Emery C. Mollenhauer, FSC, La Salle’s first provost, passes away

March 15, 2021

In more than 50 years at La Salle, Br. Emery helped enhance the University’s campus footprint, enrollment, and reputation

Emery C. Mollenhauer, FSC, Ph.D., whose administrative and academic duties at La Salle University spanned more than a half century, including his tenure as the University’s first provost, died Sunday, March 14. He was 94.

Mollenhauer arrived at La Salle in 1960. Over the 52 years that followed, he was at the forefront of many pivotal moments in the University’s history—growing La Salle’s enrollment, its campus footprint, and its regional and national reputation.

He expanded La Salle’s enrollment as dean of its evening division, helping students in the full-time workforce along their paths toward a college education. In this role, Mollenhauer admitted La Salle’s first female students. Two years later, in 1970, the college admitted its first class of female undergraduate day students. Mollenhauer became La Salle’s first provost upon its introduction of that role in 1977. He helped La Salle receive university status from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1984. And he also served on committees to help La Salle’s School of Business earn and retain AACSB accreditation—a distinction held by less than 5 percent of the world’s business schools.

“Together, our University and the wider Lasallian community mourn the passing of Brother Emery Mollenhauer,” said La Salle President Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D. “We are deeply indebted to Brother Emery, whose commitment and service to La Salle were nothing short of iconic. He modeled an accessible pathway to a college degree through his stewardship of our evening program in the 1960s. He broke the glass ceiling with admission of La Salle’s first female students. He guided key efforts to expand our campus and increase our enrollment—all while maintaining our mission of providing a high-impact teaching and learning anchored in Lasallian values.”

One of three children, he was born Charles Joseph Mollenhauer on Feb. 16, 1927. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from Catholic University of America. He received his master of arts and doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. Preceding his college education, however, the Southwest Philadelphia native attended West Catholic High School—a Lasallian school. So impressed by the Brothers of the Christian Schools, Mollenhauer identified his calling and pursued religious brotherhood.

“That was his whole life—being a Christian Brother—and it meant everything to him,” said Mollenhauer’s nephew Mitch Yanak, ’83, a La Salle alumnus whose sister Joanne Baillie, ’73, was among the first women to graduate from La Salle.

A published author, Mollenhauer developed a classroom reputation as an educator who expected the best from his students and those around him. That included Yanak.

“He reviewed one of my English papers and it came back lit up like a Christmas tree,” Yanak said. “It taught me that I couldn’t be satisfied with my work. I wasn’t allowed to settle for anything less than my best. If it wasn’t for my uncle, I never would have finished my education.”

Said Richard Kestler, FSC, a longtime friend of Mollenhauer’s and a fellow Christian Brother on La Salle’s campus: “Emery took great pride in Connelly Library. He told me often it was his desire to match Connelly Library’s outside to the peaks and design of College Hall. The architect for the project had a boxy design at first. Emery challenged that vision; obviously, he won.”

Mollenhauer acted in an undramatic way, synonymous with the Lasallian heritage and the mission of the Christian Brothers, his colleagues remembered. He maintained a meticulous, attentive nature on campus. Friends and colleagues recall him reaching into his shirt pocket to retrieve a small notebook or loose paper on which to jot notes. Perhaps thousands of those notes had been written, some estimated. They captured everything from complements of faculty and colleagues to areas of campus that needed improvement or attention.

“La Salle and Emery’s loyalty to the Presidents he served—Daniel Bernian Kelly, Daniel Burke and Patrick Ellis—was widely known and admired,” said Michael J. McGinniss, FSC, director of the La Salle Honors Program and President Emeritus. “His responsibilities and achievements in those years were many and varied as La Salle grew in numbers, became a university, opened its nursing program, and so on. But in the midst of those achievements Emery was always himself—paying attention to small courtesies like writing congratulatory notes to faculty, staff, and students for a variety of matters.”

Mollenhauer in his La Salle career also acted as academic vice president. He resigned his administrative duties in 1990 to return to full-time tenure status in the Department of English, where he served until 2012. In retirement, he maintained residence and active ministry at La Salle. At the time of his passing, his was believed to be the longest active tenure of any Christian Brother on La Salle’s campus.

Upon retirement as provost, La Salle Faculty Senate endowed a commencement award bearing his name. The award is given to the graduating senior who most exemplifies Lasallian values.

“Because of the Senate’s action, Emery’s name and his commitment to Lasallian values, and to this University, will be recalled every year,” said Br. Michael.

“Emery was the first Brother I really knew at La Salle, and my friendship with him these past 10 years taught me what association means better than any explanation. He was thoughtful, modest, funny, independent, and generous with his time,” said Elizabeth Langemak, Ph.D., associate professor of English. “I don’t know if he would have thought of himself as a mentor to me, but he was. He treated me as his peer long before I could have been, he was the sort of person who could advise me without ever giving me direct advice, and if he heard me saying now that he was a great guy who made a meaningful impression on me as a teacher and colleague, he would absolutely deflect the compliment.”

Mollenhauer possessed a profound love of walking—whether on La Salle’s picturesque campus or at the New Jersey shore. Upon his regular visits to the latter, it was not uncommon for him to walk the length of Ocean City’s beach twice daily during the summer months. His passion for walking extended to Northwest Philadelphia, too. He grew to know La Salle’s students and La Salle Public Safety staff because of his visibility on campus.

Mollenhauer is survived by his sister Joan, as well as many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his sister Marian and his parents, Charles and Mary.

A viewing will be held Thursday, March 18, in the De La Salle Chapel at La Salle University, from 4–6 p.m. and 7–8 p.m. The La Salle University community is welcome to attend. A funeral Mass Friday, March 19 is limited to family and Christian Brothers due to COVID-19 restrictions on indoor capacity. A livestream of the funeral Mass will be available on Facebook.

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the La Salle Student Emergency Fund. Make checks payable to La Salle University and write Student Emergency Fund in the memo. Please mail checks to La Salle University Alumni Association, 1900 West Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa., 19141.