Leona Misto, RSM, Ed.D., 77, vice president for mission integration at Salve Regina University passed away at her home in Newport on Monday, Oct. 17 after a brief illness. The daughter of Ralph and Teresa (Harrington) Misto, she was born on May 24, 1939 and raised in Cranston, R.I.
Sister Leona entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1957. Upon completion of the novitiate and juniorate, she held teaching positions in the dioceses of Providence and Fall River at St. Joseph School, Pawtucket, St. Mary’s Academy-Bay View, St. Xavier Academy and Bishop Feehan High School. From 1974 to 1976, Sister Leona was the director of spirituality for the Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Providence. She served as principal and education director of Saints Peter and Paul School and parish in Fall River from 1976 to 1980.
As a child, Sister Leona visited the then-named Salve Regina College many times to see her aunt, a Sister of Mercy, who was assigned to the campus during the summer months. Later she enrolled at the institution and graduated summa cum laude in 1962. In addition to her B.A.in mathematics from Salve Regina, she received an M.A. in religious studies from Providence College, an M.A.T. in mathematics from Rhode Island College, an Ed.D. in higher education from Nova Southeastern University, and a certificate in educational management from Harvard University.
Sister Leona returned to her alma mater in 1980, and during her 36-year tenure she served the Salve Regina community in a number of capacities, including professor of mathematics, chairperson of the mathematics department, dean of campus ministry and director of graduate extension studies. It was in this capacity that she established one of the first online education programs in the country in 1984. She was named vice president for mission integration and planning in 2001.
Sister Leona’s devotion to the Mercy mission and her steadfast commitment to incorporating the basic principles of Salve Regina’s mission into the academic curriculum, student life programs and institutional operations inspired students, faculty, staff and alumni to positively influence the intellectual, spiritual and cultural lives of their respective communities.
She worked tirelessly with faculty to understand the connections between the Catholic intellectual tradition and Mercy through the Faculty Collegium, publications and faculty panels relating Mercy to specific academic disciplines. She engaged the entire academic community in important and continuing dialogues related to diversity, inclusion and sustainability. The framed mission statement, crucifix and water filling stations found in every campus building, as well as the University’s labyrinth and hydroponic garden, stand as physical reminders of her presence and success as a true steward of God’s creations.
Undaunted in her commitment to and advocacy for, economically-challenged young people, Sister Leona established the Sophia Endowed Scholarship at Salve Regina University to provide need-based assistance to attain a baccalaureate degree. Always straightforward with her intentions, she named the fund in honor of Saint Sophia, who took it upon herself to educate her three daughters: Faith, Hope and Love. Additionally, Sister Leona established the University’s mission integration grant program and an aid program to help students purchase textbooks. An advisor to and supporter of both the University’s Sigma Phi Sigma honor society and the Environmental Advisory Group, she worked tirelessly to support all aspects of the students’ education.
In her latest publication, a compendium on mission integration, Sister Leona wrote: “The heart and life of Salve Regina University’s community is its mission.” Appropriately, in October 2014, the University celebrated the dedication of the Misto Gatehouse in honor of Sister Leona’s decades of service, generosity and commitment to the core values of Mercy at Salve Regina. Misto Gatehouse is the former gardener’s cottage for Catherine Lorillard Wolfe’s Vinland estate, located in the heart of the University’s historic campus.
Ever cheerful, and ever encouraging, Sister Leona’s wide smile brought grace, light and a little hint of mischief to those on campus and beyond. Her time and treasures were shared with other organizations and institutions such as Child and Family in Newport, Marian Court College in Swampscott, Mass., and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Wherever she went and wherever she served, Sister Leona wove compassionate attention to both the spiritual and corporal works of Mercy into the fabric of her actions, inspiring the alignment of spirit, word and deed with the Mercy ideals of community, service and social justice. Largely through her vision, Salve Regina embraced a distinctively Mercy identity that will continue to transform its graduates and encourage them to work for a world that is harmonious, just and merciful.
She is survived by her brother Ralph Misto, sister Teresa Tavares and her husband Albert, and nine nieces and nephews.
A Mass to honor the life and service of Sister Leona will be celebrated at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newport at 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 22. To honor and memorialize her work, donations may be made to Salve Regina University/Sophia Scholarship Fund, 100 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, RI 02840.