Leaving a Legacy

Sister Elise is completing 27 memorable years as University of Saint Francis president.
Jan 7, 2020
Reggie Hayes
Steve Vorderman
Leaving a Legacy

Sister M. Elise Kriss moved full speed ahead during her first 26 years as president of the University of Saint Francis. She has no plans to slow down for her last one.

As Sister Elise enters the spring of her 27th year at the helm, USF stands in a much better place than when she started. There are many more students, buildings and opportunities than existed in 1993. As she looks forward, she can see the university is prepared to continue its positive impact on Fort Wayne and beyond.

“I still enjoy the work with my team,” Sister Elise says. “The rubber

hits the road when you have to do the hard stuff. I’ve heard it said running a college or university is one of the hardest jobs there is. Someone once compared it to running a small city.”

Sister Elise has led USF with boldness, innovation and keen foresight. She will continue to do so as she prepares to retire from the presidency on June 30, 2020. The Rev. Dr. Eric Albert Zimmer will become the next USF president on July 1, 2020.

Under Sister Elise’s leadership, USF enrollment more than doubled, from less than 1,000 students in 1993 to 2,249 in fall 2019. During that time, USF endowment increased from $2.2 million to $34 million, property and equipment increased from $10.4 million to $105.3 million and net assets increased from $6.7 million to $97.8 million.

“I view Sister as a visionary leader,” says Kathy Callen, community engagement executive, SVP, Old National Bank, and a member of the USF Board of Trustees. “She built a team of really good people to help get the university where it needed to go.”

Sister Elise’s vision took hold within the first five years of her tenure, including a dramatic change in 1998 when the university acquired the Lutheran College of Health Professions. 

“We had already developed a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s, but I had my eye on developing more health sciences,” Sister Elise says. “It was something we wanted to do, and it was an opportunity to make the transition. Providentially, God was in all of this.”

Also, in 1998, Saint Francis College became the University of Saint Francis and introduced football. The football program brought in an additional 120 students and increased the university’s male population. The Cougars won back-to-back NAIA national championships in 2016 and 2017.

Changes have continued over the years, with the introduction of new academic programs and new or renovated buildings, including the Mimi and Ian Rolland Art and Visual Communication Center, the Doermer Family Center for Health Science Education and the most recent additions of the St. Francis Chapel and the expansion and renovation of Achatz Hall of Science and John and Toni Murray Research Center. USF also operates a successful site in Crown Point and has a virtual campus for online students.

In addition, Sister Elise led the drive to purchase USF Downtown, taking on the former Scottish Rite Auditorium and adjacent building, along with the former Chamber of Commerce Building. The USF Robert Goldstine Performing Arts Center was launched, along with the Music Technology center and the USF Business Center.

Having a site in the heart of the business district heightened USF’s visibility.

“From our perspective, it’s a great use of space for programs we’d like to see continue to grow and develop downtown,” Sister Elise says. “It’s part of our involvement in the community in economic development and talent development.”

After Sister Elise steps down as president, she plans to take a sabbatical and then return to USF to serve in a new capacity. 

“It has been an honor to get to know some of the people who have been so philanthropic toward the university over the years,” she says.


Address: 2701 Spring St. Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808

Phone: (260) 399-7700

Website: sf.edu

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