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Sister Edmunette Paczesny, one of the longest-serving college presidents in the country, will step down at Hilbert College at the end of the 2005-06 school year.

"I've spent 43 years at the college in various capacities, including 31 as president," Paczesny, 71, said Thursday. "I just believe it's time for someone new to take over and continue the Franciscan tradition that has prevailed at the college."

Paczesny, the second president in Hilbert's history, led the Hamburg college through a period of enrollment growth and physical expansion, and oversaw its transition from a two-year to a four-year school.

She will retire in 2006, though she hopes to continue to help the college's fund-raising efforts on a part-time basis.

A 12-member search committee led by Dennis R. Black, a Hilbert trustee and vice president for student affairs at the University at Buffalo, will look for her successor with the help of a professional consultant.

Paczesny won't be easy to replace, colleagues said.

"Sister Edmunette has been a personal inspiration and left an indelible impression with many she's interacted with throughout the years, from the freshman student to professors to leaders in the community," Merle Whitehead, chairman of the Hilbert board of trustees, said in a statement.

Paczesny started at Hilbert in 1962 as an instructor of psychology and philosophy. She belongs to the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, the congregation that founded Hilbert in 1957 as a teacher training college for its members.

She became president in 1974, replacing Sister Edwina Bogel.

Since then, enrollment has risen sharply -- to today's high of 1,107 students -- and the college expanded from a wing of the congregation's motherhouse to its current 47-acre campus.

During her tenure, the college has built a $3 million, 20,000-square-foot office facility and is finishing a $2.8 million apartment-style housing complex.

The shift to offering bachelor's degrees began in 1992. "I said, 'We have the strength, we have the energy, we have the programs here that can take us to the next level,' " Paczesny said.

Today, the school offers 12 bachelor's degrees, its endowment stands at $2.7 million, and its annual budget is $12 million.

In 2002, the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Paczesny as the fourth-longest-serving president of a four-year American college.

"I don't think you can even begin to compare Hilbert today to where it was when she took over," said Christopher L. Holoman, president of Hilbert's Faculty Senate. He added, "She was so flexible and visionary. She was not stuck with one particular vision of what Hilbert should be."


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