A Proposal to Retain Stephanie Sena at Villanova


Sparkle 100%

Joseph Betz, Ph.D.

About eight years ago, I noticed a newspaper headline like this: “Villanova Professor Founds Student-Run, Emergency Shelter For The Homeless.” When I read the name of the professor, Stephanie Sena, I both enormously admired what she had done, was pleased at the good publicity she had won for Villanova, and wondered why I did not know her

This February, she addressed the student homeless-awareness group before they slept out in the cold in a campus parking garage. I heard this lecture, realized that Stefanie Sena was a major inspiration for this act of student solidarity with the poor, and discovered why I had not known her. It is because she was only an adjunct faculty member eight years ago, and was still only an adjunct now, not an officially important member of our faculty. In February, delighted at her talk, I said to her that Villanova should hire you full-time, you are too important to our social justice mission to risk losing.

On April 8th and in discussion with her soon thereafter, I realized that Villanova is indeed in danger of losing her. She needs a better income badly. An Inquirer article, 3/8/19, p. A 1 & 6, explained that Prof Sena had been deceived into buying a new sort of cheap, worthless health insurance policy.  It did not guarantee the benefits guaranteed to all policy purchasers by the Affordable Care Act.  She soon discovered her mistaken purchase in an emergency which was destructive of both her health and  minimal wealth. Professor Sena had sepsis and needed half of her foot amputated immediately, but her policy did not cover this. Rothman Orthopedic Institute at Penn refused to perform the surgery until she paid $3512.00 beforehand, money she did not have. Though an “angel” provided that money just in time, she owes about $19,000 hospital costs, costs that she mistakenly believed her Federal Insurance Company policy was going to pay. Unfortunately, it would seem that there are no relatives that can help her. Prof Sena is in dire need of more income.

There is an unusual and very odd circumstance that made me think that I should try to come to Stephanie Sena’s rescue. My Uncle Fred was a partial amputee, like Stephanie. The wheel of a horse-drawn trolley had crushed his foot when he was only about four. Later, as a Roman Catholic High School graduate, he attended Villanova, a chemistry major for three years. He was inspired by the Augustinians and applied to join the Order to become a priest. However, his application was refused, because many Catholic seminaries then required candidates for the priesthood to have physically-perfect bodies.  Still, the Carmelite Order wanted him and he became a Carmelite priest. The Augustinians had lost the chance to welcome a very spiritual man who had only half a foot. Would Villanova and the Augustinians now lose the chance to retain a very inspirational woman with only half a foot? Weak connection or not, I am trying to help Stefanie Sena, perhaps, because my Uncle Fred bids me to do so from heaven.

Stephanie Sena has proven herself extremely valuable in her eight years as a Villanova adjunct. She has brought favorable publicity to our social justice endeavors. We have featured her in a documentary about her and her students sheltering the homeless, a documentary often shown at parents’ weekends. She has won the award for our best adjunct, and is a finalist for it again this year. Though Jewish, she was invited to be on the board of an organization building playgrounds for Palestinian children, and was sent to Jordan for their dedication.  The Director of Peace and Justice, for whom she now teaches, values her highly.

I think the help she needs and merits would be a full-time position at Villanova, one with faculty or staff benefits, especially health insurance. It could be a faculty job if she were added to a non-tenure track, full-time position in Peace and Justice. That office now lacks any budget line to allow Stephanie Sena’s hiring. It could be a staff job if, disabled herself, and the author of a M.A. dissertation on helping the amputees in World War I, she was hired in our relatively new office for Veterans Affairs.  Also, maybe some new service office will be needed as we add the 3000 new dormitory students this Fall. 

My idea, then, Villanova faculty, staff, retirees, students, is that we organize to petition our Board of Trustees, through our development office, to find a donor of an endowed assistant professorship or staff position for Stephanie Sena. Fr. Peter had told me that he had not heard of Stephanie’s poverty-causing emergency amputation before I brought the Inquirer article to his attention. He responded that Villanova often helped its own family members in financial emergencies. I am thinking that our request to our Board of Trustees will make it easy for Fr. Peter to create this full-time position for Stephanie Sena. Will you join me in this request?