Patricia Rooney addresses Mount Aloysius graduates

CRESSON – Addressing a packed gymnasium filled with the school’s largest-ever graduating class Saturday, Patricia Rooney – international philanthropist and wife of Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney – called to mind Mount Aloysius College’s humble, 160-year-old origins.

Only a few months removed from her husband’s three-year service as U.S. ambassador to Ireland, Rooney reminded the 412 graduates of their institution’s founders: the Religious Sisters of Mercy, an Irish-based order of nuns long active in Pennsylvania.

“The Mercy sisters, for the most part, raised us,” said Rooney, who, like her husband, was born the descendant of Irish immigrants in Pittsburgh. Rooney urged the graduates to live up to the sisters’ reputation for hospitality – a yearlong theme stressed in Mount Aloysius events and gatherings.

Hospitality, she said, means “caring for others in every sense.” Rooney cited stories from her time in Ireland; in addition to her husband’s ambassadorship, the couple have long supported Irish-American charities and cultural exchanges.

“If you ask a local for directions, he won’t just direct you – he’ll hop in with you and get you where you’re going,” she said. “They’re almost too good.”

Administrators conferred honorary degrees on the Rooneys, citing their philanthropy and stewardship of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team, founded by Dan Rooney’s father, Art, remains largely under the family’s control.

“We … honor your efforts to promote peace reconciliation and economic development in Ireland, home of your ancestors and spiritual home of the Religious Sisters of Mercy,” college President Tom Foley told the couple. “We thank you for your stellar service to our country.”

Receiving degrees alongside the Rooneys were Shirley Abel Pechter, well-known for her community work in Altoona, and James Walsh, an international affairs expert who discussed the importance of hospitality in foreign relations at a March event at the college.

But it was the graduates, clad in robes and blue-and-white accoutrements, who got the most attention, with cheers and applause punctuating the degree-presentation march.

After the singing of the alma mater and a final religious benediction, the now-ex-students left cheerfully in spite of driving rain – fittingly, as graduate Jessica Seasoltz’s commencement speech had noted Cresson’s uncooperative climate.

As one young woman shivered in her rain-soaked robe, a passing religious sister in habit extended an umbrella over the graduate’s head with a smile.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.