University of Scranton Remembers “Papa Bear” Panuska

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SCRANTON -- The University of Scranton is mourning the death of its longest-serving president, Rev. Joseph Panuska, S.J. who may be best described by his nickname, "Papa Bear."

There's only one color Cheryl Boga would put on today.

"The school, the town, everything meant so much to him, and he would have wanted purple, he would have worn purple. If he was here to mourn his own passing, he would have worn purple to do it," said Boga, the university's director of performance music.

And that probably would have made him laugh. "Chuckles" was just one of the nicknames Fr. Panuska picked up in his tenure. He was also "Big Al" or "Papa Bear" to professors and students alike.

Fr. Panuska passed away this week at the age of 89. He led the university through the 1980s and 1990s as Scranton's longest-serving president.

"He was a really rare combination because he was both a scientist and an artist, so he had this rare skill of seeing both what is and what could be. He had the gift to see both at the same time, and he had the grace to see that in people and things," said Boga.

Fr. Panuska left his mark on people and physically on the university's campus.

Dr. Richard Passon served as senior vice president under Panuska as "Papa Bear" shaped the look of the university's campus. More than a dozen buildings were built during his tenure.

He also built a relationship between the university and the city from which it takes its name.

"A lot of universities, especially good ones, get a little snooty when it comes to their relations with the community, and Al was very good at being sensitive to the positive relationship we could have with the community, and because of him, we do have such a good relationship," Passon said.

"He loved it here, he loved the school, he loved the people, he loved the town, he loved the community, he was Scranton," added Boga.

Fr. Panuska retired to Philadelphia, and that's where funeral services will be. University officials say they plan to memorialize him here, too.

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