rudin ’86H pledged a $1 million endowment to Iona in 1999 stipulating that it be used to establish a Jewish-Catholic studies program, Elena Procario-Foley had just been hired at the College in the Religious Studies Program. “It would have been very unusual for a freshman faculty member to be asked to become an endowed chair,” she said. However, that is exactly what happened. Procario-Foley was selected to become the Br. John G. Driscoll Endowed Chair of Jewish and Catholic Studies, Iona College’s first endowed chair.
Now in 2019, the Jewish-Catholic Studies program is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Procario-Foley created new classes and fostered interdisciplinary collaboration with other departments. She also created classes in the study of the Holocaust and offers a life-changing spring study abroad experience in Poland, including academic study at Auschwitz. The trip also includes a visit to Wadowice, the hometown of Pope John Paul II, where students can see the apartment where John Paul lived and the church where he worshiped.
“It’s a very powerful experience for the students,” said Procario-Foley. “It’s hard to do, but it’s important for them to see it and learn what happened.”
The fact that Procario-Foley has been guiding these trips for ten years is a source of pride for her as is “The Soul of the People,” the six-week art exhibit of the work of Alice Lok Cahana, a Holocaust survivor, which Procario-Foley brought to Iona’s Brother Chapman Art Gallery. “Commemorating the Shoah on a Catholic campus is a fairly uncommon practice,” said Procario-Foley, “but Iona’s commitment to educating for justice, peace and service has allowed for a long tradition of Holocaust education.”
A woman of “firsts,” Procario-Foley was also named the first director of core curriculum in 2016 when Iona introduced a new core curriculum, which enables students to explore a wider variety of subjects and lays a strong foundation for all future academic pursuits.
In 2018, Procario-Foley had the honor of being the first woman invited to give the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Jerusalem Lecture, which is hosted by the Cardinal Archbishop and the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Department of the Archdiocese of Chicago. “This was a tremendous honor,” Procario-Foley said. “The speakers, previously all men, are considered giants in their fields. Now the door is open for other women.”