Iona Launches New Institute Committed to Protecting the Earth

The Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND Institute for Earth and Spirit at Iona College was launched on October 3.

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – On October 3, friends, family and members of the campus community gathered at Iona College for the launch of the Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND Institute for Earth and Spirit.

A sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame (CND), Kathleen Deignan, Ph.D., is a member of the Religious Studies faculty at Iona College where she founded the Iona Peace and Justice Studies Program, and the Iona Peace Institute in Ireland.

The Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND Institute for Earth and Spirit is a collaboration of three current endeavors, which Deignan also founded: the Iona Spirituality Center, the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue and the Thomas Merton Contemplative Initiative. The Iona Spirituality Center sponsors a variety of programs for spiritual development. The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue is an open and inclusive space for ecological education, exploration and transformation. The Thomas Merton Contemplative Initiative keeps alive the teachings of the Trappist monk and 20th century spiritual master Thomas Merton and encourages spiritual awakening to empower creative transformation of consciousness, conscience and culture.

The institute brings these three initiatives together to foster a commitment to protecting the earth through teachings from religion, environmental science and justice studies.

The institute was made possible by a generous donation from Iona College alumnus Christopher J. O’Connor ’89, ’92MBA, ’94PMC, who was so inspired by his classes with Deignan that he wanted to give back to the community and help her touch the lives of many others.

“The generosity of my beloved student has made a life-long dream come true for me: to cultivate a little school for great transformation,” said Deignan. “The gift summons us to build an even more relevant place for ecological awakening and action.”

During the evening reception, senior vice president for Advancement & External Affairs, Paul J. Sutera, shared, “I could say that we are now done, but, I would be incorrect. Rather, you have put forth a challenge to each of us, the Sister Deignan storytellers in this room and beyond. We, too, need to say thank you and pay it forward by making a gift in honor of Sister Kathleen and the institute. Chris – you have given us a great opportunity… a great power for these students. We are so thankful for your philanthropy, and our work begins today.”

Donations to support the mission of the Sister Kathleen Deignan, CND Institute for Earth and Spirit can be made at Please use the drop down menu under “Designation” and select The Sister Deignan Institute.

See photographs of the launch and celebration.

See more details on Sister Kathleen Deignan’s work.

Founded in 1940, Iona University is a master's-granting private, Catholic, coeducational institution of learning in the tradition of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers. Iona's 45-acre New Rochelle campus and 28-acre Bronxville campus are just 20 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. With a total enrollment of nearly 4,000 students and an alumni base of more than 50,000 around the world, Iona is a diverse community of learners and scholars dedicated to academic excellence and the values of justice, peace and service. Iona is highly accredited, offering undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, science and business administration, as well as Master of Arts, Master of Science and Master of Business Administration degrees and numerous advanced certificate programs. Iona students enjoy small class sizes, engaged professors and a wide array of academic programs across the School of Arts & Science; LaPenta School of Business; NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences; and Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Iona is widely recognized in prestigious rankings, including The Princeton Review’s 2024 national list of “The Best 389 Colleges” and The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse’s “2024 Best Colleges in America,” which ranked Iona at #66 in the nation overall and #8 in the nation among Catholic schools. Iona’s LaPenta School of Business is also accredited by AACSB International, a recognition awarded to just six percent of business schools worldwide. In addition, The Princeton Review recognized Iona’s on-campus MBA program as a “Best Business School for 2023.” Iona also offers a fully online MBA program for even greater flexibility. In July 2021, Iona announced the establishment of the NewYork-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences, which is now principally located on Iona’s Bronxville campus in collaboration with NewYork-Presbyterian. Connecting to its Irish heritage, the University also recently announced it is expanding abroad with a new campus in County Mayo, Ireland. A school on the rise, Iona officially changed its status from College to University on July 1, 2022, reflecting the growth of its academic programs and the prestige of an Iona education.