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Answering the Call

Sister Elise Kriss devotes her life to education

After growing up two blocks from her Roman Catholic parish school and church in Indiana, Sister Elise Kriss’ decision to become a sister felt like a natural step in her life’s journey. As a young girl, she was always available to help with Mass and tidy classrooms after school dismissed for the day, and she enjoyed the close relationships she formed with the sisters there. And so, in 1965, three months after graduating from high school, Sister Elise joined the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Ind. In 2016, she celebrated her Golden Jubilee, commemorating 50 years of service to the congregation.

As a sister, she has been devoted to the Catholic Church’s educational mission. She taught fifth through eighth grade for eight years, then was promoted to school principal. In 1984, she moved to higher education, after earning a doctorate. Since 1993, Sister Elise has served as the president of the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. Under her leadership, the school’s enrollment has more than doubled, and its reputation has grown to include multiple regionally recognized programs, including those in the creative arts and health sciences.

Capping off the academic growth, last year the football team won the National Association of Intercollegiate Activities (NAIA) National Championship game—and Sister Elise was cheering from the sidelines.

“Our football program is 19 years old, and we’ve had winning seasons for 18 consecutive years,” she said. “It has really helped make our once-sleepy institution more visible, and the support from the Fort Wayne community has been great.”

The university has also expanded its footprint, thanks to Sister Elise’s leadership. She has overseen completion of several new academic buildings and residence halls, as well as the acquisition and restoration of two historical buildings in downtown Fort Wayne two miles from campus.

“The city was really happy to see us purchase these buildings and bring new life to them,” she said.

The former Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce building now houses the University of Saint Francis School of Business, and the former Scottish Rite center has become the school’s performing arts center and music technology
studios. Two new construction projects are currently underway, including a new chapel and laboratory addition to Achatz Hall of Science.

As president, Sister Elise oversees all aspects of the university, which means meetings with vice presidents, architects, deans and donors are all part of her day. As an involved member of her community, she also serves on several local and state boards.

“I spend a lot of time relating at all levels, including to students, faculty, staff, board members and the community,” she said. “Each day is different, and it’s very fast-paced.”

Her schedule also includes time for prayer and devotion. “The sisters and I pray together in the morning and evening,” she said, “and we always have dinner together.”

Sister Elise spends her free time tending her garden, swimming, reading or visiting with family, including her sister Cathy Minor, with whom she joined DAR.

Last December, Sister Elise invited her fellow members of the Mary Penrose Wayne DAR Chapter, Fort Wayne, Ind., for a chapter meeting in a restored family home that serves as the school’s administrative building. At the meeting, Sister Elise delivered a talk about the genealogy of the family that lived there before hosting high tea in the ballroom.

“Because of my schedule, I don’t get to participate in DAR as much as I’d like,” she said. “But I do appreciate what happens at the meetings and the projects we support. I believe it is such important work.”